California Missions Foundation

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 7, 2024
CMF Executive Director David Bolton with a group of fourth graders on their field trip (courtesy photo)

Most locals are probably aware of the best Santa Barbara place to visit every Memorial Day weekend for a glimpse of the chalk drawings during the I Madonnari street painting festival. They know they can spend a colorful summer evening watching music and dancing from Mexico and other indigenous Californios cultures during La Fiesta Pequeña, the official opening of Old Spanish Days Fiesta; and they know where the prettiest backdrop is for walking your dog amid fragrant flowers at the Rose Garden across Los Olivos Street. 

But Mission Santa Barbara is just one shining jewel among the 21 California Missions that stretch from San Diego to Sonoma, dating back to 1769. Among them are Mission San Juan Capistrano, well known for the annual migration of cliff swallows; Mission San Diego de Alcalá – the first of the 21 California missions famously founded by Father Junipero Serra – and the two nearby missions in Santa Ynez and Ventura. 

David Bolton also served as Fiesta’s 2023 El Presidente (photo by Fritz Olenberger)

Keeping these historic buildings and their artifacts intact and thriving is the work of the nonprofit, California Missions Foundation (CMF) – which is dedicated to preserving the landmark locations and the associated historical and cultural resources through funding preservation activities and facilitating educational programs, conferences, and scholarship.  CMF is just a shade over 25 years old, but it has completed hundreds of projects at the missions, presidios and asistencias, working closely with the dedicated onsite staff to best meet the needs of these historic sites. The foundation has supported a variety of programs addressing buildings, their art and artifact collections, and the various necessary upgrades to keep these sites in operation for years to come. 

Protecting and preserving the missions is, well, also a real mission for David Bolton, CMF’s Executive Director, who is better known around these parts for his perennial participation in Fiesta, including serving as 2023 El Presidente. 

“It’s very important,” he said. “If historic buildings or monuments go down, then we lose a platform to be able to tell stories, and our missions have a lot of stories that really matter.” 

Bolton, while acknowledging history can have both positive and negative effects, said that preserving these places is a priority. 

“The missions changed the way of life for people in California. It’s important that we keep these historic buildings to allow the stories from our past to be told. The mission story is complex, and I believe if we really understand the truth of our past. Wiping out our past will erase these important stories. Wiping out the buildings removes the opportunity for people to understand their own history.” 

Bolton’s interest in the missions began more than 30 years ago when he first came to town during a lull in his sports production career. His father suggested that he direct a documentary about the Santa Barbara Mission. 

“I did the first full hour documentary Inside the California Missions in 1993,” he recalled. “But as I researched and talked to experts, the story just fascinated me. From the people to the events that happened at all the missions – there was so much culture that came out of them and what they mean for communities from an architectural standpoint. I just got more interested, made more documentaries – even though it was just a hobby at the time – while I continued to work in sports production.” 

When the opportunity at CMF became available a dozen years ago, Bolton jumped at the chance to make a switch.

“The missions now are my full-time passion and my job,” he said.

Bolton said the missions matter not just for their history but what they represent today. 

“The missions play such a vital role,” he said. “Here in Santa Barbara, it’s the center of so much in the community and is probably our most iconic structure. And of course it still operates as a church. It’s a testament to the significance of these missions as a community-based location that allowed these historic buildings to continue to be strong and vibrant in our communities.”

Among its many projects, CMF funds educational field trips for fourth grade classrooms at each of its locations. 

“We want the next generation to understand and appreciate California mission history because it’s really going to be up to them to dictate our history and decide what is around in the future,” Bolton said. “The kids hear all the stories from the docents who are very good at explaining the full story of the missions, and how they impacted and benefited communities. The teachers tell us that the kids come back to the classroom really motivated to learn more about everything.” 

The California Missions Foundation is currently focused on finishing fundraising the $1.15 million needed for the seismic retrofit of the nearby Mission Santa Inés. The work will help preserve the National Historic Landmark in perpetuity.

“We discovered that Mission Santa Inés had never been retrofitted for earthquakes,” Bolton said. “The last push has to come locally, which is appropriate, because the mission is another one of those iconic assets that we have in our community. It’s part of what makes the valley a special place.” 

There are many ways you can support the California Missions Foundation in its goal to preserve these one-of-a-kind California treasures, whether through individual, foundation or corporate donations, or simply becoming a member for as little as $29 a month. Visit  


California Missions Foundation

Donate now!
(805) 284-3986
Executive Director: David Bolton


The California Missions Foundation is a nonprofit public benefit corporation dedicated to preserving the landmark California Missions and associated historical and cultural resources for the benefit of the public through funding preservation activities and facilitating educational programs, conferences, and scholarship.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

Help Preserve the Rich History of California’s Missions

Right now, California Missions Foundation is focused on raising $1.15 million needed to retrofit nearby Mission Santa Inés. CMF is in the final stages of fundraising after receiving a $500,000 federal matching grant from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program. Reaching this fundraising goal will guarantee that Mission Santa Inés will be seismically retrofitted, thus preserving this National Historic Landmark that continues to bring tourism to the Santa Ynez Valley while keeping alive our history.

Key Supporters

Ann Jackson Family Foundation
The Coeta and Donald Barker Foundation
Dan Murphy Foundation
Francis K. and Charles D. Field Foundation
Stephen T. Hearst
John and Beverly Stauffer Foundation
Linden Root Dickinson Foundation
Marjorie and Edward Illig
Family Foundation
Montecito Bank & Trust
National Parks Service
Pebble Beach Company Foundation
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash
Indians Foundation
Visit Santa Ynez Valley
William H. Hannon Foundation