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Published July 4th, 2012
The Barn Living History Project
By Sophie Braccini
Bill Durkin and Canyon Construction intern Larissa Durkin review old pictures of the Barn in Moraga. Photo Sophie Braccini

About 100 years ago, the Barn was constructed in Moraga, next to where the Northern Sacramento railway was built. A hotel, bar and grocery store, the Barn was restored by Canyon Construction to its original looks a few years ago and is the oldest large building in Moraga.
As a celebration of its history and to record memories for all time, long-time Moraga resident Bill Durkin approached present Barn owner Chris Avant of Canyon Construction to launch a living history project about the iconic building. Durkin also sought help from the Moraga Historical Society and Saint Mary's College.
"Our project is to find and record oral testimonies, letters, and pictures of people's lives that were linked to the Barn," says Durkin. "The project will integrate old documents and stories told live with the use of today's multi-media technology," adds Avant. "These stories tie us together as a community. We would like all individuals who shared moments here way back then, or more recently, to be part of this historical endeavor."
Durkin and Avant are planning a living history celebration in the fall. In the meantime, Durkin has started recording stories with the help of an intern, his daughter, Larissa, hired by Canyon Construction. "This is a very interesting project," says the UCSB graduate who grew up in Moraga. "It's fascinating to see how the Barn is at the heart of the history of the town, as well as part of the history of California, with the rise and fall of the railroads, prohibition (where the Barn got its name, since the word 'Bar' could not be displayed), and the development of California." The team is also looking for volunteers to record stories.
Saint Mary's alumni are playing a big role in the historical gathering; one of the first letters Durkin received was from a1956 alum who shared great memories he and his friends had at the Barn. The group plans to have a booth at the alumni reunion in July on campus.
Of course the Moraga Historical Society is providing the team with a lot of printed documents that will help establish the timeline, including placing some events such as the erection of the 'Barn's Dome' in the 1980s, a non-permanent structure that was installed without permits and created quite a local stir.
"When we started the restoration of the Barn, people came up to me with all these stories that happened here," says Avant. "There is the story of the Bollinger Canyon woman who met a doctor coming from Oakland to deliver her baby at the Barn, there are people who proposed here, people who met their future spouse here. This place is emotionally charged with a lot of souvenirs."
As of now, what the living history project needs are more testimonies, and/or witnesses of life at the Barn, like the former bartender who is supposedly still working in El Cerrito. At the fall event, people will also be invited to be recorded on the spot and create video clips of their stories. If you have a story to share, contact Durkin at sustainablemoraga@yahoo.com or call (925) 788-8394.


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