Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Old Missions of Buena Park, Part IV

 "When it comes to local history, the last vote is never in. It is one of its chief charms and greatest challenges." - James D. Sleeper

Less than 24 hours after posting Part III, of this supposed three-part series, I received an email from Diane Mourgos, Director of the California Mission Museum in Sonoma. She wrote that her museum "houses models of all 21 missions, ...also built by Leon Bayard de Volo in the 1930s. I have heard mixed history about my set... The models I have on display were built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) held at Treasure Island in San Francisco. There are 21 in total as well as a [wood and papier mâché] statue of Father Serra that were on display in the Mission Trails Building."

The museum opened in 2005 and also includes mission paintings by Robert Morris and Henry Nelson, period clothing replicas, Indian tools, and two large stained-glass panels that were at Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asís) prior to the 1906 earthquake. (See photo above.)
Mission San Rafael at the California Mission Museum features working interior lights.
The 1939 Expositon exhibit for which this set of models was created was sponsored by the California Mission Trails Association, and sounds like it was a real corker. According to a 1938 press release from the exposition commission, the project was directed by architects Harold A. Edmondson and Robert Stanton. Plans included a full-scale reproduction of the "secret garden" at Mission San Luis Rey, a recreated Spanish street as it appeared circa 1789, a replica of Mission Carmel's star window, sculptures by artist Jo Mora, photo displays, a reproduced cloister, and the hourly playing of a recording of Mission Santa Barbara's bells. Historical artifacts, from ox carts to altar cloths, would also be on display. And "special lighting effects -- employing modern motion picture studio technique -- on dancing fountains," would depict scenes of Old California, "with splash and play of constantly changing colors." 
Missions on display, either at the 1939 Exposition or during the 1940s.
Also planned for the display were models of seven missions: Santa Barbara, San Miguel, Ventura, San Fernando, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and San Gabriel. It seems that plan may have ultimately been expanded to include all 21 missions. The models ranged in size from about 59" x 38" to 36" x 28", and many were lit from within. The room housing the models had no windows, "in order that lighting may be under complete control, with sunrise, sunset, and cloud effects simulated with amazing fidelity."

After the fair, the missions were loaned to various Bay Area non-profit groups, schools, and other institutions, as a way to raise money. In August of 1946, they were on display for a week at O'Conner Moffatt & Co. Department Store, (now a Macy's), on Union Square in San Francisco. In May 1949, they were displayed at the Mission Dolores School Auditorium. They even wound up displayed in Sacramento for a time before being purchased by George K. Whitney, owner of the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, in 1956.
Mission models on display in the Bay Area, likely in the 1940s.
"They were on display at the Cliff House from 1956-1971," writes Mourgos. "In 1971 they went into storage.  In 1987 [they were] sold to a private owner, and in 1998 came up for auction at the San Rafael Auction Gallery. They were to be sold off individually, but Nancy Cline purchased the lot of them. In 2005 the Cline family constructed the California Missions Museum located at their estate winery, Cline Cellars, in Sonoma. "
Fr. Serra and the Missions at the San Rafael Auction Gallery, March 1998
So, there is definitely a second set of California Mission models by Leon Bayard de Volo, and you can visit them at the California Mission Museum, 24737 Highway 121, Sonoma, California, or see them online at

But there's at least one more potential twist in this story that remains to be unraveled. The March 1956 issue of The Knotty Post -- Knott's Berry Farm's employee magazine -- describes Bayard de Volo's earlier work on a set of 21 Missions models which toured the country and ended up on "permanent exhibit" at Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier. That doesn't sound like the 1939 set, nor could it be the Knott's set. Is it possible that Bayard de Volo created three or even more sets of Missions?
Leon Bayard de Volo with some of his Mission models, likely in the 1940s.
If I get a helpful email from someone in New Jersey tomorrow (or a year from now), I'll let you know.

[Update: See Part V!]

(My thanks to Christopher Merritt, Dana Hundley, Ken Stack, and Diane Mourgos for their help with this serialized article.)

1 comment:

outsidetheberm said...

Well, it looks like another little road trip is calling! Thanks, Chris. This is great news.