I have come to learn that the government appointee that helped our People build our church and houses when we moved to Barona in 1932 is the well-known San Diego architect, Irving J. Gill. He wasn’t very well known during his lifetime but those who knew him appreciated his new and inspiring architectural design. He is responsible for bringing a fresh perspective and a new life to San Diego architectural styles after the stuffy Victorian era ended. It’s been said that he died in obscurity living on an avocado grove in North County and was never truly appreciated during his lifetime.
In the early 1930s, the US Government was looking for someone to build low-cost and low-maintenance housing on the new Reservation. Gill won the bid. By that time, he had suffered a heart attack and was not working much. His work here at Barona was his last commission before passing away in 1936.
Gill lived on site while he supervised the Indians. Given the time period, the government believed the People needed to be taught how to build their houses and taught how to survive in modern structures. Gill designed the church and it was built first, then came a dozen homes scattered along Barona Road.
Gill spent his professional lifetime perfecting what he thought was an ideal “worker’s cottage”—a simple home that required little care and little cost. He applied what he learned over his life-long study to our homes along with his personal beliefs for natural ornamentation of the built world. After looking through books and seeing some of the buildings Gill built throughout San Diego, it’s no surprise that we as San Diegans have come to appreciate his work.
Barona Museum is uniquely situated to tell our “Gill story” along with twelve other collaborators exhibiting aspects of Gill’s life and body of work. What a wonderful opportunity for our Museum. Stones in the Meadow: Irving J. Gill’s Church and Cottages on the Barona Indian Reservation opens September 20th.