Conservation of the 1920s Pews

Conserve the Pews

The Serra Chapel Project includes the conservation not only of the building envelope, but also of the artwork and furnishings housed within. The project to conserve the pews, which date to the 1920s, began in January of 2006. By May, the nearly 40 pews inside the chapel had undergone conservation work.

Serra Chapel Pews

Serra Chapel Pews

Serra Chapel Pews Serra Chapel Pews
Serra Chapel Pews Serra Chapel Pews

A material-conditions assessment revealed structurally unsound pews, with a variety of modern hardware, scratches, chewing gum, dirt and grime, and torn Naugahyde and decomposing foam.

Pew Removal

Pew Removal

The work undertaken involved removing all metal fastenings and replacing them with wood pins, which were chiseled to match the original pins. Several wood parts on some of the pews were damaged beyond repair; these were replaced with new wood to match the existing elements. Here, the hardware, chewing gum, and broken wood parts that were removed from the pews.

Structural Joints

Proper-Length Carriage Bolts

All structural joints were taken apart and reassembled with animal protein glue, and the kneelers were attached with proper-length carriage bolts, recessed flush with the wood surface.



Before After

The conservation of the original finish required that all scratches be touched up with matching stain. The wood was then waxed by hand using a natural beeswax paste. The kneeler was re-upholstered with natural horse-hair stuffing and genuine leather, which lasts considerably longer than foam and Naugahyde upholstery. Here, two pews illustrate the dramatic change before and after conservation. Although there is a noticeable difference, the conserved pew still retains a beautiful patina of age and use.

Hymnal Holder

A potential design for a new hymnal holder can be seen on the right, with the existing hymnal holder on the left. The latter is not original to the 1920s pews and exhibits poor workmanship, which is even more noticeable when compared to the newly conserved pews. Each pew will have two new hymnal holders, aesthetically compatible with the pews in terms of design and finish.

Floor Irregularity

The irregularity of the flooring in the Serra Chapel prevented the pews from sitting evenly on all six legs, contributing to their structural damage. To prevent this from happening again, the feet of each pew were adjusted at the time of installation. As an extra precaution, thin pieces of “grip-all” textured neoprene rubber were fitted on the ends of the feet to stop the pews from sliding around. To minimize the pews from sliding around. Provides a non-slip gripping surface.

Patrick Edwards and Ed White

Patrick Edwards (right) and Ed White (left) of Antique Refinishers, a San Diego firm providing restoration and conservation of pre-industrial American and European furniture.

Donate Online

By mail, download donation form and mail with your gift:

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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