Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

St. Anthony's Seminary, Santa Barbara

Masonry by George Blum Sr., Acton, California

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From the ex-Blum Family collection comes this 7½x5-inch photograph, mounted on 9x7-inch board, of the newly (or nearly) completed St. Anthony's College in Santa Barbara, later known as St. Anthony's Seminary High School.

A handwritten inscription on the back reads: "Dad Blum worked on this College as stone cutter in Santa Barbara / 1896" (see below). The inscription was probably written by one of George Blum Sr.'s daughters, perhaps 20 or 30 years later. It is consistent with other inscriptions from the collection.

The year, 1896, is a bit off; the seminary started in 1896, but the building didn't exist for a couple more years.

Blum, a master mason from Switzerland, arrived in the United States in 1880 or 1881 and homesteaded 160 acres in Aliso Canyon, Acton, in 1891.

At least until he "proved up" his homestead (i.e., got his ranch established), he took masonry jobs. The government issued his homestead patent in 1901.

Blum worked on L.A. County's central "Red Stone Courthouse," which was under construction from 1888-1891. This photograph tells us he also worked on the Franciscan seminary building in Santa Barbara, which was under construction from 1898-1900.

The family lore has him working on "the original Los Angeles County Courthouse, other buildings and churches in Santa Barbara." Now we can point to one.

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Fr. Wallischeck, O.F.M., at Santa Barbara, circa 1898. Click each image to enlarge.

Seminary Founded.

The Rev. Fr. B. Peter Wallischeck departed Quincy, Illinois, on the morning of June 27, 1896, to run a new Franciscan college in Santa Barbara where young men would be groomed for the priesthood.[1] On September 22, 1896, he founded St. Anthony's College inside a converted carpenter's shop — coincidence noted — on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Mission.[2] "College" was a British term for a secondary boarding school. It had 11 students the first year and 26 students the second. With that rate of growth, a larger facility was needed.

Under the direction of the German-born provincial architect Bro. Adrian Wewer, OFM (1836-1914), excavation work started August 25, 1898, on Mission Hill, adjacent to (northwest of) the Santa Barbara Mission. The site would be prepared for a new, free-standing seminary building made of sandstone.

"The work at first progressed very slowly due to the rocky, hard ground," according to seminary records. "The contractor, A.L. Pendola, almost gave up on the work." Pendola, a Santa Barbara contractor who had been awarded numerous municipal road construction jobs, had to use blasting powder to loosen the hard soil.

According to a recent report by the Santa Barbara Landmarks Commission, "the sandstone was quarried on site and in the nearby Mission Canyon under the supervision of chief stonemason Antonio Leyva (1862-1936). The architectural style was based on the early medieval church buildings of various parts of Europe and common in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century."[3]

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1860 (left) and 1871 version of St. Francis Solanus College in Quincy, Illinois.

Specifically, one particular mid-19th-century church building, if Wallischeck's previous hometown newspaper is to be believed. The Quincy (Ill.) Daily Herald reported in 1898: "Rev. Father Peter Wallischeck, former vice-president of St. Francis College, is at Santa Barbara, Cal., and is building an institution similar to the imposing one here."[4] (See inset photo of St. Francis Solanus College, now part of Quincy University.)

Although construction was not yet complete, the school was dedicated on St. Anthony's feast day, June 13, 1899. Speechifying commenced. "Good Father Peter Wallischeck, the present Superior at the Mission, undertook a monumental task when he decided to build this college," said Santa Barbara Mayor Edmund Burke. "The college will cost more than $30,000; it will be an imposing stone structure, a credit to our fair city."

The college still wasn't finished when its first five young men graduated in June 1900. The final touches were done on the last day of 1900. It was first used for classes January 27, 1901, and was formally dedicated April 25, 1901.[5]

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Early days. Could George Blum be one of the two men wearing a hat at upper left?

The T-shaped, 4-story building (plus basement) featured a top-floor dormitory under a gable roof with cupola, a chapel, classrooms, study hall, kitchen, laundry room, administration offices and a refectory in the basement. It also had electricity and indoor plumbing. Architecturally, the rough-faced, squared stone and masonry walls, as well as the three large, 2-story arches that are mirrored by blind arches encircling the first- and second-story windows, are characteristic Romanesque features.[6]

In 1914, Wallischeck was transfered to San Francisco to become pastor superior of a parish there.[7] One year later, when the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara was established, St. Anthony's College drew seminary students from California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. In 1918 it was renamed St. Anthony's Seraphic Seminary, a seraph being an angel of the highest order.

In 1923, architect Ross Montgomery, an Ohioan who moved to Los Angeles in 1900, was hired to design two new wings for the building. Rather than stone, the new wings would reflect the Spanish Colonial Revival style[8] that was just being developed in Santa Barbara when...

Death and Resurrection.

A major earthquake rocked the buildings along State Street for a good 20 seconds just as people were going to work and opening their shops on Monday morning at 6:44 a.m. The date was June 29, 1925.

Thirteen people were killed including an elderly gardener named John Shea who had tended the Santa Barbara Mission gardens for 50 years. He was working on the roses near the north wall of the seminary building when his head and arm were crushed — either by a "heavy cornice,"[9] by "falling stones,"[10] or by "the statue of St. Anthony,"[11] depending on the news source. (According to the seminary newspaper, it was "falling stone." It said the statue of the Virgin Mary fell but didn't break, while a tall statue of St. John the Evangelist narrowly missed one of the priests.)[12]

Twelve boys were participating in a service in the seminary chapel when the initial tremor struck. Father Superior Augustine "quelled the panic, and the youngsters were marched out quietly without injury."[13]

The first shock was bad enough, but a series of significant aftershocks over the next several days took a major toll. A big one at 11:15 a.m. Friday, July 3, weakened the seminary's already damaged walls and even managed to crack the Ventura County Courthouse, 40 miles away.[14]

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1931 Sanborn map (partial).

By the time the dust settled, the second-floor chapel was wrecked; its roof dropped 5 feet. Fifty tons of stone crashed onto a passageway. One of the gables fell inward. A side wall jutted out eight inches and had to be taken down to the foundation. Amazingly, not a crack was found in the two-story arches at the front of the building[15] (see photos below). Arches were invented thousands of years ago for a reason.

With a $250,000 damage esti­mate, repairs started in July. Ross Mont­gomery was hired again, this time to oversee the restor­ation. The base­ment was reinforced, six tons of steel girders were installed throughout the lower two floors, and the top two floors (dormitory and chapel) were demo­lished.[16]

Damaged stone work was repaired, but rather than rebuild the upper floors in stone, Mont­gomery framed the two new floors in wood and sided them with stucco over a continuous reinforced sill course.[17] It was the new architectural language that was universally adopted in Santa Barbara after the earthquake, namely the red tile roofs, white stucco, and tall, nonnative palm trees that define the Spanish Colonial Revival motif for which the city is known today.

Legacy.

St. Anthony's would develop into a complex of multiple structures in the coming decades. In the 1930s it offered a 4-year high school program. In 1954 the college and high school components were separated. The 1960s brought reforms to the Catholic Church, and St. Anthony's Seminary High School, as it was called then, was no longer exclusively a school for training boys for the priesthood.

Ninety-one years and 3,521 students after its founding in 1896 — 86 of those years in a building that a talented Acton rancher helped hew by hand — St. Anthony's had run its course. Citing declining enrollment and staffing shortages[18], the facility closed at the end of the 1986-87 school year. An elementary school rented space for a time.

Then, in 2005, the church sold the 7-building St. Anthony's complex to SRS Garden Street LLC, which intended its continued use as a school.[19] In 2008, the new owner donated the property to the San Roque School Charitable Trust, and the building underwent a major seismic retrofitting. In 2010, the old, main building, with its original Romanesque lower half in stone and its nouveau Spanish Colonial upper half in stucco-covered wood, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

George Blum's handiwork survives.

— Leon Worden 2020

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St. Anthony's in 2011.


1. St. Louis (Mo.) Globe Democrat, June 28, 1896.

2. Saint Anthony's Seminary Alumni Association (sasalumni.org), accessed April 2020. Except as noted, this is the source for information about the construction timeline and building features.

3. City of Santa Barbara: Historic Landmarks Commission Landmark Designation Staff Report. "Saint Anthony's Seminary Complex and Grounds, 2300 Garden Street, APN 025-140-024," 2012.

4. Quincy (Ill.) Daily Herald, July 5, 1898.

5. San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1901.

6. Santa Barbara Landmarks Commission, ibid.

7. Oxnard Daily Courier, January 24, 1914.

8. Santa Barbara Landmarks Commission, ibid.

9. Pomona Progress Bulletin, June 30, 1925.

10. Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1925.

11. Santa Rosa Republican, July 7, 1925.

12. The Antonian, July 29, 1925 (St. Anthony's school newspaper).

13. Los Angeles Times, ibid.

14. The Pomona Bulletin, July 4, 1925.

15. The Antonian, July 29, 1925.

16. See fn. 2 above.

17. Santa Barbara Landmarks Commission, ibid.

18. The Antonian, "Final Tribute," June 1987.

19. Santa Barbara Landmarks Commission, ibid.


From The Antonian, July 29, 1925:

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Back of photograph:

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Click image to enlarge | Download archival scan


LW3805: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased by Leon Worden from Billet Family/Blum Ranch estate sale, 2/24/2020.
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