Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mission San Gabriel Arcangel: The "Pride of the Missions"

Gil and I made a day trip out to the San Gabriel Mission on Thursday. 

San Gabriel is less than 10 miles from downtown LA and very familiar turf for me, as I used to live in the San Gabriel Valley (Montebello) circa 1985-1987. I was living with my Aunt Sheri at the time (she is mom's youngest sister and only 4 years older than me, so to me she's not "Aunt" but just "Sheri"). On October 1st, 1987, the Whittier Narrows quake (5.9 on the Richter) struck, severely damaging the mission and also scaring the bejeezus out of us. I remember it was probably around 7:45 am on that fateful day and I was still fast asleep when out of the blue it felt as if the Furies had picked up the end of the bed and started shaking it out like a rug. Anyhoo, a few months later, Sheri & I ventured out to visit the Mission, only to find out that it was closed indefinitely for repairs and retrofitting. Now, a couple decades later, here I am, finally getting a look-see at a remarkable historical place that used to be so close to home. 

12/2/10 The campanario, or bell tower.

El Camino Real Door - the original entrance to the Mission.

The San Gabriel Mission (the 4th of 21 missions) was founded by Father Junipero Serra on September 8, 1771, and its the architecture that sets it apart from all the other missions. Father Antonio Cruzado, born and raised in Cordova, Spain, designed the structure. The Moorish influences are seen in the capped buttresses, vaulted roof & ceiling, narrow windows, and the fortress-like look of the church. 

Ruins of the original bell tower. 

Named for the Archangel Gabriel, the San Gabriel Mission was also nicknamed the 'Queen of Missions.' It was prosperous during its heyday and an important cultural and spiritual center.

Grapevine planted in 1925. Campo Santo Cemetery.

Campo Santo Cemetery. Oldest cemetery in LA County (first consecrated in 1778). 

Another old grape vine. Camp Santo cemetery.

Mission church. The green glass windows impart the church with, well, a greenish hue. Interesting how the church at San Luis Rey is bluish, and the one at San Gabriel is greenish. I think I'm liking the blue better. As the saying goes, it's not easy being green...

This crucifix in the Campo Santo Cemetery is a memorial to the 6,000 Gabrielino (Tongva) band of mission Indians buried here.

I believe this is a Chinese Tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), in fall colors. Campo Santo Cemetery.

'Ramona' grape vine, circa 1774. 'Mother Grape Vine of California.'

The two oldest olive trees at the mission were planted in 1860.

Statue of Father Serra surrounded by the oldest olive tree and the oldest 'Mother' grape vine.

A very busy squirrel in the Quadrangle.

Museum. Quoting the mission brochure: "Museum building was constructed in 1812 of adobe brick with a tiled roof and was almost 300 feet long."

Book printed on a Gutenberg type press, 1534.

Some famous folks have visited the mission.

To summarize the Misssion's history, I turn to Wiki: 

"The planned site for the Mission was along the banks of the Río de los Temblores (the River of the Earthquakes—the Santa Ana River). However, the priests chose an alternate site on a fertile plain located directly alongside the Rio Hondo in the Whittier Narrows. The site of the Misión Vieja (or "Old Mission") is located near the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue in Montebello, California (known to the natives as Shevaanga). In 1776, a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present-day San Gabriel (the native settlement of 'Iisanchanga)...Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California. A majority of the Mission structures fell into ruins after it was secularized in November 1834. The once-extensive vineyards were falling to decay, with fences broken down and animals roaming freely through it. The Mission's chapel functioned as a parish church for the City of San Gabriel from 1862 until 1908, when the Claretian Missionary Fathers came to San Gabriel and began the job of rebuilding and restoring the Mission. On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows Earthquake further damaged the property. A significant portion of the original complex has since been restored."

Replicas of open fireplaces.

Rosemary & Sugarcane.

Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)

Assorted cacti, succulents & California natives.

Palo Verde?

Peace Garden, with a hand-made tile of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Fountain Plaza (fountain made in the 1940s by Native Sons & Daughters of the Golden West).

There are quite a few natives being cultivated on the mission grounds, most of them quite small, so probably newly planted. 

Here's a list of the Cal Natives I came across during our visit. I'm sure a number of them had medicinal or other utilitarian uses back in the day:

California Goldenrod (Solidago californica)
Hummingbird Sage (Salvea spathacea)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera hookeri)
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus-labeled as Mimulus aurantiacus)
California Wild Rose (Rosa californica)
Sedge (Carex spp.)
Palmer's Sagebrush (Artemisia palmeri)
Pacific Coast Iris (hybrid)
Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora)
California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
California Fuchsia (Epilobium californica)
Alkali Dropseed (Sporobolus airoides)
Meadow Sedge (Carex praegracilis)
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)
Penstemon 'Margarita BOP' 
'Canyon Prince' Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus)
Blue Flax (Linum lewisii)
Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica)
Mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia)
Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)
'Bruce Dickonson' Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
'Centennial' Ceanothus


  1. Fantastic post, tour, photos. I'm gushing, but I loved it. AND will visit this mission before the month is over. (I too visited once, when it was closed for retrofitting. But a caretaker showed me some of the grounds -- and I most specifically remembered the mother of all grapevines. Was so glad you included that.) Also, the clay-pink and oxidized green colors in the top two photos -- When I envision old California, it comes in those colors.

  2. Another beautiful and informative post, I love the photos of the campanario, I can almost hear the bells. I'm in awe of that beautiful ancient grapevine, and those stately old olive trees. If only they could tell us of all the Mission history they've seen!

  3. Wonderful post. I love reading it.

  4. The mother grapevine is amazing! I wonder if she still bears?

    I spent a lot of my childhood maybe ten miles of this mission but it's one my family never visited. I'm sorry we never made it there.

  5. wow cool pictures

  6. Interesting facts!My pictures are a little alike...You really helped me out!I had a project that's why.

    1. Glad the post provided you with some useful info!