The kind of guy I am, I drove my wife to enter a monastery. True story.
The abbey held an open house Saturday to celebrate its 50th anniversary and sell the first vintage from grapes planted a few years ago. At least 2,000 people showed up, despite the fact it was 106. I guess in the valley you just cope with that.
I talked for awhile with Father Paul after the crowd thinned out. Told him I had worked for the Examiner and directly for Will Hearst for awhile. I found out that he hails from Michigan, North Dakota, about 50 miles west of Grand Forks and about 80 miles from my dad's first hometown, Alvarado, Minnesota.
The building has a much different feel from what I had imagined. New looking. The new stone is so fresh and raw, you can appreciate the influence of weathering. Another non-period detail: The corrugated metal roof. Not sure if that's a temporary thing or not.
When the Cistercian Order sent a contingent from its Kentucky monastery to open a chapter in the Sacramento Valley in 1955, the priest leading the mission stopped in San Francisco to see what was left of the stones. What he found looked like rubble, but he was determined to get hold of it to see if at least part of the old structure could be rebuilt. He and the order persevered, and in the '90s finally got the city to agree to turn over the remaining stones. Architects and preservationists had determined that the remaining material apparently belonged to the old abbey's chapter house. [Since the structure is for public use, it needs to be built up to current seismic codes. The interior is built of reinforced concrete block, and will be lined with old chapter house stones combined with newly quarried and cut stone.]
One of the original chapter house stones. I believe.
When Hearst ran out of cash, he donated the Spanish monastery stones to San Francisco's de Young Museum. Julia Morgan, the principal architect at Hearst's San Simeon estate, suggested using the monastery as the centerpiece of a museum highlighting sacred medieval European architecture -- the West Coast version of the Cloisters in New York City. But there was no money for that, either. So the monastery stones just sat behind the de Young in Golden Gate Park and were slowly scattered through appropriation for landscape projects and theft. [View of one of the completed windows from the chapter house interior. Some of the older stones have been recut to match new material; you can tell much of the old stone, though, by its rough, weathered appearance.]
Santa Maria de Ovila is the name of a Cistercian Abbey bought and pulled down by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s. He intended to ship it to California, then have architect Julia Morgan rebuilt it at the Hearst estate at Wintoon, Shasta County. But Hearst had run out of money for the project. [Most of the exterior stone for the chapter house is newly quarried and cut to match the surviving pieces from Spain. Some of the original stone is visible in the arch at the top of the window.]
Just after you turn south on Highway 45 from Hamilton City, you see a long line of date palms stetching away to the west. We turned onto the road through the palms -- Mills Orchard Road -- and drove a mile or so. Got to a ranch yard and turned around, then stopped to talk to a man tying down boxes of peppers in the back of his pickup. I asked him if he knew when the palms were planted and who planted them. He said they were part of a ranch called the Mills Orchard. In the early part of the last century, "when labor costs were a lot lower," the palms lined the road even further. Interspersed between the date palms were tall, slender swaying palms and rose bushes. "It was called the longest palm-lined drive in the world at one time," he said. Eventually, new owners came in. No more roses. Many of the tall palms were dug up and shipped to a resort someplace out in the Pacific. A few of the survivors stood in the middle of an orchard in the distance.
The ferry landing on the Sacramento's eastern bank is visible in the background. It's a narrow crossing here -- no more than 100 or 150 yards, I'm guessing. But the real challenge in the crossing was high water. The woman running the ferry when we crossed in the mid-90s said they'd shut down when the flows picked up during heavy rains.
Drove down Highway 45 from Hamilton City, in Glenn County, along the Sacramento River. Kate and Tom and I made this drive on a scorching weekend about ten years ago and happened upon the ferry at Princeton, just a village below the levee on the river's west bank. Then, we crossed the river and took the levee road on the opposite shore; eventually we found a place to stop so we could all go for a swim in the river. Now the ferry's shut down -- I'm sure there was no money in it, though I'm sure the bigger issue for the locals is how far you need to drive north or south to find a crossing. There's a bridge about five miles north; the first one to the south is fifteen miles off.
On Highway 45, south of Colusa, north of Knights Landing. Midday: flat and hot.