El Cuartel, on the east side of Canon Perdido Street, was part of the western wall and the residence of the last soldier guarding the West Gate of the garrison. This is a good place to begin your tour. This simple, windowless, white-washed adobe happens to be the second-oldest building in California. Next to it, a 1992 tile plaque commemorates the quincentennial of the "discovery" of America and Presidio restoration.
Chapel and bell tower stand across Canon Perdido from El Cuartel. Some of Santa Barbara’s earliest settlers lie buried beneath the tile floors of the chapel. The bell tower was reconstructed and rededicated in 2001. A plaque informs that El Presidio, built in 1782 by the command of King Carlos III of Spain, was the last Spanish fortress built in Alta California. Protection of mission and settlers and provision of a social and cultural center for settlers were its functions. A brochure informs that many of the descendents of these Spanish settlers reside in Santa Barbara today. The chapel and housing formed a quadrangle around a central plaza, la Plaza de Armas. Adobe blocks for continued reconstruction are produced and dried in the large square in front of the chapel.
The Comandancia (Comandante’s Quarters) next to the chapel was attached to a larger officers’ complex, but was sliced in two by the construction of Santa Barbara Street. A corner of the reconstructed wall is glass, allowing a view into a large room furnished with solid wood table, chairs, and benches.
Interesting interpretive exhibits can be found across Santa Barbara Street in the Northeast Corner complex, reconstructed upon the foundations of officers’ and soldiers’ quarters and a two-story observation tower. In one room, a crude weaving loom of the type that makes "homespun" fabric or rough blankets. In other rooms, exhibits describing trade, chocolate, the Yuma Campaign, and a painting of the garrison as it must have looked in the late 1700s. Behind the Cocina, a small vegetable garden has been planted.
Educational focus: Up the street, a sign in front of a 1928 building informs that it will soon be reconstructed into the Presidio Resource Center, with a library, research room, and collections. Docent-led tours of students can be arranged appropriate to the grade level. Hands-on youth archeology programs teach by digging right at the Presidio site. The Trust partners with educators groups, the Girl Scouts, and summer day-camp sponsors.
Rodeo, New Mexico
July 10, 2005
From journal Sublime Santa Barbara