UCLA is releasing in DVD the experimental documentary feature film Frontierland/Fronterilandia
I did in collaboration with Jesse Lerner. Jesse is a filmmaker and has a blog called the American Egypt
with his essays about film, photography and art. The next essay is an adaptation of the narration from the second chapter of Frontierland/Fronterilandia
that was featured in Art Issues magazine. The film was funded by I.T.V.S. and originally aired on KCET in June 1995.
ORTIZ TORRES, Rubén, Jesse Lerner: "Spanish Caprice": Art Issues
, no 41, January/February, Los Angeles, 1996, pp. 23-25.
Soon may the Papagos gather
Beneath the sacred shade
Where their fathers knelt 'round the Black-Robe
Listened, believed and prayed.
Soon may the Black-Robe's labor
The treasures of faith unfold.
And this mission bloom in the valley
As once it bloomed of old.
May its arches again re-echo
The sound of the vesper hymn,
And fervent souls to worship
Kneel in the shadow dim.
Brushed from each shrine and altar
The gathering dust and mold,
May the daily oblation be offered
Which the prophet hath foretold,
May its broken cross be uplifted,
And its bell more sweetly chime,
And its glory remain untarnished
Until the eve of time.
-Ildefonsus describing the mission San Xavier del Bac, ca, 1919
For the North Americans who came to California during the second half of the nineteenth century, the Franciscan Missions were nagging reminders that the West had not always been theirs. Ever since the liberal Mexican governments instituted policies of secularization, these distant outposts of a defeated empire had fallen toward ruin. But out from under these ruins grew an industry propagating the romance of old Spain --a fanciful vision of these buildings as picturesque relics from a noble past.
Where there is a noble past, or even the illusion of one, entrepreneurs, promoters and clientele are on their way. Thus while the origins of the late nineteenth-century “mission fever” were literary, the missions later inspired fiestas, parades, real state developments and tourism. The missions also attracted the attention of architects and their employers. Rather than transplanting alien and often inappropriate architectural forms from elsewhere, they hoped to develop a distinctly Californian style of building, appropriate to the climate and evocative of their particular understanding of the region's history.
While the original missions were designed as religious communities, the mission revival buildings had other uses. Given this alteration of function, architects relied on the quotation of a series of evocative elements.
Details which characterize the architecture of the missions, and which were paraphrased by builders in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, include: massive walls of adobe, (for which concrete and drywall were later substituted), the red tile roof, arcaded corridors, terraced bell towers, and the patio with fountain and garden.
Within a few years, the mission style had become the semi-official architecture of California. Architects built train stations, post offices, schools, airplane hangers, department stores, apartment buildings, bungalows, gas stations, presidential libraries, automobile clubs and fast food restaurants in this style. Endless permutations blended Mission style with-craftsman, Queen Anne, Federal and other diverse architectural styles. Mission elements were often mixed with or referred to as Spanish, Moorish, Romanesque, Oriental, Islamic, Latin and Mediterranean styles.
California's mission revival proved to be only the first of a series of architectural styles which migrated across the border from south to north.The architect Bertram Goodhue instigated a vogue for the more ornamental Mexican churrigueresco style with his designs for the 1915 International Exposition in San Diego. Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright blended Aztec and Mayan elements with modernist forms, while others took these same pre-Columbian references in more flamboyant directions. While many of these fads proved to be short-lived, the Mission Revival has remained the most lasting and characteristic architectural style of the California landscape. Spreading from California, the taste for Mission Revival reached from New England to Tijuana to Vancouver's Chinatown and to Mexico City, where there emerge a Mexican reinterpretation of a North American copy of a colonial Mexican architectural style.
In Mexico, The Mission Revival or Colonial Californiano, as it became known there, referred less to the original missions than to the Hollywood dream. The buildings became more ornate, incorporating stained glass windows, elaborately carved stonework, and baroque elements. While modern Mexican architects disparaged the style as kitschy, phony affectation of the nouveau riche, a revolutionary revisionism later came to advocate a style that was called Neocolonial Nationalism. The resulting buildings looked much like those of the Colonial Californiano. The early work of Carlos Obregón Santacilia, the leading architect of the Revolution, includes Neocolonial Nationalist housing for the workers, though in his writings he dismissed the style as “pocho” (a slang word for someone that who speaks neither Spanish nor English properly). Ultimately, then, in reappropriating colonial architecture both Neocolonial Nationalism and Colonial Californiano emerged as something new. By the time a Mexican architect built a church in the Mission Revival style, it no longer looked like a mission. Mission Revival buildings, while they were always copies of something else, have subsequently been recognized as landmarks of architectural significance, both in Mexico and the United States. Today, ironically, some of these buildings have been declared historical monuments, a status which they had aimed for at the beginning.
Throughout the twentieth century, the Mission Revival style influenced many important modernist architects working in California, specially Secessionists like Irving Gill and Frances Underhill. But the Mission Revival and Modernism always made strange bedfellows. Anticipating later debates within postmodernism, the Mission Revival foreshadowed an interest in regional history as opposed to the development of a universal language --or international style--in architecture. Like the old Spanish Fiesta still celebrated today in Santa Barbara, the Mission Revival instigated a dialogue with the past that resonates in the present.
Labels: arquitecture, California, España, Jesse Lerner, México, Published Texts