THE ALTA CALIFORNIA MISSIONS: SPANISH-AMERICAN HERITAGE IN THE UNITED STATES (II)
We offer this time, the second and last part of this interesting article written by Fernando Vela Cossío on the Missions of Alta California in the Hispanic American Heritage of the United States.
The heritage status of the California missions and the work of the historian Rexford Newcomb
The inventorying, cataloguing and legal protection of the California missions was carried out in the second half of the twentieth century, when the various complexes founded by the Franciscans began to be added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and designated National Historic Landmarks (NHL). (1) Since its creation the NRHP has been run by the National Park Services, a federal agency set up in August 1916 and organisationally responsible to the US Department of the Interior. The State of California has 144 registered National Historic Landmarks, many of which are Franciscan Missions as they are places that witnessed major events significant to the country’s history, contain remarkable constructions, or are archaeological sites.
But the process whereby the missions gained heritage status began long before that – practically a century earlier. Rodrigo Gutiérrez Viñuales refers to a process that started when California joined the Union and the missions were taken over by the United States after the war with Mexico, followed by a ‘rescuing of heritage in which many architects and historians were involved. The process began to take off after the acquisition of El Álamo mission by the state of Texas in 1883 and the restoration of the San Carlos Borromeo Carmel mission the following year; all this sparked enthusiasm for restoring the mission buildings, which were largely in ruins. The publication of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona (1884), set in the early mission period, triggered a boom in publishing that would give further impetus to the entire process.’ (2)
Newcomb’s book published in this edition, The Franciscan Mission Architecture of Alta California (New York, The Architectural Book Publishing Co. Paul Wenzel & Maurice Krakow), came out in 1916 and is, of course, a consequence of this heritage process. Indeed, it is the first systematic study of the Californian mission architecture but also underlines the truly operational timeliness of the use of this Spanish legacy in contemporary architecture in the United States.
Despite its interest, this work, which was reprinted in English in 1973 (New York, Dover Publications), has never been translated into Spanish until now. Its author, Rexford Newcomb (1886-1986), was a lecturer in the history of architecture, a member of the American Society of Architectural Historians, of which he was elected president in 1943, and dean of the college of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana, which holds substantial documentary archives of his work. (3) This legacy provides valuable information, especially photographs, of the huge amount of work involved in studying the history of North American architecture and particularly that of the Spanish architectural legacy over an extensive period spanning from 1902 to 1965.
It was published during the height of development of the so-called ‘mission style’, which was widespread during the period from 1890 to 1930 and gave impetus to the so-called Spanish style that was known in America as ‘Spanish colonial revival style’ (4) and reached its apogee between 1915 and the start of the Second World War, spreading rapidly throughout Florida and California.
The mission style and Spanish colonial revival style, which are related to the European revival and eclectic architecture that was widespread in North American architecture in the last decades of the nineteenth century, are an irrefutable example of the growing interest in Spain, Spanish art and the Spanish legacy in the United States which had been strongly promoted since the early twentieth century by the Hispanic Society of America, founded in 25 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955).
The San Diego international exposition (1915-1917), (5) designed by the architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924), who had made various trips around Mexico since the end of the nineteenth century and had collaborated closely with the historian Sylvester Baxter (1850-1927) in preparing the plans accompanying the monumental work Spanish Colonial Architecture in Mexico (Boston, J.B. Millet, 1901), marked the high point of the Spanish colonial style in the United States.
The publication of Newcomb’s books made a decisive contribution to disseminating Spanish stylistic traits not only in the United States but throughout the Americas. As Rodrigo Rodríguez Viñuales points out, ‘the term “neo-colonial” caught on in Latin America to denote architectural styles with Spanish roots, as part of an identity process encouraged by the intellectual circles and in which architects, artists and writers played an active role. This reality was further stimulated by the centenary celebrations as a moment of balance and debate on the countries’ future direction, and not long afterwards by the outbreak of the First World War, when the European cultural model, hitherto almost unquestionable, gave way to an introspective, pro-American gaze. This, coupled with the ‘Hispanist’ architectural trends imported from the United States through magazines from that part of the world and local journals featuring information from the northern nation, led to the espousal of ‘Spanishness’ as a unique part of the American identity. To put it another way, the Spanish identity took root as a component of the continent’s essences.’ (6)
Architects from all over the continent such as Pedro Adolfo de Castro Besosa (18951936) and Rafael Carmoega Morales (1894-1968) in Puerto Rico, Evelio Govantes Fuertes (b. 1886) and Félix Cabarrocas Ayala (1887-1961) in Cuba, Federico Mariscal Piña (18811971) and Jesús T. Acevedo (1882-1918) in Mexico, Héctor Velarde (1898-1989) and Emilio Harth-Terrè (1899-1983) in Peru, Roberto Dávila Carson (1899-1971) in Chile and Martín Noel (1888-1963) and Ángel Guido (1896-1960) in Argentina are significant examples of the dissemination of Spanish forms in America in the first quarter of the twentieth century. This period, which witnessed the early professional development of the generation born in the late nineteenth century, was characterised in Spain by the pursuit of a new national style that, following the political, social and economic upheaval stemming from the loss of the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the resulting identity crisis, ushered in a fi rm spirit of change, renewal and reorientation in a Spain that was struggling to fi nd its own path and the expression of its personality in the new international order of the twentieth century.
Specifically in the field of architecture, this course seemed to be the construction of the Spanish pavilion in Paris in 1900, a building designed by José Urioste y Velada (1850-1909) which faithfully recalled the forms of expression of the Spanish Plateresque style and became one of the most important architectural references of the Spanish regenerationist movement. To quote Fernando Chueca, ‘as it could not do so through weapons, the wounded mother country wished to be victorious by exhibiting cultural values. The cry was uttered by José Urioste y Velada when he built the National Pavilion of Spain at the Paris Universal Exposition (7) Urioste’s design, according to the architect Luis María Cabello y Lapiedra, was based 27 of 1900’.
on ‘the delightful examples of this style that exist in the University of Alcalá, whose façade was completed in 1553 by the skilful Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón; the main façade of the Alcázar of Toledo, the construction of which was commissioned in 1537 from the famous Alonso de Covarrubias, when Emperor Charles V decided to convert Alfonso X’s former fortress into a palace; the University of Salamanca, a beautiful example of the Plateresque style, previously used only by Enrique de Egás in the churches of Santa Cruz in Toledo and Santa Cruz in Valladolid; and the palace of the Counts of Monterrey, built in 1530 in the city of Salamanca and notable, among other details, for the grandiose cresting that crowns it. The interior was based on models of courtyards from the same period, and the decorative motifs from the Colegio del Arzobispo in Salamanca, the Hospital de Santa Cruz in Toledo, and the Pardo and Zaporta houses in Zaragoza.’ (8)
One of the consequences of the pursuit of this national style for Spanish architecture was the rediscovery of the various local traditions and countless particularities of what was in fact a plural and diverse group of regions. Nationalism and regionalism were thus underpinned the same consideration and importance given to the tradition and shared the same core principles, which would be perfectly reflected in what can be regarded as the main ‘manifesto’ of Spanish regionalism: the paper given by architects Leonardo Rucabado (18751918) and Aníbal González (1876-1929) at the 6th National Congress of Architects held in San Sebastián in September 1916 under the title ‘Guidelines for the resurgence of a national architecture’. The holding of the Seville Ibero-American Exposition in Seville in 1929 marked the culmination of this whole consolidation process of the ‘Spanish identity’ in America, to which Rexford Newcomb’s work had contributed so greatly.
The author of leading works on the history of American architecture such as Colonial and Federal Houses (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1933), Architecture of the Old Northwest Territory; a Study of Early Architecture in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin & Part of Minnesota (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1950) and Architecture in old Kentucky (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1953), Newcomb also studied ceramics and the applied arts. (9) Prominent among his works on Spanish-American architecture, in addition to the present book, are The Old Mission Churches and Historic Houses of California; Their History, Architecture, Art and Lore (Philadelphia / London, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1925), The Spanish House for America (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1927) and Spanish-colonial Architecture in the United States (New York, J.J. Augustin, 1937).
The original copy we have worked with to put together this edition – as stated, the fi rst to have been translated into Spanish – is from the early holdings of the library of the school of architecture (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura) of the Universidad Politécnica in Madrid, and is part of the so-called Cebrián Donation, which we will discuss in due course.
The California missions in Spanish historiography
This facsimile edition of Newcomb’s original work is accompanied by two Spanish texts that have been translated into English for the first time. We believe they are a fascinating complement that fully attests to the awakening of interest in the Spanish-American legacy in the United States. The chosen writings are the inaugural address given by the architect Modesto López Otero on 9 May 1926 at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Real Academia de Bellas Artes), entitled ‘A Spanish infl uence in North American architecture’, and an article by another architect, Rafael Fernández-Huidobro, ‘Belfries in California’, which appeared in 1936 in the magazine Arquitectura published by the Sociedad Central de Arquitectos.
Modesto López Otero (1885-1962) qualified as an architect in 1910 and embarked on a brilliant career. In 1916 he began teaching at the school of architecture (Escuela Superior de Arquitectura) in Madrid, becoming professor of projects in 1916 and director from 1923 to 1943, during which he was in charge of the design, construction and reconstruction after the Civil War (1936-39) of Madrid’s university campus, Ciudad Universitaria, unquestionably his most important work. As a member of the governing board of Ciudad Universitaria, he was part of the technical committee who travelled around America to visit the major campuses of the United States, coming into contact with contemporary architecture and also with some of the surviving examples of the Spanish legacy in this part of the continent. (10)
In his inaugural lecture to the San Fernando academy, to which he was admitted following the death of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco in April 1923, he surveys the California missions precisely in this context of appreciation of the Spanish-American architectural legacy we mentioned earlier, but without losing sight of the progress of the architecture of his own time: ‘We should aspire to preserve it throughout all the changes in the future. This can be achieved not by setting our sights on the past but by turning our backs to it; and not through condemnation but through the steady pace and rapid progress of evolution, driven by tradition itself, with our thoughts on a new architecture.’
It is also very important to underline López Otero’s mention in the speech of the ‘subject of my short talk. Before continuing, I should point out that it is merely an essay without any critical intent or, rather, a compilation of impressions, notes and comments which sprang to mind when I leafed through a few books and American magazines in the library at my School, mostly from the Cebrián donation – a name that to a Spanish architect today signifies gratitude and devotion – and have been strung together as best as possible by someone who is not accustomed to giving speeches.’
The reference to Juan Cebrián Cervera (1848-1935), a personal friend of López Otero and a prestigious Spanish architect based in San Francisco from 1870, is highly significant, as he generously engaged in constant work to promote Spain’s image in the United States and to support Spanish universities.
The copy of Rexford Newcomb’s book used to prepare this edition is precisely one of the volumes that were part of the so-called Cebrián donation, a large group of works chosen to be given to the library of the school of architecture to enhance its holdings in the fields of architecture and fi ne art and the various branches of technology related to construction and engineering. The donation also included extremely important subscriptions to architectural journals of Europe and the Americas. In 1917 the catalogue of the Cebrián donation included more than 2,600 books and nearly 400 magazines. These figures give an idea of the extent to which it significantly improved the school’s academic activity.
As Luis Español has pointed out, Cebrián played a key role in bringing the University of Berkeley into contact with the Universidad Central in Madrid, and in funding the activities of American Hispanists, whose work was facilitated by the gift of valuable Spanish works to leading American libraries such as those of Berkeley and Stanford universities, that of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and that of the Art Institute in Chicago.
In the speech delivered as part of the tribute paid to Cebrián by the San Fernando academy, López Otero read a brief biography of his friend and sponsor, stressing how he ‘founded the Spanish Library at Berkeley, which, following the constant stream of donations, now numbers more than 25,000 volumes, and also bore the cost of its magnificent catalogue. As at Berkeley, at Stanford he founded another with more than 5,000 books, and other specialist libraries in certain centres such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. And for the general public, he set up the Spanish section of the great library in the city of San Francisco.’ (11)
The speech provides a clear diagnosis of the scant interest the subject has aroused. López Otero regrets, and rightly so, that ‘for knowledge of the source type, we must turn to the Americans. It is regrettable that, even though the most fascinating aspect of the civilising action of Spain in America is the development of its art – or rather, its architecture, which, as a whole with its establishment and development, stands comparison with that of the Roman conquest – it has barely drawn our attention. Hardly anyone studied it in the nineteenth century, at least not specifically; even today it is not Spanish books that analyse and disseminate it, despite the fact that the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque styles cannot be studied without including the leafy overseas branch.’
López Otero underlines the contributions of the Mexican Mariscal and the Argentinians Guido and Martín Noel, as well as of archaeologists and scholars such as Revilla, Díaz Barroso and the Marquis of La Frontera, but he also stresses the importance of the role played by the North Americans, expressly mentioning Sylvester Baxter (1850-1927) (12) and Mary Gordon (1857-1922). (13) It is nevertheless somewhat surprising that he does not make any Holway mention of Newcomb’s work, with which he must have been familiar.
The other text included in this edition is, as we have pointed out, by the architect Rafael Fernández-Huidobro. Published in 1936, in the 5th issue of the magazine Arquitectura, it paints an interesting picture of one of the most representative features of Californian mission architecture. ‘What is the most characteristic element of mission architecture?’ he asks. The answer is ‘Belfries: those attractive towers and gables with simple, gentle lines silhouetted against the country’s clear horizons. Well, this was, and is, the feature that is most borrowed and incorporated into all kinds of buildings. And the sole aim of this article is to outline, very briefl y of course, the features of the belfries of California.’
Rafael Fernández-Huidobro y Pineda (1908-1994) had enrolled at the Madrid school of architecture in 1924 and qualified as an architect in December 1933. He earned a degree in Exact Sciences and Geographical Engineering, lectured at the Faculty of Science at Madrid University and was appointed as professor of Architectural Construction (second year) at the school of architecture, to which he remained linked until retiring in December 1983. In 1947, together with Iñiguez Almech and López Durán, he was responsible for compiling the report on reforming the admissions procedure for the school, where he held the posts of deputy director and head of studies from 1952 to 1962 and director from 1967 to 1969.
In 1935 he was granted a scholarship from the Fundación Conde de Cartagena (14) to study in California, an experience that explains his knowledge of Spanish architectural heritage in America and a professional move made three decades later, in 1961, when he restored the Spanish monuments in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Bolivia, Colombia and Panama.
In his article – a magnificent piece which is particularly notable for the accompanying drawings of the belfries that illustrate it – Fernández-Huidobro examines contemporary architecture, pointing out that ‘the Californian people, espousing their past architecture in a modern way and drawing inspiration from it to create new forms enshrined in an attractive and typical architecture, show how love of what is one’s own serves to achieve the method of construction that is most in keeping with a country’s land and tradition. […] It would not be true to say that entirely original forms have been created in California. Rather, its architects have very intelligently adapted styles derived from Spain to modern living conditions in that new country, achieving undeniably harmonious and attractive results.’ He also praises López Otero, stating that he ‘explains clearly and definitely all the characteristics of this architectural process’.
Huidobro proves he is well-versed in the related literature when he points out that ‘there is scarcely any literature in Spanish on the development and history of the missions and their influence on the current architecture of California (an exception is, of course, the notable work, cited above, by Don Modesto López Otero, which truly fi lls that gap); but there is plenty in English.’ He goes on to list the available books, including Newcomb’s The Old Mission Churches and Historic Houses of California (1925), but not our The Franciscan Mission Architecture of Alta California (1916). His bibliography likewise mentions classics such as The Art of the Old World in New Spain, and the Mission Days of Alta California (1922) by Mary Gordon Holway and Spanish Colonial or Adobe Architecture of California.1800-1850 by Donald R. Hannaford and Revel Edwards (1931).
These early works by López Otero and Fernández-Huidobro on the missions were followed by historical surveys carried out by writers such as Diego Ángulo iñíguez in Historia de la Arquitectura Hispanoamericana (Barcelona, Salvat, 1945-1956) (15) and Enrique Marco Dorta, who devoted an epigraph of his book Arte en América y Filipinas, volume XXI of the series Ars Hispaniae (Madrid, Plus Ultra, 1973), to the missions in Alta and Baja California. (16)
(1) The oldest designations are those of the Santa Bárbara and San Carlos Borromeo del Carmelo missions, made on 10 September 1960. They were followed by designations of whole complexes or specifi c features of them in May 1963 (Old Mission Dam, San Diego), April 1970 (San Luis Rey, San Diego and La Purísima), etc.
(2) Rodrigo Gutiérrez Viñuales, ‘Identidades españolas en América a través del arte y la arquitectura. Escenarios de entresiglos (1890-1930) y prolongaciones en el tiempo’, Historia y Política, no. 36 (2016), p. 196.
(3) Rexford G. Newcomb Papers, 1902-65, University of Illinois Archives. We are grateful to Dr Helaine Silvermann, professor of Anthropology, for helping us consult Newcomb’s original materials housed in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana.
(4) John J.-G. Blumenson, Identifying American Architecture. A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945, New York / London, W.W. Norton & Company, 1981.
(5) On the development, characteristics and architects involved in the San Diego international exposition, see The Architecture and the Gardens of the San Diego Exposition (Madrid, Kalam, 2017), published as part of this collection.
(6) Gutiérrez Viñuales 2016, op. cit. (note 17), p. 198.
(7) Fernando Chueca Goitia, ‘Arte, Arquitectura y Urbanismo en la España de 1898’, Arbor no. CLX, 630 (June 1998), p. 242.
(8) Luis María Cabello y Lapiedra, ‘El Pabellón español en la Exposición de París’, Arquitectura y Construcción, no. 48 (February 1899), p. 54.
(9) During the 1920s he published various books on ancient ceramics, prominent among which are Ceramic Art among the Greeks and Romans (Beaver Falls, 1926), Ceramic of Saracenic Syria, Turkey and Egypt (Beaver Falls, 1926), Ceramic Decoration in India (New York, 1928), Decorative Tiles of North Africa (New York, 1929) and Ceramic Whitewares; History, Technology and Application (New York / Chicago, 1947).
(10) See Teresa Sánchez de Lerín García-Ovies, Modesto López Otero. Vida y obra, doctoral thesis, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, 2000.
(11) ‘Biografía leída por don M. López Otero en la Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando con motivo del homenaje a D. Juan C. Cebrián’, Arquitectura, no. 168 (April 1933).
(12) Sylvester Baxter is the author of the book Spanish-Colonial Architecture in Mexico (Boston, J.B. Millet, 1901, 12 vols.). This work in large format, translated into Spanish in 1934, was accompanied by abundant illustrations including photographs by Henry Greenwood Peabody (1855-1951) and plans by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (18691924).
(13) Among other works, Mary Gordon Holway is the author of the book Art of the Old World in New Spain and the Mission Days of Alta California (San Francisco, A.M. Robertson, 1922).
(14) The Fundación Conde de Cartagena was established by Aníbal Morillo y Pérez (1865-1929), who left an important bequest to various Spanish royal academies – History; the San Fernando of Fine Arts; Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences; and Medicine – and the Board of Trustees of the Museo Nacional del Prado to set up research chairs in these institutions and to award prizes and scholarships.
(15) See Diego Angulo Íñiguez, ‘La arquitectura hispanoamericana en los Estados Unidos’, in Historia del Arte Hispanoamericano, vol. 2, pp. 823-58, Barcelona, Salvat, 1950.
(16) See Enrique Marco Dorta, ‘Estados Unidos’, in Arte en América y Filipinas, pp. 190-98, Madrid, Plus Ultra, 1973.