MISSION WITH A MISSION : $4.5 Million Needed to Restore Quake-Damaged Building

Times Staff Writer

Although it would be cheaper to simply patch up the damage the San Gabriel Mission sustained in the Oct. 1 earthquake, mission officials hope to raise the estimated $4.5 million needed to completely restore the 182-year-old structure.

San Gabriel City Councilman Michael Falabrino, who heads the recently formed Mission Earthquake Restoration Committee, said the group has begun applying for money from private foundations as well as from federal, state and other private sources.

Although the mission has no money for the restoration, and the fund-raising process may take several years, Falabrino said the committee is optimistic.

“We are going to keep trying until we finally get all the money we need,” said Helen Nelson, a committee member and the secretary at the mission rectory.


The mission has been closed ever since the quake hit, opening large horizontal cracks in the walls and ceiling. Falling chunks of mortar and concrete knocked religious artifacts, including a 200-year-old crucifix, to the floor. A decorative spire was damaged when an arch above the altar shifted. An adjacent century-old adobe building that served as a museum was also seriously damaged.

Gilbert Sanchez, an architect from Santa Cruz, explained that simply repairing the mission would make it “safe and usable without trying to restore any particular period appearance.”

The committee, however, is seeking complete restoration, a process Sanchez said would recreate “the original architecture of the building so it closely resembles an earlier appearance.”

Team of Experts


In mid-October, Sanchez and a team of architects, historians, structural engineers and contractors examined the damaged structures. They estimated that it would cost $2 million to repair the structures and more than $4 million for complete restoration. The restoration process could take two to three years, Sanchez said, and the mission will remain closed until work is completed.

According to Norman Neuerburg, an art historian and consultant to the committee, mission officials were already considering much-needed restoration work before the earthquake. In fact, a collection of church paintings and portions of the altar were being restored when the quake occurred.

“The earthquake sort of forced our hand,” Neuerburg said. “But maybe we can turn what was a disaster into an opportunity.”

Neuerburg said the mission has gone through many changes over the years, primarily due to damage from previous earthquakes. Because there is considerable documentation on how the mission looked in 1830, the committee will focus on restoring it to that period.


Sanchez said most of the religious artifacts and murals will be removed from the mission and restored under Neuerburg’s supervision.

“We have to be real careful because there will be other historians assessing what we’ve done,” he said. “And when someone is real careful, that ends up costing more.”

The mission is a designated national historic monument and a state landmark, but because of the church-state separation issue, mission officials may have a problem getting federal and state funds. Neuerburg acknowledges the potential difficulty but hopes that the mission’s historical status will override such concerns.

The committee has enlisted the aid of U. S. Rep. Mathew Martinez, (D-Monterey Park) and state Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier) to seek funds at the state and federal level, Falabrino said.


Although no significant sum of money has been committed, the committee has already received a few donations from private organizations, Falabrino said.