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The California Missions

San Fernando

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana, Mission Hills, San Fernando, California
San Fernando Rey de Espana
founded September 8, 1797
by Father Fermin Lasuen
The 17th Mission in the
California Mission Chain

Naming of Mission:

The mission was named for Saint Ferdinand III, King of Spain, (1217-1252)
Sometimes known as the Mission of the Valley. The surrounding area is often referred to as the Valley.

Location:

The San Fernando mission is about 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles, on Mission Drive, 1 1/2 miles west of the city of San Fernando

History:

The original intent of this mission was to place a mission halfway between San Buenaventura and San Gabriel. The location wound up being much closer to the San Gabriel Mission. The San Fernando Rey de Espana mission was founded on 8 September 1797 by Father Lasuen, one of four founded in the same summer. The lands were rich and fertile which was good for growing crops and raising animals. In fact, the mission became a major supplier of food and supplies to the new Pueblo of Los Angeles.

Within a year, the mission had outgrown the original chapel built in 1797. A new church was built, which was quickly outgrown and replaced in 1803. All the mission buildings were well-built and had tile roofs. The outstanding feature of this mission is the convento or missionary quarters. Though all missions usually have one of these buildings, they are usually part of the quadrangle and connected to the church. At San Fernando, the convento was added later is was eventually two stories high, 243 feet long and 50 feet wide. The front features 20 arches. The original buildings was finished in 1822. It was and still is the largest adobe structure in the state. The two story bell tower is on the patio side of the chapel. An adobe staircase goes to the second level and choir loft. The bell tower had three arched openings for the three mission bells.

The native people of the area were called the Gabrielinos (Spanish name) or the Tongva, Though the Indians at the mission were taught various trades and skills, they were famous for their grapes and wine. The mainstay of their economy was cattle raising, but they also had large vineyards with vines which came from Spain. The natives were also skilled at leatherwork and made shoes, clothing and other items from the hides from their extensive cattle herds. The mission was also renowned for their blacksmiths. The shop was not just for horseshoes, though that was an important function. It was used to make all the metal tools and things at the mission, such as utensils, grills, fences, candle holders, brands and much more.

Because of its prominent location, the mission became such a popular stopping place for travelers. The convento was continually added to and was soon referred to as the "long building" of El Camino Real. There were often so many for breakfast that the fathers had a large table which was built into the ceiling and lowered for meals. Traditional meals were Atole (Corn Mush) for Breafkast, Atole along with meat and vegetables with tortillas for lunch and more of the same for dinner with the addition of some fruit. After dinner, there would be singing and dancing until bedtime.

As more travelers and visitors came to the mission, the Indian population decreased proportionately. It became increasing difficult to keep up the mission. After the 1812 earthquake, Father Ibarra had much trouble making the needed repairs. He had trouble with the Mexican government, but they allowed him to stay to keep the declining mission under control. Finally, even Father Ibarra had to go, leaving the mission without anyone to take care of it.

Secularization in 1834 took its toll at San Fernando just as it did at most of the missions. Many of the roof tiles were removed by vandals which, in turn, caused the walls to crumble from exposure to the elements. Governor Pio Pico made the mission his headquarters in 1846. Much of the mission land was sold after the Mexican-American War. This is also when John C. Fremont used the mission as his headquarters. After shiny gold particles on the roots of an onion were mistaken for gold in 1842, the area had a gold rush of sorts. When prospectors came to look for gold, they heard rumors of gold hidden under the church floor. It didn't take them long to go in search of the gold that wasn't really there. The mission was damaged even further by this adventure.

The mission further declined after all the roof tiles were removed except for the convento. Later, in the late 1800's, the Butterfield Stage Lines used the mission as a station. It was also used a storerooms for the Porter Land and Water Company. In 1896, the quadrangle was even used as a hog farm. Even though the mission and lands were returned to the Catholic Church, the deterioration of the San Fernando mission continued. In 1923, the Oblate priests arrived and the church became a working church once again.

Various efforts to restore the church began early on. The Landmarks Club helped to restore the roof before the walls collapsed. They sold candles for a dollar each and raised $6,000 to begin restoration efforts. Major restoration did not occur until the 1940's when a monetary gift from the Hearst Foundation was received. The convento building remains, but the church had suffered major damaged in the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and had to be torn down. An exact replica was built in its place which was completed in 1974.

Contact the Mission:

15151 San Fernando Road
Mission Hills CA 91345
Phone: 818-361-0186

Mission Trivia:

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana's hotel building was called the "long building"

Mission San Fernando is often used in movies

Mission Links

Information for the San Fernando Mission

San Fernando Mission Cemetery

A map page for the mission

Californa Mission Virtual tour page for the mission

This page has many pictures of the mission

California Historical Landmark #157

California Missions


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This page was last updated on 28 June 2012 at 11:27 pm

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