Adobes just need a little (ok, A LOT of) TLC.

by Michael H. Imwalle

Eduardo Vallin Garcia, maintenance supervisor for the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation can often be seen around SBTHP-managed properties performing the duties of carpenter, blacksmith, plumber, electrician, gardener, groundskeeper, adobe brick maker, and when we are lucky, master griller and bartender. More often than not however, Ed is working hard to maintain the thousands of square feet of adobe wall surfaces by making sure they are protected from the elements. Ed, with the occasional help of volunteers, maintains the twelve-room, 4,400-square foot Casa de la Guerra, thirty rooms and 8,000 square feet of adobe buildings at El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP, and the Pico adobe.

Clockwise from upper left: 1. Damaged defense wall section with bricks exposed. 2. Water damage repaired with new mud plaster. 3. Eduardo applying a final coat of whitewash. 4. Completed repair (November 2011). Photos by Mike Imwalle.

The term adobe refers to a sun-dried earthen block or buildings made from adobe blocks. Water is the biggest enemy of adobes. When moisture is re-introduced to the earthen blocks it breaks the bond that cements the particles together to form the blocks and they can fail with catastrophic results. The most important element of an adobe building is the roof. The typical adobe roof is low-pitched with large eaves or overhangs to shed water away from the adobe walls. The second most important measure of protection for an adobe building is its shell, or protective layer of mud plaster and whitewash. While a good roof may protect the tops of the walls and interior spaces for decades, maintenance of the protective layer of plaster and whitewash is considered part of the annual upkeep of an adobe.

Clockwise from upper left: 1. Removing damaged exterior plaster from Northeast Corner defense wall. 2. Applying the first coat of adobe plaster. 3. Eduardo applying the finish coat of adobe plaster. 4. Completed repair (November 2011).

In addition to the thousands of square feet of buildings, there are other adobe features that periodically require special treatments. Two examples would be the adobe porch surface at the Casa and the outer defense walls at the Presidio. While maintenance of the adobe porch usually consists of repairs due to wear and tear of the adobe surface, repairs to the defense wall are usually required as result of exposure of the relatively unprotected walls to the elements. While the Northeast Corner defense wall does incorporate a tile or adobe cap for protection from rain, the bulk of the water that hits the cap runs down the surface of the walls. This leads to erosion of the walls surfaces and requires chinking deep recesses in the wall surfaces with chunks of tile or adobe. After the damage is patched, it is plastered with mud and whitewashed. As Eduardo can tell you, this work never ends. As soon as one section is repaired it is time to move to another building and repeat the process.

Clockwise from upper left: 1. Water-damaged adobe along rampart. 2. Eduardo chinking deeply damaged areas with small pieces of tejas, or roof tiles. 3. Preparing for the final coat of whitewash. 4. Completed repair (November 2011).

¡Qué es la vida de un adobero!

Mike Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.  Eduardo Vallin Garcia is the maintenance supervisor. Together, they are an unbeatable adobe restoration and repair team. 

3 thoughts on “Adobes just need a little (ok, A LOT of) TLC.”

  1. Fantastic work Ed and Mike. It’s been a pleasure working and learning from you. SBTHP is lucky to have such dedicated employees as you gentlemen. This also goes for the whole staff. What a great team.

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