Illuminating Mission Santa Barbara: Solstice Window Restoration

The sun is a powerful force. It allows plants to grow and fish to spawn. Indiana Jones harnessed its energy to unlock the key to our humanly existence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And at Santa Barbara Mission, something even greater has been accomplished: restoration of the church Solstice Window.

New Solstice Window shortly after installation (January 2012, Bryan Burd, Old Mission Santa Barbara, Inc.)

View of the broken window that was removed and replaced (2011, Chattel)
Designed by Native Americans to channel sunlight through the building in a path that illuminates the alter tabernacle on the winter solstice, the solstice window was broken and covered in plywood. Further, its original c. 1820 rosette design was lost, replaced in 1952 with a cruciform sash. Working closely with Mission staff and California Missions Foundation, Chattel coordinated restoration of the early design, the only known records of which are c. 1870 photographs taken by Carleton Watkins and held in the Mission Archive-Library. Because the church was constructed 1815-1820, it is presumed the rosette window seen in the 1870 photographs was in place when the church was first constructed. 

Solstice Window c. 1870 (Carleton Watkins, courtesy of Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library)
A replacement window fabricated by Judson Studios and United Environment Architects was installed December 22, 2011. A circular walnut frame was carefully crafted with true divided lights to replicate the c. 1820 rosette. Restoration glass undulating with deep striations achieves an obscured appearance appropriate for an early nineteenth century window, which would have contained handmade glass.
Drawing of new sash for Solstice Window (2011, United Environment Architecture)
Detail view of new Solstice Window before installation (December 22, 2011, Chattel)
Press coverage of the installation provides additional perspectives:


Santa Barbara Independent:

Santa Barbara Mission church the day of installation (December 22, 2011, Chattel)
Restoration of the Solstice Window is just the first step in the Mission’s longer-term goal to restore the historic light path through the church. That will involve moving a wall in the choir loft and reconfiguring and digitizing the church organ, which currently blocks the view of the window from the building interior. This will be a costly enterprise and as such is reserved for a later phase of work.

Solstice Window installation is the first of several projects to be completed under a $650,000 federal Save America’s Treasures (SAT) grant. Administered by National Park Service, the SAT grant has been awarded to the Mission for a variety of important preservation projects. Funds totaling $650,000 must be raised to match the funds provided by NPS, for a grant total of $1.3 million. Retrofit of the church crypt, resurfacing of the convento wing pillars and walls, and rehabilitation of the lavanderia, one of the oldest pieces of in-situ art in California, are other projects likely to be completed with the grant funds in the coming years.