Mission Adobe Gets Its Virtual Closeup

An Oakland nonprofit dedicated to digitally preserving the world's cultural heritage sites visits the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.

by Hannah Moore

March 23, 2015—No matter how natural disasters or human activity impact historical sites in the future, you don’t have to worry about missing the chance to tour Mission Adobe.

A small group of University of San Francisco students and Alex Reinhold of CyArk, an Oakland-based nonprofit, visited Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park on Saturday to scan the oldest building in Santa Cruz for digital preservation. Mission Adobe will be documented for in-depth reference beyond viewing still photos.

CyArk, founded in 2003, is an organization dedicated to “using new technologies to create a free, 3D online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites before they are lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time,” according to its mission statement. In addition to preservation, CyArk hopes this online preservation can assist in education and research.

Regarding who CyArk hopes will benefit from the preservation, “students and professors sum it up,” said Makenna Murray, marketing assistant at CyArk. She added that CyArk hopes the material helps K-12 students, university students, researchers, site managers of California state parks and the general public.

“[Helping] the public is our mission and our main goal,” she said.

The team used advanced technology, including 3D laser scanners and high-definition photography, to scan Mission Adobe from morning to mid-afternoon. Reinhold was there to help the students use the equipment.

The team placed targets and scanners in different areas throughout the interior and exterior of Mission Adobe. The targets, which took on forms such as ground-level white globes or tall red structures, established common points for the scanner to note, which helps connect different images to one another. With mirrors and laser light, the scanners stored the visual of each area it was placed in. These visuals will be combined to create a 3D virtual tour of the mission.

Read about how Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks saved the Mission Adobe from closure
Read about the Mission Adobe's 2014 Mole and Mariachi Festival

By noting and storing the proximity of the objects from one another, the scanner will ensure accuracy and precision of Mission Adobe in the digital archive.

“This is a unique project because it will be part of student coursework,” said Murray.

Mission Adobe is one of the 21 California missions to be scanned for CyArk’s El Camino Real project, which is set to digitally preserve the 21 California missions, four presidios and other historic sites that make up the El Camino Real Highway. To date CyArk has digitized missions in Carmel, Sonoma, San Juan Bautista, San Francisco and Oceanside, as well as the Presidio of San Francisco. California's 4th graders study the mission system extensively, and the El Camino Real project will eventually result in an interactive map and digital education and conservation materials.

Mission Adobe was founded in the late 1700s and is the only remaining building of the Santa Cruz Mission still standing. It was nearly closed in 2012 due to state budget cuts, but Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks stepped in and took over operations at the park, which has since developed a vibrant cultural events schedule.

Murray said that the Mission Adobe digital preservation will ideally be available on CyArk’s website in one year.