Pastel parishSanta Barbara, CA

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the seventh installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Now, here’s a lovely thing. Mission Santa Barbara is one of the most well-known and beloved in the chain, and it shows. And it almost seems to be the companion piece to San Luis Rey de Francia: for one thing, while San Luis Rey is often called the “King of the Missions,” Santa Barbara’s been crowned the Queen by her fans. For another, both have beautiful pastel accents—Santa Barbara in feminine pink, San Luis Rey in baby blue.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Even the cemetery of Santa Barbara matches that of San Luis Rey, with its trio of skull-and-crossbones (though unlike San Luis Rey’s Hollywood touches, Santa Barbara’s are original).

chandler_oleary_california_missions_map_santabarbara

Santa Barbara also stands out because it is so lovingly cared for. Located in the affluent town that owes it name to the mission, Santa Barbara has been painstakingly restored and maintained–unlike her somewhat more inner-city brother San Gabriel.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

At first I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the place, and worried I’d never be able to pick a vantage point for my sketchbook.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But in the end, it was the details that really had me smitten. Between the pink accents (I’m a sucker for pink), the careful stonework and the magic-hour light, the compositions really chose themselves.

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Fire up the grillTacoma, WA

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

We have a tradition of spending the Fourth with some friends who live down the street from us. We bring the old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream crock and the croquet set—they fire up the grill.

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The best part, though, is watching the fireworks over the bay.

To everybody reading in the United States, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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Reconnaissance missionVentura, CA

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the sixth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Well, I don’t have much to report this week—because this was pretty much all I was able to see of Mission Buenaventura.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By the time I got there (fighting fierce L.A. traffic and a mass exodus to the beach all the way), the place was already closed for the day.

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So what little I was able to see of this place was what I managed to glimpse through the fence, craning my neck to make out the details of the beautiful Mexican tilework on the fountain (that tilework is also placed around downtown Ventura, so at least I got a good eyefull of it there!).

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But hey—all the more reason to return, yes? And thanks to what I like to think of as a first “reconaissance mission” to Ventura, I’ll know exactly where to pick up where I left off.

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Secret enclaveMinneapolis, MN

Milwaukee Avenue sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Revisiting Ladd’s Addition last week reminded me of another favorite neighborhood of mine. Well, not so much a neighborhood as two perfect blocks: Minneapolis’s Milwaukee Avenue.

Today Milwaukee Avenue is a two-block stretch of pedestrian-only street: originally named 22 1/2 Street, to the unwitting eye it just looks like an alley between 22nd and 23rd. It opens onto the busy Franklin Avenue to the north, but the entrance there is overgrown with shrubbery, so it’s easy to overlook and pass right by. In fact, like Salmon Beach in my own town, I’ve met locals who have lived in the Twin Cities for years and never knew it was there.

If you do know where to look, or you happen to stumble upon one of the entrances, finding Milwaukee Avenue is like stepping into a tiny, different world. To me, it always felt like walking onto the set of an old movie like To Kill a Mockingbird. (I always half expected to meet Boo Radley sitting on a porch somewhere.) And if the street has that movie-set feeling of being slightly artificial, well, that’s because it is.

Milwaukee Avenue sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Milwaukee Avenue started as a row of low-income immigrant housing in the 1880s. Like Ladd’s Addition, it was a planned neighborhood, but to keep them affordable the houses were nearly identical and constructed inexpensively (but well) with brick veneer over timber frames.

The neighborhood started falling into disrepair in the Great Depression, and by the late 1950s the houses were in shambles. Most had no indoor plumbing, and had been modified with ho-made repairs to the point that they bore almost no resemblance to what you see in the sketches above. In 1970 the City of Minneapolis made plans to demolish the whole enclave, but when the residents got wind of it, they took action on their own. In secret they applied to the National Register of Historic Places, and were approved as an historic district in 1974—suddenly the City couldn’t touch them.

Not every house survived the restoration (nine were so far gone they had to be razed), but the ones that did were outfitted with proper plumbing, new foundations and a host of repairs. The one-way street was turned into a tree-lined pedestrian mall. And best of all, the beautiful, original lathework porches, gone from pretty much every structure by then, were replicated and put back in place. So what you see now is a strange and lovely hybrid between historic relic and reimagined replica.

So if you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities, take a stroll down Milwaukee Avenue and transport yourself to a small, private universe. Just be warned that when you step back out onto Franklin Avenue, and the modern world assaults your senses once more, you’ll find yourself looking back over your shoulder with longing.

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Residential rosesPortland, OR

Ladd's Addition map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

June is the month of roses in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s no better place to see roses than the City of Roses. And there’s no better rose garden in the City of Roses than the diamond gardens in Ladd’s Addition. So in honor of my favorite Portland neighborhood, here are two midsummer sketches, done exactly three years apart.

Ladd’s Addition was the first planned residential development in the state of Oregon. Conceived in 1891 and mostly built between 1905 and 1930, the area is now a national historic district. In deliberate contravention of the city grid, the neighborhood is laid out in an “X” pattern with a circle park and rotary in the center. Where each diagonal street intersects one other at points north, south, east and west of the circle, there’s a small diamond-shaped garden that’s home to one of Portland’s many rose test gardens. And along every tree-lined and tree-named (though some have been rechristened in modern times; the map above shows their original names) street are many dozens of historic homes—many of which are unique or unusual examples of Craftsman-, Tudor- and Mission-style architecture.

Ladd's Addition rose garden sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Every part of this neighborhood is appealing to me—I’m a sucker for a good map, a Craftsman house and a pale peach rose. Put them all together, with a shady spot for me to sit and sketch, and I’m instantly in heaven.

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Splendor and sequinsMission Hills, Los Angeles, CA

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the fifth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Last week we visited one of the more unassuming missions in the chain. Just over in the next valley is another complex seemingly forgotten by your average mission tourist: Mission San Fernando Rey de España.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Fernando is also part of the greater Los Angeles area, tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the northern end of the San Fernando Valely. Compared with its brother on the other side of the city, Mission San Fernando is a little better looked after, with tidier grounds and neatly restored buildings. Most of San Gabriel’s architecture is original—crumbling, but authentic. San Fernando’s is pristine, but largely modern (at least on the surface). The restoration seems to have made it lose something: that feel of great age, of venerable history.

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, the property is gorgeous. And when I saw what was going on inside the grounds, I couldn’t help but smile. I was there on a busy Saturday, which I only remembered was Valentine’s Day when I arrived and saw teenage girls everywhere in frilly dresses, waiting for their quinceañeras to start. There were a bunch of brides milling around as well, but next to the teens in their bright pink confections they were positively drab. Some of the quinceañera gowns reminded me of puffed-up peacock feathers…

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…until I rounded a corner and came upon an actual peacock.

I guess this is the perfect illustration of why I went on this trek to visit all 21 missions. I came to see the architecture, but what really charmed me were the slices of real life going on within the walls. And actually taking the time to explore each mission showed me that even the most unassuming of them had plenty of surprises in store for me.

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Porch perchOrcas Island, WA

Orcas Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sometimes one’s point of view can make or break a picture. The jury is still out on this one, as far as I’m concerned. This was such a weird vantage point for sketching—between the location high up on a hill, the wide-angle view of the rest of the porch, the water and ferry landing below, and the islands off in the distance, everything was just…odd. Unsettling. I spent a long time on this one, using every art-school trick I knew to check and re-check that my perspective was correct. It was…for the most part. But the drawing still feels like something M.C. Escher would have come up with.

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City of archangelsGreater Los Angeles, CA

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the fourth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Last week we visited one of the most famous, most visited and most photographed missions in the California chain. Mission San Gabriel is…well…less well known.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, if I hadn’t specifically been on a mission to see all the missions, I would have breezed right by this one, without ever knowing it was here. Mission San Gabriel is not a state park (many missions are), not a tourist destination, not something I’d ever even heard mentioned before, not even in context with El Camino Real as a whole. It’s not even in Los Angeles proper, but tucked away in the enclave of San Gabriel—which is thought of as the birthplace of Los Angeles itself.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

To the folks for whom this is their neighborhood church, I’m sure Mission San Gabriel is beloved—it is the oldest surviving brick-and-mortar building in Southern California, after all, and a beautiful example of a rare Moorish style of architecture. But this where the lack of an overall system for preserving the missions is really obvious—and sorely lacking. While places like San Carlos Borromeo and San Juan Capistrano get all the attention and money for upkeep, the smaller missions like San Gabriel are scraping to get by, and it shows. Maintaining an historic building is a constant battle anyway, but when you add in things like the baking sun, an active earthquake zone, and a much more modest neighborhood (as opposed to the wealthy towns like Santa Barbara and Carmel) every tourist dollar really counts. So I’d love to see some sort of connected system for the preservation and management of the missions—something like the California state park system or, more grandly, the National Park Service. I know that increased tourism would be a headache for an active church like this one, but spreading the wealth and visitors more equally among all 21 missions would be worth it, if you ask me.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, while San Gabriel might not have the flash and splendor of some of the more well-known missions, there’s a lot to love here. The details, in particular, had me enchanted—as did the fact that I was the only tourist there. Everyone else was a parishioner, and obviously intimately familiar with the place: to them, Mission San Gabriel is not a vacation spot—it’s home.

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