Site  by Lynne Landwehr © 2004





Features and Information:
     The Estrella Adobe Church

Photograph courtesy of Billy Mounts.

Restoring the Estrella Church
in 1952

by Jim White

"From the beginning, Mr. [Jesse] Crettol was the one who knew the proper procedure for brickmaking and construction of adobe buildings.  He learned this skill in Spain, where he was born. 

"My secondary job on shift was called “General Maintenance,” where my crews and I dug ditches, hoed weeds, and any other such outdoor tasks as assigned.

"Because California law required each boy to attend school one-half day, I had two crews, a.m. and p.m., of six to eight members each.

"In the northwest corner of the school was an unused fairly even piece of ground about 50 or 60 feet square.  With our four-wheeled  tractor, with a scraper blade astern, Mr. Crettol made a mound of dirt by scraping about two to four inches of soil along with the weeds growing out of the soil.  The weeds became the straw to bind the bricks.  It was not necessary to do any additional adding of straw.

"The mound of dirt was at the north end of the cleared area.  This left a bare and clean area to place the bricks.  At one end of the mound, we made a round bowl about four feet in diameter and about two feet deep.  Water was poured in and dirt was shoveled in.  Three of us (myself included at times) took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pant legs, and stomped up and down, mixing the mud to a thick sludge.  A wheelbarrow took the sludge to waiting forms that were made to make 3 to 4 bricks at a time.  These forms were dampened so that after a bit, they could easily be lifted off.  After a day or two, we became very efficient, in that each boy did the same task and things rolled right along. With different crews a.m. and p.m., the rivalry to see who made the most bricks per shift was fun.  After drying for a day or so, the bricks were set on edge so that more surface was exposed to the sun. 

"When enough bricks were made, most of them 12 inches wide, some 9 inches wide, they were trucked to the church site.

"A water tank and hoses were brought to the site also.  Mr. Crettol, with an axe, trued up the sides so all would be even.  Also some of the old bricks were removed because they were badly eroded.

"We then cleaned the debris from inside and next to the outside.  This was placed in several piles and used to make mortar for binding the bricks.  This mortar was made from the original fallen and disintegrated bricks.

"Mr. Crettol then selected two or three boys to be his bricklaying apprentices.  The rest of us made mortar, hauled bricks to the lifters, and generally did the roustabout duties.

"When the window frames were placed, the bricks were snugly and closely fit to the frames.  When the mortar dried, long strong nails were pounded through the frame into the dried mortar.  The door was similarly done and both had railroad ties over the top of each.  When proper height was reached, the 9-inch bricks were split lengthwise, then laid to the edge of the 12-inch bricks.  Then strands of barbed wire were twisted together, attached at either end to railroad ties that were used to provide an oasis for the rafters; the barbed wire was covered with mortar.  This was apparently to assist in keeping the top of the walls more stable.  Any heavy wire or metal rods would have sufficed, but the barbed wire [had been] discarded and was handy. 

"We also put a cement skirt around the base of the church to prevent water from doing damage, also the roof eves are pretty far out.  I think I remember that the walls were set on a foundation of rocks the size of baseballs and cemented with mud mortar, similar to some at the San Miguel Mission.

"The distance from the school to the church was/is six-tenths of a mile.  We would walk both ways most of the time.  The boys were so interested in the job that I was fortunate in not having any runaways.  I was always told by the boys if one was planning to escape and then the boy was deleted from the crew (not too many, only two or three).

"This is all I can recall at this time.  Fifty years ago seems long, but to my mind it was only a few years ago.  The boys and I know that what we contributed to the restoration will last long after we have passed away.  Like planting a tree—

"We would also make good grape-stompers at any winery!"

 © Jim White, 1998.  All rights reserved.


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