Mission Revival in the Presidio

Many of the train stations I had sketched recently were designed and built in a Spanish Mission Revival style: Burlingame, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. Truly the best way to understand an architectural style or architect is to sit in front of a building and sketch it.

And so, on a Friday afternoon, I headed to the Presidio, in the northwest corner of San Francisco, to sketch one of the finer examples of Spanish Mission Revival in the City of Saint Francis. I was also getting back into the habit of doing an after work sketch, which is a great way to decompress from the week’s work.

My subject was Fort Winfield Scott and the buildings that lined the parade grounds. These were the army barrack buildings built between 1910 and 1912 as the headquarters for the Coast Artillery District. I walked around the semi-circle of buildings until one spoke to me. It really wasn’t too hard because it was the only building with a hawk at its height.

An adult red-tailed hawk using building 1202 to survey the parade ground for gophers.

I set up my sketching chair on the parade ground and started to sketch building 1202. This was a former Army barrack built in 1911, and housed up to 95 to 109 soldiers.

I framed in the lovely lines of the barracks and added the red-tailed hawk at the top of the curve. The raptor flew to the field, this time coming up with only grasses in its talons. The hawk flew off only to appear later at the top of the flag pole at the edge of the grounds.

Building 1202 now houses the Presidio Graduate School and the World Economic Forum. Both sound a bit mysterious. People kept coming and going from the building. Some where getting on their bikes to ride home. A young woman bikerider stopped and asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was drawing the building and noted that that it was beautiful. She replied that she was “spoiled” to work in the building. These are the nice little conversations you frequently have when urban sketching, it really seems to take out the threat and the isolation of being in the city when people see your sketching.


Santa Barbara Station

The Surfliner was an hour late and I would have even less time to spend with Santa Barbara’s beautiful station. I had to catch the number 14, Coast Starlight back to SLO at 12:40 PM. So I figured I had time for a quick 45 minute sketch and an even shorter lunch but I couldn’t wander too far from the station. Revisiting the “Queen of the Missions” was out of the question.

I walked around the station, “shaking hands”with the place. The Santa Barbara passenger station was completed in 1905 and designed in a Spanish Mission Revival style, very much reminiscent of Burlingame Station. This building has all the hallmarks of Mission Revival: arches, a star window (in imitation of Mission Carmel), and adobe tiled roof.

The woman’s waiting room at Santa Barbara Station. Above the fireplace is a base relief representation of Father Serra, founder of the Alta California Missions. He is spreading his arms wide, waiting to hug any neophytes that happen to be in the Station’s waiting room.

Santa Barbara Station was one of seven stations that the Coast Daylight served. The route parallels El Camino Real, the Royal Road, that connected 21 of the Spanish Missions along Alta California’s Coast.

GS-5 Number 4458, pulls into Santa Barbara Station at an unspecified date. The loco pulls train No. 99, a northbound Daylight to San Francisco. There were only two GS-5 locomotives built. Numbers 4458 and 4459. (Union Pacific Museum Collection: SP photo)
Golden State-4 number 4443 taking on water at Santa Barbara in January 1948. The train stopped in Santa Barbara for only four minutes before heading south towards Los Angeles. (Alan Miller Collection: Frank Peterson photo)

The train station served the ever growing resort town on the Pacific Ocean that catered towards the high-end.

A sign of the wealth and affluence of this area is the Pullman car that is on static display near the train station. Pullman passenger cars where a huge improvement in comfort and safety from the rickety, wooden cars that were uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous. They were the height of luxury at the time, for the well-off passengers who could afford to ride on one.

But the Pullman car at Santa Barbara is something very different. In the later part of the 20th century, Pullman produced passenger cars for the extremely wealthy, that could cost up to half a million dollars, which was twenty times the cost of a standard Pullman passenger coach. These cars were considered “mansions on wheels”. They where coupled to the end of a passenger train and at Santa Barbara there were siding tracks where these luxurious cars would over-winter as their owners stayed in nearby posh hotels.

After my sketch I walked down State Street toward the Pacific Ocean and I was passed by a twenty-something driving by in a brand new Rolls Royce, a modern Santa Barbarian mansion on wheels.

Some things like the station and mission remind us of a very different time while others show us that things remain very much the same.