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Exhibit Now Open!

Irving Gill's Church and Cottages on the Barona Indian Reservation

Barona Cultural Center & Museum is excited to work collaboratively with the Irving J. Gill Foundation and twelve other participating museums and cultural organizations to tell the story of Irving J. Gill, an extraordinary San Diegan, and one of the key founders of modern architecture (learn more about the collaboration at

            Over the course of his career, Gill produced a venerable body of work that has influenced generations of American architects and builders.  His revolutionary ideas in building aesthetics and technology have permanently impacted the building arts for over a century.  Stones in the Meadow gives Barona Museum the opportunity to showcase Gill’s work on the Barona Indian Reservation—as told by the People.


            It was appropriate that Gill’s last commission dealt with an architectural problem that had always concerned him:  low-cost housing for people of modest means.  In 1932, because of his commitment to such causes, the federal government commissioned Gill to design thirty houses at the recently-established Rancho Barona Indian Reservation for the Native Americans displaced from their original reservation by the government’s need to build a dam and reservoir.


            The People, themselves, paid Gill to build the church and erect a cross in the cemetery.  These are Gill’s last known works.  The houses are currently occupied and the church is an operating Catholic parish.


            Gill’s contract was to design a project that could be built by the People themselves.  It also demanded that he live on site and supervise construction.  To acquaint the relatively “untrained workers” with his architectural ethic and aesthetic, he took members of the group to visit his building in La Jolla.  Despite the Peoples’ long-established communitarian commitments, the simple houses were scattered along a meandering reservation road.  Of the thirty houses planned, only a dozen were built.  Gill’s total stipend for his work was $540.


            Although Gill now received well-deserved accolades for his architecture, it was found that the little houses and church on the reservation were not quite suitable as built.  The church featured a side entrance and a single bell tower which was later changed.  In the early 1950s, a front entrance was created and another bell tower was added for symmetry.  The little houses had flat roofs that proved to leak; the People remedied the problem by pitching the roofs.  The cold cement floors were uncomfortable; the People soon added wood floors with carpeting and rugs to help keep the houses warm


            Stones in the Meadow:  Irving Gill’s Church and Cottages on the Barona Indian Reservation opens September 20, 2016.  Docent-led tours of the church will be available and a special guest lecture by Architect Paul Johnson and his Historic Research wife, Sarai, in October will discuss Gill’s “worker’s cottages” and the houses here at Barona. 

Homes were built with bricks made on site, ca. 1932. 

Photograph courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

“...we should build our house simple, plain and substantial as a boulder, then leave the ornamentation of it to Nature, who will tone it with lichens, chisel it with storms, make it gracious and friendly with vines and flower shadows as she does the stone in the meadow.”

~ Irving J. Gill

Presentation Drawing for a Small Church for Rancho Barona by Irving J. Gill, August 1932.

This presentation drawing was made by Irving J. Gill for the People of Capitan Grande who purchased the Barona Ranch in 1932. The first structure the People requested be built was the Church. The drawing is signed on the bottom by two of Barona’s leaders, Chief Ramon Ames and Baptisto “Bob” Quitac (who both served as Chairman of Barona in the early years).  It shows the original layout of the Church.

Barona Church, early 1950's

Photograph courtesy of Jacqueline Whaley

A special thank you to our Sponsors:

Help Us Tell This Story!

If you have stories, early photographs, artifacts or original furnishings to share, or monetary contributions to help fund the exhibition, please use the contact form below to let us know. 


We welcome any and all contributions including donations (which are tax deductible), corporate sponsorships, sharing of personal stoires, sharing of personal photographs and sharing of artifacts.  We look forward to your support.

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