South Wing Foundation Display Has a lot of Explaining to Do

South Wing Foundation Display Visitors to Mission San Juan Capistrano often marvel about the short doors in the South Wing. Most assume that people were shorter in the past and built the doors lower; however, this is not the real reason. The answer to the mystery of the door heights lies beneath the soil at the west end of the South Wing.
A Docent led tour stops to look into the South Wing Foundation Display to observe the contents inside.  

In 1981, archaeologists working with Chapman College and UC Irvine carefully excavated a section of land at the west end of the South Wing.  Not knowing what they might find, the team became amazed when they unearthed a portion of the original foundation of the South Wing that had been previously lost to erosion and decay. Since its discovery, the plot has been left open for visitors to view the Mission’s original ground and construction level.

Case Contents The excavation shows that the South Wing’s original foundations and thresholds are located 20-inches below present day levels.
The contents of the case are very simple and consist of several square, fired floor tiles, a jumble of boulders, and a straight line of rocks.  

Upon inspection of the display in early May 2008, it was discovered that the north face of the wall had recently collapsed into the open trench. The dislodged soils obscured the exposed archaeological finds and left a 4-inch deep concave recess in the wall. This concavity weakened the stability of the display by undercutting a border of stones at the top of the wall. The overall effect was a confusing interpretation of what remained visible within the display. It was evident that this wall required repair to prevent further soil loss and to re-support these perimeter stones.

Dirt and Plant Growth Viewed from the north end of the case, this picture shows dirt and plant growth that obscured the building guide stones laid down by the padres in the late 1700s.
Before Repair  

Mission volunteers and archaeologists, Rosie Beshk, and Dolores Shiffert supervised soil removal and the repairs to the wall.

Rosie Beshk Seen working in the photo to the left, Rosie Beshk has almost completed the clearing of dirt accumulations and plant growth within the trench.
Before Repair  

Catherine Hayes Support To fill-in losses and support rocks along the top of the wall, Conservator Catherine Hayes hand sculpted modern adobe bricks to fit the wall cavity.
Above, the Museum Conservator hones an adobe brick with a rock hammer.  

Mortared Brickwork After all bricks were fitted, a lime mortar was used to close gaps and bound the repair together. A traditional mud plaster finish was applied over the repair to conceal the brown color of the adobe bricks
Above, all brickwork has been mortared and the mud plaster is being added.  

After Repair At left, a view of the north wall after the repair was completed.
After Repair  

The development of a new sign for the South Wing Foundation Display, presented an opportunity to elaborate on the existing signage. The new sign helps interpret the display, and will be useful to visitors that are not on a Docent guided tour.

Original Sign Current Sign

The original sign shown in the left photo is curt and non-descript; whereas, the new sign, visible in the right photo, is more explanatory and matches the Mission’s current signage style.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano Preservation Funds
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

For questions, please call Barb Beier at (949) 234-1323 or email bbeier@missionsjc.com
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