Sitting on History!

Mid 1800's

Each bench is comprised of a mortared brick base, a seat made from a single, old growth redwood plank, and redwood facer boards and armrests.  Construction and the use of machine cut nails indicate that these benches may date as far back as the mid-1800s.

South Wing Foundation Display

As part of an overall housekeeping initiative, several of the benches around Mission San Juan Capistrano has received basic cleaning and care.  Of late, the historic built-in wooden benches under the north arcade of the South Wing have received a similar treatment.    

The above photo shows the level of soiling, and numerous paint accessions that was found on all three benches. 


Adjoining Construction

An aqueous cleaning was not an option for the benches, as their porous natural and adjoining construction to the mud adobe wall would introduce too much moisture into these structures.  To clean dirt and greasy deposits from skin oils, gum, and roof tar all surfaces required hand wiping with clean cotton cloths dampened with odorless mineral spirits.  Bulky paint, tar, and gum accretions were removed mechanically using probes.  Where necessary, cotton swabs dampened with acetone were used locally on adherent paint accretions to remove these.

Cotton Swab

Here a cotton swab dampened with solvent is applied to a blue colored paint accretion to soften and remove it. 

Bench Grafitti

Cleaning not only enhanced the original green colored paint coating and wood color, but also revealed historic graffiti.  Seen here in this photo an arm to one of the benches shows scratched in graffiti dating to 1898.  

After the wood was cleaned, it was imperative to protect remaining original finishes and worn unfinished wood surfaces from stains.  For this, a synthetic paste wax was thinly applied to all exposed wooden surfaces and then buffed with clean cotton cloths upon setting.  Each bench had this process repeated three times.  The following before and after treatment photos of one of the benches illustrates the improved cleanliness, coloration, and luster of the bench after the treatment was completed.

Bench Before

Bench After

Before After

Applying a synthetic wax is a simple and non-invasive treatment, which is easily maintain and renewed, and will serve to preserve the benches for future visitors.  Over the coming months the Museum Department will be concentrating efforts to preserve other historic wooden benches situated around the Mission in a similar manner.  Eventually all benches are to be enfolded into the annual maintenance housekeeping plan.    

Wax Coating

The after treatment photo on the left shows the level of cleanliness achieved from the treatment and the lustrous finish that the wax coating has provided the benches.

Gift Shop

Visitors stop to rest on the newly cleaned bench located outside the Gift Shop, partaking in what many have done for well over a century!