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Northwest Corner Reconstruction Project: Rebuilding a Defense Wall, one brick at a time!

by Mike Imwalle

Northwest Corner rendering by Alex Eberle, Milford Wayne Donaldson Architects

After more than four years of intensive archaeological investigation, in 2003 SBTHP embarked on its most ambitious reconstruction effort since the organization’s founding almost fifty years ago. The Northwest Corner Project included the construction of new public restrooms, four adobe rooms to house a new Visitor’s Center, and more than 235 linear feet of outer defense wall. With completion of the restrooms in 2005 and the new Visitor’s Center in 2008 it was time to shift the focus of the fundraising and reconstruction efforts to the monumental task of the outer defense wall.

Reinforced concrete columns with sandstone foundations. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

In 2009 Channel Coast Corporation began the installation of 10-foot deep caissons to support 10-foot tall concrete columns. The columns would serve as the framework for the steel-reinforced bond beams that run the length of the 4-foot thick adobe wall.

Tait Masonry Crew laying adobe blocks on outer defense wall. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

With the concrete columns in place, David Tait Masonry began building a foundation of mortared sandstone to support the adobe walls. By October 2010 the foundation was completed, the first bond beam was poured, and we were ready to begin laying adobe bricks.

In January 2011 Tait Masonry laid a total of eight courses of adobe block on a 60-foot section of the wall closest to Canon Perdido Street and Channel Coast subsequently poured the second concrete bond beam. Work temporarily halted while additional funding was secured. In December 2011 thanks to generous contributions from the California Community Foundation, Williams-Corbett Foundation, Ann Jackson Family Foundation and the Ahmanson Foundation, construction of the wall has resumed.

Turning an adobe block for the "soldier" or "stretcher" course. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Today the last bricks at the top of the 60-foot section of wall were laid. By the end of January Channel Coast Corporation hopes to have the upper bond beam and tile cap installed on this section and the adobe bricks laid and first bond beam poured for the next 60-foot section.

Exterior side of western outer defense wall. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

This wall takes an incredible amount of adobe block to reconstruct. So far we have laid almost 8,700 adobes in the Visitor’s Center buildings and another 3000 in the first 60 feet of defense wall. We still need more that 10,000 bricks to complete the project.

Top of adobe wall with concrete columns ready for bond beam and cap. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Recently SBTHP director and presidio descendant Tim Aguilar and a crew made another 1,900 adobes.

Western outer defense wall at Canon Perdido Street sidewalk. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Stay tuned next week for a post on adobe brick making and how you could become involved. If you would like to help support the making of 8,000 more adobe bricks to complete the project, please visit our buy-a-brick webpage.

Mike Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.



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