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  1. #1

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    California Mission restoration

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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).

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    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.
    Last edited by SpacemanSpiff; 06-07-2013 at 06:46 AM.

  2. #2

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Now that is just ruddy fantastic. Both a fun history lesson and an important refurbishment of a historical item. Knott's is really taking a step forward and hope they continue to do small things like this. Thanks for sharing!



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  3. #3

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Too bad DCA never had an area that celebrated California's rich mission history.

  4. #4

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    This is absolutely wonderful. I love the old diorama/models from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. Thank yo so much for sharing this story.

    “That's the way a lot of things happen... You think one person did something
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  5. #5

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I love talking to our elders and learning about how things were done.

  6. #6

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Quote Originally Posted by CaliforniaAdventurer View Post
    Too bad DCA never had an area that celebrated California's rich mission history.
    Honestly, probably just another example of entertainment shying away from potential controversy. Think about it - the *only* attraction that even hinted at anything negative about CA was Golden Dreams, and even that only had one very limited scene suggesting anti-Asian thugs.

    I remember seeing these back in the '70s at Cub Scout trips to the park, and even then the Cubmaster was fairly pointed in reminding us all that a good chunk of the labor wasn't exactly well paid.
    Credibility is to be sought for. Credulity is not. Sadly the latter is our normal human state.

  7. #7

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Man, I'm becoming a bigger fan of Knotts by the week.

  8. #8

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Quote Originally Posted by CaliforniaAdventurer View Post
    Too bad DCA never had an area that celebrated California's rich mission history.
    Mid actually rather them not do that...seeing that missions were made to force Native Americans to work and convert to another religion...all while being put in bad living conditions and receiving diseases

  9. #9

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Another positive step. Get rid of Pony Express in Boot Hill first. Bring back the Fiesta village lake, and we are on our way. Go Knotts.
    Ralzap

  10. #10

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    ^^Yes to all of this!

  11. #11

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    I was at Knott's this week. The craftsman was not working on that day, but his work on Mission Santa Ines is coming along nicely--he may almost be done with the current model he is working on.

    Some photos:

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    Name:  Mission Santa Inez June 2013_11a.jpg
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    Name:  Mission Santa Inez June 2013_12a.jpg
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  12. #12

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Awesome pictures. Planning a visit in the winter for the Calico craft faire (and hopefully shorter lines in park for the log ride) and looking forward to these.
    Credibility is to be sought for. Credulity is not. Sadly the latter is our normal human state.

  13. #13

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    That's nice to see a park starting to take care of its history. Too bad that they he couldn't save three of them.
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  14. #14

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Thank you for these updates! Can't wait for the dioramas to be out and on display again.

  15. #15

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    Re: California Mission restoration

    Quote Originally Posted by Coasterjunkie View Post
    That's nice to see a park starting to take care of its history. Too bad that they he couldn't save three of them.
    Unfortunately when they dismantled the Mission displays years ago, the elements had taken their toll on some of the mission models. When they were being removed from the display area, they disintegrated in the workers hands.

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