California’s Mission San Miguel reopens
By Elizabeth McNamara | From Preservation | November/December 2009
When the San Simeon earthquake struck California's coast in December 2003, it caused the near collapse of Mission San Miguel Arcángel, noted for its Spanish Colonial and Native American art. Established by Franciscan friars and completed in 1821, the mission suffered extensive damage, particularly in the nave. One wall split in three, the roof sagged, and murals created by Salinan Indian converts under the direction of Esteban Munras (1798-1850) threatened to separate from the walls and ceiling. As a result, the National Trust added the mission to its 2006 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Enter John Fowler, an accountant with a background in construction who became the site's project manager. "We knew we were working on borrowed time," says Fowler. "Another earthquake could have hit at any moment."
Under Fowler's direction, a team of archaeologists, engineers, and architects faced a daunting challenge: stabilizing the structure without shaking loose the murals and frescoes that covered adobe-and-plaster walls and wood ceilings. Contractors reinforced and seismically retrofitted the church at the same time that conservators preserved the paintings.
After nearly six years of work, the nave reopened in October, just in time to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order. A $300,000 federal matching grant from Save America's Treasures helped with the restoration, and work will continue on interior walls and other mission buildings as more funds become available. "There's no other artwork like it," says Fowler of the murals. "We were really saving a part of history."
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