Restoring the Presidio | California | Living in Mexico

Restoring the Presidio

Sometime in the late eighteenth century, the Spanish built a presidio at Santa Barbara to house a garrison of soldiers. They kept order and secured Spain's claim to this part of the world. Like most of the Spanish-era buildings in Alta California, it was made of adobe—dried mud bricks—on account of there were fewer natives here to put to work quarrying stone. And even if there were, the local Chumash didn't have stoneworking skills like the peoples who inhabited central Mexico. Probably because they were so stoned on Datura that the best they could do is make mud pies.


Adobe dissolves in rain, so adobe buildings are plastered inside and out and roofed with clay tiles. The resulting look—thick, lumpy white walls topped with red tiles—has carried down to today as the signature style of modern Santa Barbara: The Mission Revival.

California became American. The Spanish left. Over the decades, many buildings were lost as roof beams rotted and collapsed, and plaster cracked, allowing water in. Some, like the Presidio, survived.

Today, preserving California's Spanish heritage is a priority. Many buildings have been restored, and continue to undergo restoration work as needed. Traditional materials are used.


Fallen walls are rebuilt with adobe bricks. Cinder blocks would be cheaper and more durable, and would not be visible under plaster and tiles, but then everyone would know the building no longer was authentic. Bad for tourism.


To make adobe blocks, mud is forced into molds. The molds are removed and the bricks are allowed to dry in the sun. (The newly-formed bricks in the photos above have been covered with paper to protect them from an unseasonable rain.)

The original bricks were made by Chumash Indians. (Sorry. Chumash Native Americans. Or whatever.) Slave labor. Working for two meals a day. Beans and tortillas.

The new bricks are being made by State of California employees being paid, say, $50-$60,000 per year, with vacations, sick leave, major medical and retirement benefits. Given their superior compensation packages, you'd expect the State employees to put superior effort into their brick-making.

So I guess they better be changing into loincloths and digging adobe out of the yard and mixing it with water and straw or whatever. Getting their hands dirty. Hand packing that goop into molds carved with hand axes. For the authenticity, you know.



What's this?

Looks like a load of highly refined adobe trucked in from the Santa Ynez Valley. And a diesel-powered cement mixer. Hmmm. The materials may be authentic, but the process sure isn't.

Man. They just don't make peons like they used to. I bet the guys making these bricks are blond surfer types with names like Derek or Justin, and are protected by OSHA regulations from carrying heavy loads or putting their hands in germy dirt. And I bet that the people mowing their lawns are descendants of those original Chumash builders.