Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Old Missions of Buena Park, Part I

Model of Mission San Juan Capistrano at Knott's Berry Farm, 1950s.
Remember the elaborate California Mission models on the outskirts of Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town? Ever wonder how they got there and where they went? Wouldn't it be great to have them back again? Read on...

Walter Knott approached difficulties creatively at his famous berry farm. Once, when faced with an ugly but unmovable irrigation standpipe near his wife’s expanding Chicken Dinner Restaurant, he solved the problem by building a “volcano” around the pipe and making it a tourist attraction. That kind of creative problem-solving led to much of what we now think of as “classic” Knott’s Berry Farm.
It was "fiesta time" at Mission San Luis Rey in this miniature scene.
In the 1950s, Knott was faced with the problem of visitors wandering into the path of the Butterfield Stagecoach as it traveled between his train depot and La Palma Ave. The obvious solution was to build a wall. A rustic, crumbling wall, in keeping with his Ghost Town theme, seemed in order. But it wasn’t very exciting. Walter Knott saw this potentially dull area as an empty canvas.

The man Knott hired to fill that canvas was artist Leon Bayard de Volo. The plan was for Bayard de Volo to construct models of all 21 of the California Missions, each to be placed behind windows in separate little display structures along the wall. A walkway, called El Camino Real, (named for the road that once took travelers from mission to mission,) would lead tourists from one model to another. A wall would have been enough to keep people out of the stagecoach’s path, but Knott’s El Camino Real would also be attractive and educational.
Leon Bayard de Volo with his model of Mission San Antonio de Padua, March 1956.
Leon Bayard de Volo was born in Rome in 1884 and studied art there before coming to the United States in 1907. He claimed to be a count, and a relative of the King of Italy. He became a scenery painter at the Venetian Theatre in New York before coming to California in 1918, where he went to work in the early film industry. After about nine years of creating scale models and artwork for Warner Brothers, he struck out on his own, launching Miniature Fabricators, Inc., which was based in Pasadena. He was hired to make models of buildings, towns and other sites. His model of Hollywood toured the whole country, then wound up in a Hollywood museum, and more recently showed up on eBay with an enormous price tag.
Actors Marge & Gower Champion with Bayard de Volo's Hollywood model at the 1951 L.A. Home Show.
In 1952 his 12-foot-square plaster model of the lunar crater Copernicus became a popular attraction on the roof of the Griffith Park Observatory. Bayard de Volo had built scale models of the California Missions before, including a set that traveled the country and was on long-term exhibit on Atlantic City’s “Million Dollar Pier.”

Walter Knott wanted a similar set of Mission models,– only larger. Even with his previous experience, Bayard de Volo’s new project required thousands of hours of research and construction. And, as each mission was completed, a background painting was also created for the display.
Small viewing structures housing Missions line Knott's El Camino Real, July 1964.
The same view, almost 50 years later -- sans Missions
While the artist worked, others developed the new El Camino Real itself into something more than just a walkway.

Continue on to Part II...


Connie Moreno said...

That was really interesting!

CoxPilot said...

I remember them vividly, and the trolly too.

Anonymous said...

I recall them too. How cool they were...and so was Knott's back then. Great memory jogger! So where are the models now?

Anonymous said...

I loved looking at those fascinating and well-executed models. I recently visited Silver Dollar City in Branson with my wife, and spoke to her of visits to Knott's when I was young.
I hope that the models were preserved.

SundayNight said...

The mission models should have stayed. They are a found memory and would have been to hundreds of other kids if they had not been removed.

Knott'sAfterDark said...

Outstanding entries, Chris! They are very informative, and I am enjoying the old photos. Keep up the good work!

Major Pepperidge said...

I am waiting to see if they were still there when I frequented the park as a kid. Unfortunately I don't remember them at all, and thanks to grade school diorama projects, was very interested in the California missions.

Part one is awesome, looking forward to part two!

Chris Jepsen said...

Anonymous: Part III will answer your questions. (Stay tuned!)

Major: I posted Part II a couple days ago. Enjoy!

Chris Jepsen said...

Much to my surprise, additional information has come to light since I posted this, so there is now a "Part IV" in this series. I've also added a bit of new information to Part I, and added more photos to Part I and Part II. This stuff always comes out of the woodwork AFTER I post something.

Anonymous said...

Leon is my Great grandfather - the Missions are in a museum at the Cline Winery in northern california.