I spent the morning at Knott's Berry Farm today. I walked by the area in Ghost Town (I believe it's on the porch of the Toy Barn, and a few steps from the Western museum), and saw the Santa Inez Mission in the work area. I asked the man working at the booth next door, and he said the craftsman would be there about noon today.
I did a few things around Ghost Town and came back around 12:30. The craftsman (I never asked his name, though I really should have asked him) spent 10 or 15 minutes talking with me about the history of the missions and the work he was doing.
He told me that the 21 missions were created by Leon Divollo (not sure about the spelling), who had been born in Spain, and had worked first in the New York theater world building sets and doing set decoration, and then once the motion picture business started, he had moved to Hollywood and worked for a long time for Warner Brothers in Burbank doing similar work. Anyway, he had gotten to a point in his career when he wasn't working all the time, and around 1950 he happened to meet Walter Knott by happenstance. Knott soon commissioned him to make models of all 21 California missions.
Divollo actually visited every mission to make sure he got the details right, and built them at Knott's Berry Farm. Divollo delivered the first set of them (I believe the first 16 or so) in 1950, and the rest were finished by 1956.
This was early in my childhood that I remember seeing these, but the craftsman said that a handful of them were housed in the tunnel between Calico Square and Fiesta Village, and the rest were displayed just past the tunnel on the way towards Fiesta Village. He said they had been packed away about 15 years ago when one of the new rides had opened, and the mission dioramas had been sitting in storage in the park, collecting dust and deteriorating from lack of care.
He said someone in the current park management recently came across the mission dioramas in storage, and decided that they should be restored and put back on display.
Anyway, the craftsman said he had been commissioned by Knott's Berry Farm to restore the mission dioramas. He said he just finished Mission Santa Barbara last week, which he said was a lengthy restoration which took him four weeks to complete. He thought the next one, Santa Inez, should go a little bit faster.
He said that four of the missions were not salvageable, so when he finished restoring the other 17 missions, his plan was to work building new missions to replace those four. It was his understanding, although it wasn't spelled out, that the mission dioramas would be displayed in the same area or close-by to their original locations.
He said he could tell that the original missions had been built around the 1950s because they used animal glue, which was commonly used during that period (he said he was starting out in the business around that time). He also said that the interior structure of the missions had been built entirely with pine wood.
The craftsman seemed very knowledgeable about the history of the dioramas, the craft used in building them and necessary to restore them, and the missions themselves (I thought Father Serra had founded Mission Santa Barbara, but he told me that Serra had already died when that mission was founded).
I can see how this type of work is very painstaking and detail-oriented, and one might not want to be chatting with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happened by, but he spent a good 15 or 20 minutes talking with me, and as I was leaving, he had started a new conversation with someone else who had just come by.