by Karen Anderson
On December 31, 2011, Moises Solis retired from State Parks after 35 years of service. He worked at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, as well as El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, technically as a Maintenance Worker 1, but more famously as blacksmith. For the Presidio and for the Casa de la Guerra, he made window and door hardware. He also constructed the Presidio’s horno along with volunteer assistance.
Solis, a native of Querétaro, Mexico, immigrated to California at the age of 18 to work as an immigrant farm laborer. He began working at La Purisima SHP in 1976 as a park aide. Solis worked his way up to the top Maintenance Worker, the position he held until his retirement, but he was often seen in the blacksmith shop, working with the anvil that was used by his father in Mexico. (Solis learned the trade from his father, working by his side in Mexico.) He was an important part of the Student Learning History Days at La Purisima, as well as living history days at the Presidio.
His specialty is constructing hardware – ranging from nails, hinges, locks, and bells – from the 18th century. Solis commented, “I know how to make anything out of metal that’s related to the mission period. This is part of my culture, of Mexico.”
Solis’ retirement was celebrated in Lompoc on January 22 by approximately 300 people, who enjoyed a bit of toasting and roasting this famous figure. He remarked that he felt “very honored” by the party. He has been awarded the title of “honorary docent” by the volunteers and docents with whom he has worked over the years and will continue to work as a historic blacksmith.
So next time you visit the Presidio on Early California Day, Founding Day or Presidio Pastimes, look for Moises Solis and tell him what a treat it is to still see him heating metal over the fire, pounding out nails, or merely smiling as he explains the age-old process of blacksmithing.
For more information about Solis click here.
Karen Schultz Anderson is Director of Education at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and Moises Solis Fan Club Member.