Carmel Mission Foundation
Carmel Mission Foundation


Founded in 1771, the Mission’s structures are in critical need of repair and restoration. Some of the walls are over 200 years old and are fundamental to the structural integrity and the architectural character of the Mission.


In June 2013, the Foundation announced completion of the first phase of the Mission’s restoration, which was the seismic retrofit and restoration of the historic Mission’s Basilica. It was the third major restoration of the Basilica since it was built in 1797.

Work began in August 2012, when scaffolding was erected, followed by the installation of a weather protection structure over the Basilica. After removing the roof tiles, roof trusses were strengthened by the installation of additional wood beams and metal collectors. Cement bond beams and steel I-beams were inserted to reinforce and tie the structure together. Meanwhile, the 220-year-old-walls were stabilized by drilling over 300 center-cored vertical and horizontal holes into which steel rods were inserted and grouted into place, thus strengthening the existing walls without affecting the appearance of the Basilica. New electrical and fire suppression systems were installed, together with new interior lighting and custom-made chandeliers. The radiant heating system was upgraded and a new Americans with Disabilities Act restroom building constructed. Finally, before the scaffolding was removed, repairs were made to the exterior walls, buttresses, towers, and dome. Special restoration techniques and materials had to be developed that were compatible with existing historic materials.

The Basilica is now three times stronger than before. As a result, the earthquake warning signs have been removed, as it is no longer an unreinforced masonry structure. Because of all these efforts, this historic treasure will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

Originally estimated to cost $7.2 million, over $1 million was saved by overlapping future Basilica restoration work with the seismic retrofit to take advantage of existing scaffolding and contractor infrastructure already in place. The seismic retrofit, plus all of the restoration work, was accomplished in record time and with no lost-time accidents, mainly due to the professional leadership and the unprecedented cooperation of the preservation team and the outstanding efforts of the general contractor, Blach Construction.

This most recent restoration work on the Basilica represented the completion of the first phase of a multiphase restoration program of the Carmel Mission complex. For a more complete description of this restoration, see the 2013 Basilica Restoration Report.


Following completion of the successful restoration of the Basilica, the Foundation commissioned and funded a comprehensive study to develop a Preservation Master Plan for the remaining historic structures and artifacts in the Carmel Mission complex. This Plan addressed the Mission’s five museums (Downie, Mora, Convento, Munrás, and South Addition); the Basilica forecourt; the Quadrangle Courtyard; the Orchard House complex; and other remaining historic structures. This project is much larger and more complex than the recent $5.5 million Basilica restoration.

Courtesy of Architectural Resources Group and Franks Brenkwitz & Associates

Applying the word restoration to this extensive effort would be somewhat of a misnomer. Though the project builds on the past, in many cases it goes beyond mere “restoration.” Not only will we repair and restore the remaining historic structures, but most importantly, we will seismically strengthen them, enhance life-safety requirements like exiting and fire suppression, and upgrade infrastructure (electrical, lighting, climate control, plumbing). Plans also include improving accessibility to the site and courtyards.

Quadrangle Courtyard Renovation Completed
The first project in Phase II was the $2.0 million renovation of the Quadrangle Courtyard, completed in 2016. The old concrete surface, cracked and with many trip hazards, was removed. New subterranean utility infrastructure such as water and fire lines, drains, sewer, electrical, and communications was installed to support future restoration of the Mission’s historic structures surrounding the Courtyard. The Courtyard was then resurfaced with a stronger, safer, and similar looking hardscape designed to last for the next 75–100 years.

Museums Next
Currently, the next project will involve the Mission’s museums. The project is being analyzed to determine the scope and optimize preservation work sequencing to minimize cost and Mission disruptions. This project will begin once sufficient funds have been raised. Plans are to complete it in time for the Mission’s 250th anniversary in 2021. As this project involves multiple structures and courtyards, it will be the largest project undertaken yet. In the final analysis, the tradition and responsibility of maintaining this 245-year-old treasure and National Historic Landmark continues with all of us in order to make the Mission safer, more enjoyable, and preserved for future generations.

One of the major topics being addressed in the Mission preservation effort is the visitor experience and visitor traffic flow. To improve visitor accessibility, the slope of the upper parking lot and Basilica forecourt entrance will be reduced to make access easier. A new arrival and entry patio is planned to better handle buses and visitors. The Downie Museum will become an orientation center with a patio containing a 3-D tactile site model of the entire Mission complex. A gently sloped boardwalk is planned for the covered veranda on the south side of the Mora Chapel and Convento museums to provide easier access. The Basilica forecourt will be resurfaced and the entry arch replaced once work in the forecourt has been completed.

Visitor circulation, display cases, lighting, climate control, and information signage will be improved. Museum displays will be upgraded and art and artifacts cleaned and reorganized centering on the overarching theme of the importance of the Carmel Mission. Most importantly, the historical look and feel of the museums will be preserved.

The Preservation Team
The same preservation team that did such an outstanding job on the Basilica restoration and Quadrangle Courtyard renovation has now been re-assembled for the next project. This team consists of the Mission’s Pastor, Diocesan Construction Coordinator and Architects, the Carmel Mission Foundation, and the General Contractor, Blach Construction. This Team, working collaboratively, funds and drives the Mission preservation projects forward.

Preservation Team members meet with Blach Construction to discuss planning for the remaining Carmel Mission preservation work. (Left to right, Kevin McIntosh, Blach Construction Project Manager; Mike Harney, Blach Construction Project Superintendent; Vic Grabrian, Carmel Mission Foundation President & CEO; Ken Treadwell, Blach Construction Vice President and General Superintendent; Brett Brenkwitz, Franks Brenkwitz & Associates Principal Mission Architect; Brian Kelly, Mission Construction Coordinator; and Pete Johnston, Blach Construction Sr. Project Estimator)

The Process

The Preservation Team has made a concerted effort to be as open and inclusive as possible. Work on the Phase II Mission restoration master plan began with a series of Team meetings in 2014. Subsequently, the Docents were asked to give the Team guided tours of the Mission complex, identifying from a visitor’s perspective things that worked, things that didn’t, and to suggest improvements. This was followed by a series of Foundation sponsored workshops, attended by Team members, Mission staff, Docents, and parishioners to further refine ideas. Meanwhile the Team retained preservation architects, museum consultants, structural engineers, civil engineers, and other consultants to begin investigative and discovery work and to develop recommendations for site safety and accessibility changes, structural seismic strengthening, electrical and fire safety infrastructure upgrades, and museum improvements.


Over the years, there were a series of building campaigns at the Mission. Construction on the present Basilica began in 1793 and was completed in 1797. Also, at this time, adobe buildings were constructed to enclose the Mission courtyard on all sides. Following secularization in 1834, all buildings fell into disrepair by the mid-nineteenth century. The first restoration was undertaken in the 1880’s by Father Casanova, who raised necessary funds to put a roof on the old church.

In the second quarter of the twentieth century, a second restoration effort commenced under the leadership of Harry Downie. He devoted five decades of his life to the restoration of the Carmel Mission complex. According to multiple sources, the Basilica is one of the most authentically restored of all mission churches. His work included putting a new roof on the Basilica in 1937, returning the roofline to its original look. The overall restoration of the Carmel Mission complex, now underway, constitutes the third major restoration of the Mission.

Dates of construction of existing Mission buildings (Graphic by ARG, 2008)

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