The History of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive Library

The History of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive Library
By Cres Olmstead

California libraries began quite humbly. Each of the missions had a small library to assist the padres in their two-fold duties. As servants of the church, they were obliged to teach all that pertained to developing a full Christian life. And, as agents of the King of Spain, they were obliged to instruct its new subjects in the laws, customs, and culture of the realm, and to train them in the crafts and trades. Each mission was responsible for maintaining the required registers, invoices and annual reports, and official communications as well as many individual letters between the padres, government officials, the military, and private individuals.
After secularization the president of the missions, Padre Narciso Durán, transferred the missions' headquarters to Mission Santa Barbara. In this way Mission Santa Barbara became the ultimate repository of the 3,000 original documents that had been scattered through the California missions. These documents range in size from one to fifty-plus pages.

The Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library is the oldest library in the State of California that still remains in the hands of its founders, the Franciscans. It is the only mission in which they have maintained an uninterrupted presence until the present. Starting with the researchers made up by the staff of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the archive and the library have been centers for historical study for over one hundred years.

The archival collection was originally housed within the private confines of the monastery at the Santa Barbara Old Mission. The monastery walls were constructed of sandstone blocks and adobe. Even though a large concrete drainage ditch had been constructed to remove excess water from the Mission's inner Sacred Garden, these materials acted as a wick: they drew water from the building's foundation up through its walls. Thus, the rooms tended to be cold, damp, and hospitable to molds, mildew, and various vermin. So fresh bags of salt had to be brought in constantly to absorb the moisture in order to protect the archival materials. This was neither easy nor did it make for a stable environment.

A modern building specifically designed to properly house the many historical documents, manuscripts, and library texts from California's Mission period was a constant dream of the late Fr. Maynard Geiger, O.F.M. To that end a tax-deductible corporation, Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, Inc., was founded and duly chartered under the laws of the federal and state governments. As a non-sectarian institution, its primary purpose is preservation and acquisition of historic materials and the promotion of historical research, education, and public service.

Its creation became possible through a large bequest from the late Mrs. Elizabeth Compton Hegemann. Endowments received from other philanthropists and foundations in California, in addition to the many contributions secured by a committee ably led by the late Miss Rosario Curletti, completed the funding.

A public ground breaking ceremony was held in July of 1967. That October, a Board of Trustees was formed. Its elected officers included the late Judge John T. Rickard as president, Fr. Virgil Cordano, O.F.M., then the Old Mission's guardian, as vice-president and Fr. Maynard Geiger as archivist, The Archive-Library selected as its logo a drawing from the 1787 Spanish edition of Roman architect Vitruvius, a design that seems to have been the model for the facade of Mission Santa Barbara.

A year later the construction of a new earthquake-resistant building at the western end of the front portion of the Mission was completed. It contains a state-of-the-art air conditioning and dust-filtering mechanism to protect the archival materials. Also, all of the archive's irreplaceable, original documents, manuscripts, and rare texts are protected in a large fireproof vault.

Presently, its top floor houses the friars' library, the Franciscan Resources Library, the Provincial Archives of the Franciscan Province of Saint Barbara of the western United States, and a work office for the mission's museum. The middle floor is the main section of the Archive-Library and is also used by the parish for its administrative offices. The basement serves multiple purposes for the Archive-Library, the parish, the museum, and the monastery.

The Archive-Library has two main parts: the archive and the library. The archive contains documents, manuscripts, texts, various collections, periodicals and publications and photocopies of these for general usage. The library is supplementary to the archives. It contains about 4,000 of the original books which the California missionaries purchased in Spain and Mexico and it includes books from the Colleges of San Fernando in Mexico City and Guadalupe in Zacatecas. They include books on agriculture, architecture, biography, civil and canon law, ethics, hagiography, history, literature, mathematics, music, religion, and Scripture. They are bound for the most part in leather and vellum and they date from the 16th to the 19th century. Roughly 5,000 books relate mainly to Spain and Hispanic America.

While many of these are research tools, more than half are secondary works, selectively chosen to be of great value to the researcher. They include books concerning Hispanic America, in general, and by country, the Caribbean area, Mexico, the Spanish Borderlands (Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona), California, Discovery and Exploration, Biography, Arts, Law and Legislation, Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines, the Far East and Russia, Ethnology, Bibliography and other categories.

Various scholars and researchers have donated materials. Among these are the Edith Buckland Webb collection, the Kurt Baer papers, the Robert S. Smilie collection, the Alexander Taylor collection, the Louis Grant Wilson, M. D. collection and the Robert Hoover, Ph.D., collection. They are briefly described in the order of their acquisition.

THE EDITH BUCKLAND WEBB COLLECTION: The materials of Edith Buckland Webb, author of INDIAN LIFE AT THE OLD MISSIONS, comprise more than thirty years of notes, a number of unpublished manuscripts on such topics as mission grist mills and gardens, numerous unpublished interviews with old settlers near the missions, an extensive correspondence with those involved with the missions. It also includes a photograph collection from a variety of sources including a large number of photographs and negatives of the missions taken by her husband, Hugh Pascal Webb.

THE KURT BAER COLLECTION: Although less extensive than the Webb Collection, the papers of Kurt Baer, author of ARCHITECTURE OF THE CALIFORNIA MISSIONS, PAINTING AND SCULPTURE AT MISSION SANTA BARBARA, and THE TREASURES OF MISSION SANTA INÉS, are also of considerable significance. For more than two decades, Kurt Baer had been preparing a monumental study of the paintings and sculpture of the missions. The unfinished manuscripts of this project, along with the largest collection in existence of pertinent photographs and negatives of these objects, has been donated to the Archive-Library.

THE ROBERT S. SMILIE COLLECTION: From the late Robert S. Smilie, author of THE SONOMA MISSION, comes a number of densely written notebooks made during a tour of the El Camino Real, with detailed descriptions of all the pertinent monuments along the way.

THE DE LA GUERRA FAMILY COLLECTION: In 1968, the Mission fell heir to the De la Guerra family collection of over 12,000 pages of original material. These materials detail California's Hispanic past from 1798 to 1885. They cover virtually every phase of activity in California during the Spanish, Mexican, and early American periods. It is second in size only to the Vallejo Collection and is arranged in chronological order.

THE ALEXANDER TAYLOR COLLECTION: The Archive-Library was permitted to acquire photocopies of the Alexander Taylor Collection of over 2,300 documents from the Archdiocesan Archives in San Francisco. To a great extent these documents comprise the correspondence between the California missionaries and the governors and the military and civil authorities of California up to 1884. These copies have been integrated with the original mission documents because the matter in both pertains to the same similar categories.

THE LOUIS GRANT WILSON, M.D. COLLECTION: The library holdings were greatly enriched by a legacy from the estate of the late Los Angeles physician, Louis Grant Wilson, M.D. Of special importance were rare editions of Pacific Coast voyages, materials relating to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, California, and the greater southwest. The Wilson gift also included a splendid Robert Louis Stevenson collection and Willa Cather first editions.

THE JOHN SWINGLE COLLECTION: Through the SBMAL Board President, Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. Ph.D., the SBMAL was able to purchase the Swingle Collection of Mexican and Spanish Imprints. This contains roughly 1,600 books published in the 17th and 18th centuries and includes some 150 Mexican brand books (marcas de fuego)--branding being a method once in vogue to mark ownership. The collection also contains a group of imprints which the church authorities prohibited from being distributed. As an added gesture, the Swingles presented to the Archive-Library two manuscript letters from 1686 and 1687 written by the Duchess of Aveiro, who subsequently was one of the primary contributors and founders of the Pious Fund. Fr. Virgilio Biasiol, current director of the SBMAL, has categorized the Swingle Collection.

THE ROBERT HOOVER, PH.D. COLLECTION: Dr. Robert Hoover, Professor at Cal Poly University, recently donated his archaeological studies conducted at various missions, his maps, slides, photographs, and his library.

Finally, various scholars such as John Johnson, Ph.D., Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, have donated their research papers and other works.

The basement storage rooms contain a large section of newspapers and journals, such as THE ARCHIVO-IBERO-AMERICANO, the PAN AMERICAN BULLETIN, the HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEWS, and others. There are three bound copies of the ancestors of the SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS for the 1870s and 1880s and loose copies of other California and Arizona newspapers, especially commemorative editions. The room also contains over 100 large scrapbooks with material dating back to the 19th century on items such as Junípero Serra, the missions in general, the El Camino Real in particular, Santa Barbara civic affairs, and Franciscan development in the West.

Here are also kept the most important maps in the SBMAL, such as old maps of California and the Western United States. One is an original copy of the John C. Fremont survey of the southwestern United States which was used to set the boundary line between California and Nevada. There are a series of maps showing the navigable waterways between San Francisco and Sacramento and others made from the first American surveys of this state.

A large number of maps of Santa Barbara city and county are included, and of course pictures and plots of Mission Santa Barbara, its lands and surrounding areas. In large drawers are topographic sheets from the U.S. Geological Survey, geologic maps from the California Department of Natural Resources, maps from the U.S. Corps of Engineers and maps of Mexico, Baja California, Spain and the Balearic Islands. In a special room about 12,000 photographs of California, Spain and Mexico are preserved. There is also a small section of original mission music and over 1,000 brochures and pamphlets from the last quarter of the 19th century.

Some 75 selected historical paintings and sketches adorn the Conference Room. Among these is the only known pre-secularization painting of a mission, Mission San Gabriel, by Ferdinand Deppe, done in 1832. There are paintings by Henry Chapman Ford and a picture of Mission Santa Barbara by Thomas Moran, donated by Dr. Paul Riparetti. Also displayed is Alden's 1850 watercolor of the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, on which its reconstruction was based, and of Mission Santa Barbara. A prized Barbieri portrait of Fray González Rubio hangs in the entry of the Archive-Library. It was commissioned by the grateful citizens of the City of Santa Barbara in 1850. Also on display are an 1880s painting of Mission Santa Barbara by Edwin Deakin and a 1892 painting of the Presidio by F. Hamilton. Thirteen mission etchings by Ed Borein and work by Alexander Harmer and Russell Ruiz are also included. In the Lecture Room are twenty oil paintings of the missions executed by Paul Enders in the 1940s.

In 1992, a newly completed reliquary that contains two unique 18th century religious objects was put on permanent display in the reading room of the SBMAL. It was a gift of Mrs. Melville Sahyun, who hired the gifted Santa Barbara woodcarver and cabinet maker, David Dentzel, to design a suitable vehicle for the public viewing of these objects. Known as Los Regalitos (The Little Gifts), they were given to the Archive-Library in 1987 by the late Mrs. Ernest Menzies. These objects had once been in the possession of Fray Junípero Serra who later gave them to a soldier, Lieutenant José Francisco de Ortega, of the leather jacket company in the Spanish army of New Spain.

The colorful oil painting of Fr. Maynard Geiger that hangs in the Archive-Library is one of the major works of Jean Dayton West, a talented portraitist of considerable renown. This painting is among the finest in the long list of Jean Dayton West's masterpieces. Also on display are several old celestial and terrestrial globes of the Louis Grant Wilson, M.D. collection. A few historic photographs of each of the missions were recently arranged for viewing. Because of space constraints, some large paintings by Edwin Deakin are currently on loan to, and are skillfully displayed at the Santa Barbara Historical Society.

The Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library is primarily an archive and a historical research facility. Supplementary to the original archival materials and photocopies are some 14,000 bound books and periodicals. While much of the material is available to the general public, many of the actual historic materials are available only to scholars, historians, and students under certain controlled conditions. As the number of researchers using the facility has increased, the Mission Archive-Library has become one of California's outstanding research institutions.

Consequently, the Board of Trustees has grown through the years. Much of the credit for this is due to the Board's president, Dr. Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., Professor of History at the University of Southern California and chairman of the Board of Editors of the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUARTERLY, the publication of the Historical Society of Southern California. With Board approval, he established The Friends of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, a group that annually provides funds for the archivist's special use. The Archives is supported primarily through memberships. It is open to anyone interested in helping the Archive-Library. Further information may be obtained from its present director, Fr. Virgilio Biasiol, Ph.D.

The Archive-Library hosts an annual Open House at which special exhibits of its original archival materials are displayed under the supervision of its volunteers. Also, it has hosted several Lecture Series. It maintains the Maynard Geiger Memorial Fund as a scholarship tool to assist annually a distant and needy scholar who is interested in researching the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library's holdings.