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The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel just happens to be the mother of Los Angeles. It took me a while to connect the relationship because history either disappears or gets fragmented quickly in Los Angeles. For instance, we wiz along freeways pass towns without a thought, and on our i-phone maps the towns are just names. We don’t consider how or why they came to be. The other way history is obscured is when big historical events get scrubbed clean and then overly romanticized in cinemas.
I visited the San Gabriel Mission several weeks ago with a friend and while we were there a class of fourth graders were going around the grounds like busy bees. If you’re a parent of a fourth grader, you know about the missions. It’s part of the fourth grade Social Science studies. While we wandered around we noticed how the kids had a great time inspecting Indian artifacts, the small rooms in the Mission, and the many old wood and iron tools.
The missions fascinate me because here in Los Angeles they are the few authentic places where I can get an unfiltered view of the past. The real humble beginnings of our community are found at these sites. You can envision how centuries ago those old wood and iron tools were used to build buildings, make needed items, and grow crops, all done by hand. There’s even a replica of a humble Indian hut used by the Indian “Neophytes”.
Let me briefly make the connection between the San Gabriel Mission and the City of Los Angeles. Junipero Serra originally founded the Mission in 1771, over by Rio Hondo in Whittier Narrows. However a flash flood in 1776 ruined the mission complex and it was relocated to its present-day site in the City of San Gabriel.
Soon a successful economy, generated by the hard working Indian “Neophytes” and padres, evolved. This success was brought to the attention of King Charles III, of Spain, which prompted him to approve a pueblo to be built on the Rio Porciúncula (now-Los Angeles River).
Pobladores (settlers) recruited from Sonora and Sinaloa trekked their way northward to Alta California. They stopped at the San Gabriel Mission to rest before setting out on the final portion of their journey a half-days ride to the west. The new pueblo grew and in 1781 “El Pueblo de la Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles de Porciúncula” (now know as Los Angeles) was officially founded.
At first the padres of the Mission trained the settlers in agricultural techniques and tended to their religious needs. Like the San Gabriel Mission, the pueblo thrived and in 1784, the padres established an “asistencia” (sub-mission) to the San Gabriel Mission in the pueblo. The “asistencia” suffered from neglect and was eventually replaced with a chapel: La Iglesias de Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles.
< strong>Down through the many years, the chapel evolved into what Angelenos and tourists now refer to as the “Plaza Church” on North Main Street. (It was designated as a Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument in 1962, and also designated as a California Historical Landmark.) Across Main Street from the church is the plaza from which it gets its common name and is also the entrance to the LA’s popular attraction, Olvera Street.
As I strolled through the San Gabriel Mission I was very pleased to see the fourth graders ogling and snooping around the mission’s grounds and peppering the teacher with questions. There’s no better way to learn. They got a first hand look at a Mission-the real deal. They saw for themselves the humble beginnings, hand tools of old wood and iron, wood huts and, of course, a historical Mission.
My friend and I enjoyed visiting the old church and its museum. The fourth graders obviously enjoyed their trip too. We heard a lot of happy chatter as the school bus rolled out of the parking lot.
So, if you feel closed in by too much technology and our fast changing modernity then round up the kids and take a step back with a trip to the past. The address is 427 S. Junipero Serra Dr. (at Mission Road), San Gabriel. Go to www.sangabrielmissionchurch.org for more information regarding admission fees for museum and grounds. They also have events on special days.
Go and visit the San Gabriel Mission-the mother of Los Angeles.
Enjoy your outing.