As 2019 starts, I’m beginning a new travel photo blog. For the past ten years, I’ve tried to focus my Friday Foto blog on images of nature. However, I also love visiting and photographing historic and urban locales, so this blog will explore those environments. Let’s start with what might be the oldest Western building in the United States, and I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. I hadn’t until I visited this church still used for services.
Spanish missionaries built their first church in Socorro, New Mexico in 1598, and it is believed they began this structure in 1610. For centuries, the interior and exterior walls of the church were covered in mud plaster, as with all adobe brick buildings. The laborious process needed to be redone nearly every year. After World War II, concrete stucco began to be used to cover the structures thinking it would better protect the building. Concrete stucco lasted longer, making it cheaper, and allowed the poor communities to more efficiently maintain their buildings.
It was also, literally, their downfall.
The concrete trapped moisture in the walls of the building. The trapped water quietly, relentlessly deteriorated the sand, straw and other natural materials in the adobe bricks. The bricks dissolved, walls bulged, the centuries-old wooden roof beams split and cracked. The church was closed in 2010 for a several year restoration. Many neighboring mission churches collapsed or were so damaged, they never reopened.
Two centuries later, Fr. Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar left his native Spain for Mexico. In 1769 in San Diego, he founded his first mission in what is now California. In front of the Santa Barbara mission is a statue of Fr. Serra, with one of the classic El Camino Real bells which still mark the 700 mile route from San Diego to Sonoma.
Serra’s fifth mission was Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Unlike the other mission churches he built, this had an L-shaped nave. Below, you can see the arch to the right of the alter where the other nave angles off.
The 21st and furthest north of the California missions is Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. Unlike the others pictured above, it is no longer an active house of worship, but is a state park.