There’s no such thing as an earthquake-proof building.
But members of the newly-formed Mission San Juan Bautista Preservation Fund hope that if they can raise $14 million, the 218-year-old San Juan Bautista Mission will remain standing the next time the ground begins to sway.
Saturday, Oct. 17 is the 26th anniversary of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that rumbled through six counties encompassing the Bay Area and Central Coast. The temblor caused $6 billion in damage as it brought down freeways and leveled parts of communities. Sixty-three people died and 3,757 were injured. And even though the earthquake’s epicenter was 30 miles away, San Benito County suffered more than $100 million in property damage, particularly to unreinforced masonry buildings downtown.
San Juan Bautista Mission is adjacent to the San Andreas Fault, is in the same neighborhood as the Calaveras and Sargent Fault zones, and practically down the street from the Quien Sabe and Tres Pinos fault zones. So, if one fault zone begins to shudder, it could wake up the neighboring zones, and the Mission could be susceptible to damage—if nothing is done to prevent it.
According to a massive United States Geological Survey report with the ungainly title, Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 3, or USERF3, purports to represent the best estimates of the magnitude, location, and likelihood of potentially damaging earthquakes throughout the state. The bottom line is that it predicts a 72 percent likelihood of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake occurring every 30 years in the San Francisco Region—which includes all of San Benito County in general and Mission San Juan Bautista, in particular.
Most concerning to those who would save Mission San Juan Bautista is the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures. This will occur, states the report, when an earthquake is not confined to an individual fault but can simultaneously rupture multiple faults. The two faults most experts expect to rupture next are the Hayward and Calaveras faults. The Calaveras Fault is less than 10 miles away from Mission San Juan Bautista. It also runs directly under central Hollister. The likelihood of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake on the Calaveras Fault has increased three-fold.
Partly because of this dire prediction, and partly because the Mission is just plain old and dilapidated, the Mission San Juan Bautista Preservation Fund commissioned a Historic Structure Report to analyze the facility's current condition.
“They came up with all the things that are wrong with it and what needs to be done to fix it,” said Rick Edge, a member of the Fund’s publicity committee and a San Juan City Councilman. “That is considered the first step in seeking donations, especially at the corporate level. If we go to a Dole, Google or Apple to ask them for a significant donation, they want to see that we’re not just making it up, and they want expert opinions.”
The Fund, which officially started in May, is gearing up for an intensive drive to solicit donations by establishing a presence on social media, as well as approaching corporations and individuals looking for a place to park their extra cash.
“We have a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. And we’ll be starting up a Go Fund Me page, too,” Edge said. “There are still a lot of things that need to be done.”
Edge said that the Fund is making good progress, but it must simultaneously secure the nonprofit 501(c)3 designation in order to officially begin soliciting donations.
“In the meantime, people can contribute through the Mission because it is already a 501(c)3,” he said. “We are a group of citizens trying to form a nonprofit strictly for the preservation of the Mission. Donations to the Fund will be used to strengthen the Mission walls and replace the roof.”
Of the $14 million, Edge said it would cost $8 million to retrofit the Mission and $6 million for the museum.
“Because it is the largest of all the missions, the roof is a very large item that needs to be fixed,” he said. “There are rotted timbers and the actual roof needs to be replaced. There are tiles missing or broken. For several years, we’ve had leaks. If you take an aerial view of the mission, there’s a big blue tarp up there that doesn’t really stop the leaks.”
The roof will have to be removed and rebuilt, Edge noted.
“While it is off we will have to drill down through the walls from to bottom and insert steel pipes to reinforce them,” he said. “They didn’t build with rebar back during the time of the Franciscans. They have to be strengthened because they’re 31 feet high and are unreinforced masonry.”
What of church services during the retrofit?
“The contractor will have to make that decision when we get to that point,” Edge said. “We may have to close it and find another place to have services. Of course, it will also interrupt the tourists from seeing the Mission.”
Until the Fund is officially a 501(c)3 and the donations start rolling in, the actual retrofit cannot began, so there is no estimated completion date at this time, he said. But that doesn’t stop the organization from moving forward.
“For one thing, we’re hoping to find some kind of database of people who have been married here and have the Mission in their hearts and might contribute,” he said. “We’re just starting to reach out to everybody. There are people who have high incomes where they’re looking for charities to donate money that would otherwise go to taxes if they didn’t. So, we’re trying to identify people like that. And there’s some money at the California Missions Foundation that we’ll eventually be able to access.”
Presently, the Fund has approximately 30 volunteers, Edge said. He expects more will become involved as work continues. The actual preservation work will be handled by professional contractors.
“There are companies that worked on the Royal Presidio Chapel (San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey) when that was restored a few years ago,” he said. “They know what to anticipate and plan for it.”
After the retrofit is complete, Edge said the Mission would be ready to stand for a good long time, though hedged his bet, “But who knows. A 6.7 earthquake is kind of the breaking point and anything can happen.”
Another funding source could be Hollywood because of the Alfred Hitchcock movie "Vertigo," scenes for which were shot at Mission San Juan Bautista.
“It was filmed there in 1957 and released in 1958,” Edge said. “We had a huge fundraiser in 2007. I think we made about $25,000. Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter were here, and they brought a bunch of memorabilia that they donated and we auctioned off.”
Anyone interesting on donating can make their contributions payable to the “Mission San Juan Bautista Preservation Fund,” and mail them to P.O. Box 222, San Juan Bautista, 95045.
More information is available on the Fund’s social media outlets:
Here is a story on the effort from KION TV: