The careful observer may note another distinctive feature which was seldom absent from the Mission domes. This is the series of steps at each “corner” of the half-dome. Several eminent architects have told me that the purpose of these steps is unknown, but to my simple lay mind it is evident that they were placed there purposely by the clerical architects to afford easy access to the surmounting cross; so that any accident to this sacred symbol could be speedily remedied. It must be remembered that the fathers were skilled in reading some phases of the Indian mind. The knew that an accident to the Cross might work a complete revolution in the minds of the superstitious Indians whose conversion they sought. Hence common, practical sense demanded speedy and easy access to the cross in case such emergency arose.
It will also be noticed that throughout the whole chain of Missions the walls, piers and buttresses are exceedingly solid and massive, reaching even to six, eight, ten and more feet in thickness. This was undoubtedly for the purpose of counteracting the shaking of the earthquakes, and the effectiveness of this method of building is evidenced by the fact that these old adobe structures still remain (even though some are in a shattered condition, owing to their long want of care) while later and more pretentious buildings have fallen.
From these details, therefore, it is apparent that the chief features of the Mission style of architecture are found to be as follows:
1. Solid and massive walls, piers and buttresses.
2. Arched corridors.
3. Curved pedimented gables.
4. Terraced towers, surmounted by a lantern.
5. Pierced Campanile, either in tower or wall.
6. Broad, unbroken, mural masses.
7. Wide, overhanging eaves.
8. Long, low, sloping roofs covered with red clay tiles.
9. Patio, or inner court.
In studying carefully the whole chain of Missions in California I found that the only building that contains all these elements in harmonious combination is that of San Luis Rey. Hence it alone is to be regarded as the typical Mission structure, all the others failing in one or more essentials. Santa Barbara is spoiled as a pure piece of Mission architecture by the introduction of the Greek engaged columns in the fachada. San Juan Capistrano undoubtedly was a pure “type” structure, but in its present dilapidated condition it is almost impossible to determine its exact appearance.
San Antonio de Padua lacks the terraced towers and the pierced campanile. San Gabriel and Santa Ines also have no towers, though both have the pierced campanile. And so, on analysis, will all the Missions be found to be defective in one or more points and therefore not entitled to rank as “type” structures.
As an offshoot from the Mission style has come the now world-famed and popular California bungalow style, which appropriates to itself every architectural style and no-style known.