The Digital Preservation of El Camino Real de California

In the spring of 2012, CyArk attended the annual California Missions Studies Association conference and announced its search for partners to digitally preserve the historic El Camino Real de California. This ambitious project is comprised of the 21 missions, 4 presidios, and 3 pueblos (and numerous ancillary structures) of El Camino Real de California. Initial interest from partners allowed us to move quickly and fund raising began immediately. By summer, the first missions were being scanned. By years end, four mission churches were recorded and the data for one mission was already available to the public on the CyArk website.


(Scan data of the front faade of Mission Dolores, San Francisco. Mission Dolores is the oldest standing intact, adobe building dedicated to Christian worship in California and the oldest intact building in the modern city and county of San Francisco.)

El Camino Real is the historic route of Spanish colonization that weaves along the California coast and through inland valleys. This route was integral to the development and history of California, including the birth of the states most populous cities. Today, El Camino Real de California is studied by 450,000 California fourth graders annually. Yet the route, an integral piece of not just California history, but the history of colonial expansion in the New World, runs parallel to the San Andreas Fault. This makes El Camino Reals iconic and important structures highly susceptible to damage or even complete destruction by Californias most famous fault line.

In order to better preserve and share the history of the route with a wider audience, CyArks program to digitally preserve El Camino Real de California includes the development of an interactive map (the first version of which is already online: , the digital documentation of the 21 missions, 4 presidios, 3 pueblos and other related historic sites, and the development of conservation and educational content for public dissemination via the CyArk website.


(A section slice through the Mission Carmel basilica laser scan data, showing the lattice work of beams in the attic.)

The data collected is already being used by the participating missions for both conservation and education. The digital preservation of Mission Dolores (San Francisco, CA) has yielded architectural as-built drawings for conservation efforts, funded by the Angel Committee, the California Missions Foundation, and EMC Corporation. An interactive mobile app, funded by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, is also being developed from the captured data to help augment students and tourists visits in whole new ways of information dissemination. The mobile application will also extend the missions reach in education across the globe through virtual tourism. The digital preservation of Mission Dolores also received technical support through CyArks Technology Center partnership with the University of San Francisco (USF).

The digital preservation of Mission San Luis Rey (Oceanside, CA) has provided the missions architects with the sites most accurate as-built record. This work, funded by the Mission San Luis Rey Parish with technical support from USF and the University of California at San Diegos Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3) is aiding space planning within the mission compound for both retreats and classroom space for the proposed relocation of the Franciscan School of Theology.

The digital preservation of Mission San Juan Bautista (San Juan Bautista, CA) will help the parish and researchers from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) mitigate conservation and repair efforts currently focused on earthquake damage. As-builts and other 3D structural information for these efforts were funded by the California Missions Foundation through collaboration with CSUMB and with technical support from USF and Western Digital.

Mission Carmel (Carmel, CA) has already successfully used the 3D data to reduce the cost and time of strengthening the missions roof structure in ongoing retrofit work. Funded by the Carmel Mission Foundation, the 3D laser scan data was used by the site contractor to generate measurements and drawings of the roof components and trusses within the maze of beams that is the Basilicas attic. The accuracy provided by the 3D laser scan data allowed for many of the new wood and steel support components to be prefabricated, reducing project timelines. In addition to being a cost saver, the time reduction was important for minimizing the attics exposure to the elements. USF and Faro also provided additional technical support for the data capture of the basilica and its attic. Victor Grabrian, President and CEO of the Carmel Mission Foundation, is now an avid supporter of digital preservation after CyArk allowed [Carmel Mission Foundation] to reduce the cost of strengthening the roof structure and assisted the construction team in forecasting potential problem areas and conflicts.

CyArks digital preservation of El Camino Real de California is an estimated 3-year, $1.5 million initiative. The fifth mission of El Camino Real de California to be digitally preserved will be Mission Santa Ines through a partnership with the Old Mission Santa Ines Parish and our Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Technology Center. CyArk is continuing its efforts to raise awareness, recruit aide, and to raise funds for the Digital Preservation of El Camino Real de California project. If you are a California service provider with previous laser scan data from any El Camino Real de California structures willing to donate the data, a California service provider willing to donate services toward the documentation of El Camino Real sites, or an individual or company interested in donating funds to the effort, please contact Jaime Pursuit at or at 510-832-5440.