2.10.2015

Spanish Revival: finding the Romance of Spain and Mission Style at the Bowers Museum

Mission style garden at the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA


Tucked away at what is now the 'back' side of the modern entrance to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA, are Spanish Revival mission style buildings of the original museum. The mature garden and cool echoing halls are a welcome retreat from the overbearing freeways and commerce just outside.



Mission Style Garden at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA

This older mission style structure was built in 1932 during the early years of the Great Depression, and as such, it had a slow start. Built in a classic Spanish revival style it has a large garden embracing the street entrance, surrounded by archways and tall facades.

Drought tolerant Mission style garden at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA

This quiet setting has the expected fountain, trees and 'lawn' landscape. Wonderful mature cacti, aloe and other drought tolerant plantings dominate the scene. Above on a wall is a mural depicting early settlers.


The size and color of this landscape is wonderful, creating a small world away from the street outside, and attracting few museum goers, since the newer museum entrance and parking is nearly a block away.


Inside, an expansive hall showcases California history in an older exhibition style of display that newer museums lack. The Spanish architectural style is enhanced by an inside balcony above the lower hall that hints of more galleries upstairs.

From this balcony it's possible to get a higher view looking down at the gallery below, but also at the gorgeously textured coifered ceiling of the great hall. This appears to be carved, but is actually cast and painted.

Ceiling in Mission style Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA

On this second story there is an exhibit of California plain aire painters that contains some of the best of that genre. This comes as a surprise, considering the lack of publicity that the collection receives, due perhaps to the larger Irvine collection located not far from here.

The upper level halls have ceilings painted by little known mural artist, Martin Syvertsen (1874 - 1947), in the early 1930's. He was trained in Germany, having been born in Norway, arriving in California during the mid-1920's. He created an amazing array of color and design in the murals overhead, almost like an oriental rug in design. These murals feel more like something we'd find in Spain than in Santa Ana. He also painted theater murals, such as the Grauman's Egyptian Theater, and a huge project for the Mountain View cemetary in Altadena, CA.


While this visit to old California is part of a newer, larger art museum with diverse multi-cultural exhibitions, it has been allowed to remain regional and historical in scope. A fitting content for a grand and romantic structure.


"Bowers Museum is home to Art and Artifacts", more on museum history:HERE.

Martin Syvertsen's murals can also be seen at the Mountain View Cemetary, Altadena, CA: illustrated brochure HERE

Orange County magazine, Oct. 1992, Museum history: HERE

1922 article, Martin Syvertsen mural: HERE

Bowers Museum


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