Mission Revival Project Proposal

My project will center on Mission revival architecture in Southern California. This architectural style takes inspiration from the original California Missions (built from 1768 – 1853) and was very popular at the turn of the twentieth century. I aim to include examples of this architectural style from Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties because I want to show its prevalence throughout southern California. In addition to the original Mission structures from the early 18th – 19th century, I will be documenting buildings constructed in the 20th century. My possible thesis is: “The Mission Revival style has left an indelible mark on Southern California’s built environment, it has been used on a variety of buildings and both reflects and produces California history and culture.”

For this project, my primary sources are physical buildings. Of course, I will be “handling” these sources indirectly through photographs of the buildings. I anticipate being able to find existing photographs of the original missions. I will examine these sources for perspectives on the Missions and their history: What could be the photographer’s intent? Are the Missions presented in a romanticized way? What does this reveal about the significance of the Missions in California culture? What do these sources reveal about how Californians have interpreted the Mission system?

I plan on documenting (photographing) the Mission Revival buildings myself. For these sources I will ask them about their use: Are they residential or commercial buildings? Are they used by the public? I am also interested in when they were built, by whom, and where they are located. I will compare this information from all the buildings I document to see if there are any trends in mission revival architecture: is it seen in a particular type of building (business, residential, or other)? Was this style very popular during a certain time? Overall, I am asking what significance this style has for Southern California: how are mission revival buildings used and understood?

This project will utilize three digital tools: an Omeka archive, Timeline.JS, and Google Maps. The Omeka archive will allow me to create a “collection” of Mission Revival sites that users can browse to view examples of the style or search for a particular building. Creating a timeline will be beneficial for seeing when this style was frequently used: if there was a time when a large number of Mission Revival buildings were constructed, we will be able to see a cluster on the timeline. Conversely, if the style has remained consistently popular, the timeline will show an even spread. Plotting the building sites on Google Maps will also be helpful for visualization: where in Southern California are examples of this style found? If a cluster appears on the map, what does that reveal about that area? Because the intent of my project is to allow users to examine the built environment of Southern California, the digital tools I am using are invaluable for taking a sort of “virtual tour” of Mission Revival architecture.

Mission Revival architecture is frequently taught to students of California History and California Culture because it is a physical manifestation of how Californians have adopted/ reconciled the heritage of the Mission system. The Missions forever altered the environment of California: first through the conquest of Native Californian populations and later through their legacy of the Spanish Fantasy Past. The Mission Revival style uses architectural themes to silently communicate ideas of California history and culture. Because the style is so common throughout Southern California, it is rarely remarked on or even articulated – instead of not seeing the forest for the trees, Californians can’t see the Mission Revival style for all the Taco Bells.

This project will highlight the prominence of Mission Revival style architecture in southern California. By examining how common the style is, we can discuss why it is frequently used and what that says about Californians and how we engage with our history. I hope that engaging with Mission Revival architecture will raise questions, or at least a dialogue, about how the legacy of the Missions is remembered.


Weitze, Karen. California’s Mission Revival. Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1984.

            This book explains the Mission Revival style and the larger role the Missions played in the booster movement. It will be helpful for my project because I can gain insight into the motives of the Mission Revival movement and how Californians originally responded to it.

Kropp, Phoebe. California Vieja : Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place.                               Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

            Phoebe Kropp analyzes the origins of the California Mission Revival aesthetic. From world’s fairs, to El Camino Real and Olvera Street, she argues that the booster movement produced these sites as expressions of the “California Dream”. Importantly, Kropp discusses who built and used these sites, who they serve and what narrative they produce about California culture and memory. This source will provide information on some of the most obvious expressions of the Mission Revival movement such as El Camino Real and Rancho Santa Fe.

Deverell, William. “Privileging the Mission over the Mexican: The Rise of Regional Consciousness in Southern California,” in Many Wests: Place, Culture, and Regional Identity. Edited by David Wrobel and Michael Steiner. Lawrence: University Press of             Kansas, 1997.

            This essay argues that elite white Californians dictated popular images and conceptions of Southern California in order to further their economic interests. The resulting “regional consciousness” does not reflect the diversity of the region and miscommunicates the history of California. I will use this source to learn about who used the Mission Revival style in the past and for what purpose. I would like to investigate whether these trends have continued today.

Gebhard, David. “The Spanish Colonial Revival in Southern California (1895-1930)
.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 26, no. 2 (May, 1967): 131- 147

David Gebhard is an architectural historian. In this article, he writes about the history of the Spanish Colonial style in Southern California. His discussion of this architectural style articulates the original Mission Revival style and its derivative and successor Mediterranean/ Spanish revival style. This article has helpful information about the distinctions of these two iterations and references many buildings that can potentially be included in my project.

Rawls, James. “The California Mission as Symbol and Myth
.” California History 71, no. 3 (Fall, 1992): 342-361.

            This article explores American perceptions of the Mission System from when they were active until the present day. The author argues that the mission system has been mythicized and exploited for commercial gain. Of most relevance for my project is the discussion of the revival of the missions for tourism purposes. This article will provide insight into the general beliefs about the significance of the missions.

The following are some Mission Revival Style buildings that I would like to document for my project; they will be treated as my primary sources:

Union Station, LA County

Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Building, LA County

Bowers Museum, Orange County

Santa Ana Train Station, Orange County

Downtown San Juan Capistrano, Orange County

Santa Fe Depot, San Diego County

La Jolla Women’s Club, San Diego County

First Church of Christ Scientist, San Diego County

Mission Inn, Riverside County

“Original” Taco Bell structures


  1. I really like this project outline. If you need help with California history and Spanish influence in architecture, and finding sources, Prof. Luhr is the best. She helped me track down the autobiography of a Native Californian from 19th century for my 301 final paper. Also, I was going to suggest the Phoebe Kropp book myself but you got it already. One other is D.J. Waldie’s “Holy Land.” (New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2005). Talks about the post-WWII rise of the suburban lifestyle in Southern California, a Prof. Luhr recommended book.


    1. Great, thanks for the tip(s) – I’m looking forward to checking that book out!


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