This past Saturday before Labor Day was my second trip to this beautiful rustic place that is out in the middle of nowhere between Lompoc and Buellton among rolling hills and fields of flowers and grape vines. Of the many missions I’ve been able to visit since living in the California Central Coast area, this one I’ve decided is my favorite. It’s not as nicely restored or polished as the ones in San Luis Obispo or Santa Ynez. Nor is it as rustic and humble as San Miguel nor as remote as San Antonio. What it is, I think, is picturesque and speaks of the days when it was the center of power in this region. Its land holdings were once vast covering 470 square miles that bordered to the north at the Santa Maria River and south along the Gaviota coastline. In it’s heyday it was a bustling, busy and very productive enterprise known for its production of wool blankets and hides. At one time it was known to have 24,000 head of livestock (cattle and sheep) and home to over 1000 of the local Indian converts known as the Chumash.
Mision La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima (Mission of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary) was founded on December 8, 1787 by Franciscan Padre Fermin Francisco Lausen. La Purisima was the eleventh mission of the twenty-one Spanish Missions established in what later became the state of California. In 1812, the mission suffered a series of earthquakes that nearly leveled it and it was moved to another location about four miles away. “It prospered until the order to secularize California’s Missions was enforced in 1834. Mission assets were to be civilly administered, landholdings divided up among the inhabitants, and the neophytes released from supervision of any type. In 1845, La Purisima Mission was sold to Juan Temple of Los Angeles for $1,000. It subsequently changed hands and uses a number of times prior to the close of the 19th century.
Buildings and other features of the Mission eventually collapsed from weather and long neglect. In 1933 when the property was given to public ownership by Union Oil Company, the Mission was a complete ruin. Preservation and reconstruction of the Mission complex began in 1934 through efforts of the County of Santa Barbara, the State of California, the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Under direction and labor from the latter two organizations, buildings and grounds were restored and furnished to appear as they had in 1820.” (Prelado de los Tesoros de la Purisima)
The padre responsible for rebuilding the mission after the earthquake disaster was Father Payéras who later became the president of the California missions in 1815, He served in this office for four years and remained on site rather than going to the Carmel Mission, where the president usually resided. He was eventually appointed commissary prefect, the highest office among the California Franciscans.
What is unique to me as a designer is the layout of the mission. California missions are usually laid out in a quadrangle with a central courtyard surrounded by porticos. The life of the mission usually existed within the protection of the thick outer walls. Instead, La Purisima is laid out in a linear fashion with the porticos along it’s outside. It is believed that this design was intended to provide occupants a safe escape should another earthquake occur. Apparently this was a greater concern than protection from any anticipated attack.
Even so, the local Indians were not docile neophytes that willingly accepted enslavelment by the Spanish. It is presumed that they were forced to seek life in the mission because the Spanish had made it impossible for them to survive by destroying their habitat and natural resources. Their livestock tainted the water supply and food sources which forced the Indians live among the Spanish and accept their religion in order to survive. Once they became residents of the mission, they were no longer able to come and go as they pleased. The soldiers that were billeted at the mission were nearly destitute themselves and mistreated the Indian residents. They treated them as slaves taking all of the products the Indians produced. “Less than a year after Father Payéras’ death, in 1824, the friction between the military and the missions exploded as the Indians of the three Santa Barbara missions rose up in armed revolt. The immediate cause was the flogging of a Purísima neophyte by the soldiers at Mission Santa Inez. The news reached La Purísima Mission and the Indians immediately took control of the mission. The soldiers and their families, and Father Ordaz, were allowed by the Indians to go to Mission Santa Inez.”
This victory for the Chumash lasted only a month until their control was squashed by the Spanish soldiers sent from Monterey. Later the mission was secularized and the lands given back to the inhabitants. Though they were able to stay on and work the land and maintain businesses, all the products they produced were taken by the military. They were required to fill quotas and not profit from their own labor which is why the mission was eventually abandoned and left in ruins within ten years. Small pox and chicken pox were also attributed to the reduction of Chumash population. What was left of La Purísima was purchased by John Temple for $1,110 at a public auction in 1845.
Union Oil officials recognized the historic value of the mission. They purchased the land from Temple and donated it to the State of California. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) after the Great Depression restored what is now a state park. “The Catholic Church donated the old church site to Santa Barbara County, and Union Oil Company gave six parcels including the site of the residence building. The county and State of California purchased additional land until there was a total of 507 acres.”
The CCC rebuilt new buildings in (1937-1939) over the old foundation stones. Materials used to rebuild the structures were found locally. They used the same local clay to re create the adobe bricks in the same fashion the original bricks were made. Docents demonstrate brick building and other crafts on weekends.
Portico outside the “work” building where the workshops were as well as some residences for some of the workers as well as billets for the soldiers that lived at the mission. Notice this one has a dirt floor unlike the paved floors of the main building.
The aspect I like the most about the mission is it’s accessibility and usability. Because it’s part of the State Park System, there are no religious services held here as there are in other missions in the Central Coast Region. Thus, there isn’t much that visitors don’t have access to. Just about everything can be touched and seen. There are vignettes for viewing that have bars and gates to preserve them for viewing only. But everything else –including the extensive gardens are accessible. There are also livestock to see including horses, donkeys, sheep, cattle and pigs. Even a couple of (very lucky –and old I presume) turkeys. The sense I get is of historic preservation and appreciation of the culture that once flourished here. There are miles of hiking trails and lots of facilities for picnicking. Docents give demonstrations on Saturdays of the crafting of items that were once produced here as well as lifestyle presentations that range from musical instruments of the Chumash to the melodramas of the local trappers, soldiers, ranchers, vaqueros and settlers in the area. Any other time, it is just peaceful. I imagine if I listen carefully, I can hear their voices in the wind in a language I cannot comprehend. I love that this place exists so that they and their way of life will not be forgotten. This is the land before New Spain became Old Mexico and is the essence of what is California.