Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Old Missions of Buena Park, Part III

A bit of adobe wall remains from Knott's El Camino Real.
(Continued from Part II...) Today, only an El Camino Real bell, a bit of adobe near the train depot, and the San Francisco Arches (wedged between a security fence and the Dragon Swing ride), remain to remind visitors of the miniature California Missions and "El Camino Real" that once graced Knott's Berry Farm. Almost all the big eucalyptus trees that lined the pathway have been removed, along with most of adjacent Reflection Lake.

When the Missions were taken off of display, they went into storage on the second floor of the Gold Trails Hotel in Knott's Ghost Town. There's a rumor that one of the Missions disappeared when an employee took it home for their child's California Mission school project (a long standing Fourth Grade requirement in our state,) and never returned it.
Historian Phil Brigandi inspects the Missions above the Gold Trails Hotel in 2009.
In 2009, while exploring the nooks and crannies of Knott’s on behalf of the Orange County Archives, I came across the Mission models in their hiding place. They were dirty and faded, but intact. I was thrilled to see them again and to know that they hadn’t ended up in a landfill! I was shocked at the size of the models. Some of them were enormous. I'd remembered them as maybe half to one third their actual size.

“There’s been some talk about putting them back on display,” a Knott’s staff member told me, “but I know it’d be expensive and time consuming to restore them.”
Mission models awaiting restoration. March 18, 2009.
“What if you had the work done someplace where the public could watch?,” I asked. “Then the restoration process itself would be an attraction, which might help justify the cost.”

I didn’t really get a reaction. Either this was something they’d already thought of, or they were mentally filing the idea away for future reference. I’d like to think I planted the idea, but who knows (or cares) at this point?
Bob Wier, working on the Mission Santa Ines model, June 2, 2013.
In early 2013, Knott’s announced that the Mission models would be restored. Almost immediately, Mission Santa Barbara appeared next to the old Livery Stable (now the Toy Barn) in a special area created for the restoration project. Longtime Knott’s woodworker Bob Wier was charged with restoring the 17 remaining missions, and creating the four other missions from scratch.

Wier used to teach wood shop and drafting at John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma, and has worked at Knott's for more than 20 years. I've admired his woodcarving talent for years now.
Mission Santa Ines (normally found in Solvang), with miniature scaffolding, May 30, 2013.
Next to Wier's work area is a booth that sells laser-cut wood model kits. He had them make him miniature scaffolding to put up around the in-progress Mission models whenever he's not working on them.

There's no set schedule for an official unveiling, and Knott's doesn't seem to have a specific plan yet for exactly how they'll be displayed, but the Missions are coming back, and hopefully the whole El Camino Real concept will be revived along with it. This seems like another in a series of smart moves by Knott's to highlight and enhance the attractions and traditions that make their theme park special.
Mission Santa Barbara, mostly complete.
In the coming months and years, it will be interesting to see what other features Knott's may spiff up, bring back, and share with a whole new generation. 

Continued in Part IV...



This is fantastic news!! Thank you for spreading the news!!

Anonymous said...

Despite all the recent improvements and acknowledgments to Knott's heritage by management, the coasters and noise is still too much for me to visit the park. (There used to be many areas of calm, quiet and reflection in the park) But when the mission models re-appear, I'll be there ASAP.

Major Pepperidge said...

WOW, this is amazing. Cool that they were saved, and incredibly cool that they are being restored and that the missing structures are being recreated. Love the idea that visitors can watch; whoever had the idea, brilliant!

Thanks for this.

SundayNight said...

I’ve been away from Knott’s for a long time, but if they bring back the missions, I’m there.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to hear this. Knott's provided a true community service when I was a child. They let us see real farm animals, pan for gold, walk the Mission trail and look at all the individual missions, view Independence Hall, see chicks hatch, watch bees in a hive, experience the old West, and provided a beautiful area for young families to ride a train and paddle a boat. It was a wonderful, educational California experience and shaped many lives. We learned so much about science, history, and adventure at Knott's!

outsidetheberm said...

Excellent work on this series, Chris. It turned out really nice. Like the swallows and their return to Capistrano, we're looking forward to the return of the missions to Knotts!

pursuit agent said...

Did they originally have all 21 missions and 4 are missing?

Anonymous said...

Gret news. I remember long ago seeing them with my parents.

Chris Jepsen said...

Oops! There is now an unexpected "Part IV" to this series!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful walk back through Knott's history Chris. Thanks for creating this special blog and for showing us the Miniature Missions, where they've been hiding and of their restoration, too.

I was visiting the park last Friday and am writing a book about Orange County and will include a chapter on Knott's.

I've taken dozens of photos of those miniature missions from my childhood and was so sad to hear they'd been removed. But was thrilled to stumble upon your blog alerting us that they will return, the only problem is, that Mr. Weir isn't painting them correctly.

The restoration's are wrong, the buildings are being painted much too bright and the scale of the flowers, plants and trims are Ginormous and will detract from Mr. DeVolo's masterpieces. When I was a kid, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I met Mr. DeVolo's wife who had several other miniature originals on display in her home and I was offered the opportunity to buy them. Alas I didn't have the funds back then to own them, and when they did finally sell at auction, they brought in thousands of dollars.

Mr. DeVolo paid special attention to the details of the fragile, crumbling buildings all in miniature which greatly inspired me to become a miniature model builder myself. Now all these years later, I have built over 300 miniature buildings, some of which have been used in motion pictures, TV commercials, and are in museums and private collections around the world.

I've learned a lot about scale and perfecting age, which is truly what Mr. Weir needs to do, in the reconstruction and restoration of these miniature missions. I spoke with him at great length this past Friday and made the suggestion of scale and antiquing, and hope I didn't hurt his feelings, but that he understood that they must look correct.

We surely don't want Walter Knott, or Mr. DeVolo rolling in their graves or better yet, Haunting the park if the miniatures are restored correctly...or do we?

Thanks again for a wonderful blog, I hope to read more about your take on the restoration of Knott's, the Ghost Town and more. Hey have you heard anything about Cedar Fair bringing back the Haunted Shack?

I heard dozens of people asking Knott's employees where it had been moved to, when I was there last Friday.


Dave Van said...

I grew up in La Palma. Many times we would visit Knott's as a cheap family outing. I loved walking the Mission Trail after dark by the reflection lake and church. We moved from So Cal in 1970 but I got to return in 2012. I was a little disappointed how much the park had changed. But the missing Mission Trail was the biggest. I am going to return in JAN so I will check on the progress of the restoration. Thank you for the information.