In Alta California, who worked at the Ranchos del Rey?

In Alta California, who worked at the Ranchos del Rey?

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In Spanish Alta California, most agricultural production was under the management and on the lands of the Franciscan Missions, operated with native labor. Each of the four presidios (forts) was also supposed to rely on a ranch belonging to the King -- the Ranchos del Rey. Monterey's corresponding royal ranch, for example, was located upriver, somewhat near the Missions of Soledad and San Juan Bautista. Who staffed or managed these royal ranchos?

Presidio soldiers were appointed to manage the ranchos (Life in Presidial California by Lothrop and Herczog). Sargeant Miguel Espinosa was in charge of the King's Ranch of Monterey (Memorias sobre la historia de California by Amador).

Without doubt, the bulk of the field labor was done by natives; whether they were Mission neophytes on leave, or exempt from missionization, I don't know.

In Alta California, who worked at the Ranchos del Rey? - History

Mission San Luis Rey, known as “King of The Missions”, because of its size, population and crop production, is number eighteen in the mission chain. Located on a hill overlooking a valley, San Luis Rey lies between Mission San Diego de Alcalá and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Although San Luis Rey was one of the last California missions founded, on June 13, 1798 by Father La Suén, it quickly became the most prosperous. Extending over six acres the population reached 2,869 in 1825, a size that is over three times the California mission average. By 1830, the mission was the largest building in California.

Named after Saint Louis IX, King of France and patron of the Secular Franciscan Order, San Luis Rey along with Mission Santa Barbara, is one of two missions that has always been Franciscan. The Franciscans continue to proudly serve at Mission San Luis Rey today, sharing a respect for life and the California environment just as the early mission founders did.

The mission tour begins at la sala general, a regal room used as a meeting place and a place to receive visitors. In contracts to the ornate sala is the Friars bedroom.

Completed in 1815, the church at San Luis Rey is the only surviving mission church built in a cruciform plan. The church is unique because of its wooden cupola and dome. The dome is built of pine wood and at the top light can easily enter. The reredos and the altar reflect both classical and baroque architecture.

A stroll through the gardens reveals the remains of a carriage arch, which was the original entrance to the inner buildings of the mission. Looking through the arch lies a pepper tree, the first one in California, brought from Peru and planted at the mission in 1830.

From Inside the California Missions
© David A. Bolton

Quick Facts

  • 18 th mission
  • Known as the “King of the Missions” because of its size, population, and crop production
  • Established on 6/13/1798 by Father Lasuén
  • Property once extended over a 15 mile radius and had more than 56,000 livestock
  • Named after St. Louis IX, King of France and patron of the Secular Franciscan Order
  • Mortuary chapel is unique because of wooden cupola & dome
  • Altar reflects classical and baroque architecture
  • First pepper tree in Alta California, brought from Peru in 1830

4050 Mission Avenue
Oceanside, CA 92057-6402
Tel: 760-757-3651

Landmark Status
California Historic Landmark #239

Directions to the Mission
From I-5: Exit to CA-76 East. Turn left onto Rancho del Oro. Cross Mission Street to the mission parking lot.

Hours of Operation
9:30a - 5p Monday-Friday. 10a - 5pm Saturday - Sunday. Please call 760-757-3651 to confirm.

St. Junípero Serra

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St. Junípero Serra, (born November 24, 1713, Petra, Majorca, Spain—died August 28, 1784, Carmel, California, New Spain [now in U.S.] canonized September 23, 2015 feast day August 28 (July 1 in the U.S.)), Spanish Franciscan priest whose missionary work among the Indians of North America earned him the title of Apostle of California. In 2015 he became the first saint of the Roman Catholic Church to be canonized in the United States.

After entering the Franciscan Order in 1730 and being ordained in 1738, Serra taught philosophy at Lullian University (Palma, Majorca). In 1750 he arrived in Mexico City for missionary work among the Indians, serving first in the Sierra Gorda missions from 1750 to 1758 and then in south-central Mexico from 1758 to 1767.

When Spain began its occupation of Alta California (present-day California), Serra joined the expedition’s commander, Gaspar de Portolá. On July 16, 1769, he founded Mission San Diego, the first within the present state of California. From 1770 to 1782 he founded eight more Californian missions: Carmel, his headquarters, at Monterey, in 1770 San Antonio and San Gabriel (near Los Angeles), 1771 San Luis Obispo, 1772 San Francisco (Mission Dolores) and San Juan Capistrano, 1776 Santa Clara, 1777 and San Buenaventura, 1782. Serra’s missions helped strengthen Spain’s control of Alta California. Serra was beatified on September 25, 1988. On September 23, 2015, he was canonized as a saint by Pope Francis I in a special mass in Washington, D.C.

Serra was a renowned figure in his lifetime. However, his treatment of the American Indians is debated. His advocates claim that he was a strenuous defender of the Indians and introduced to their lands the cattle, sheep, grains, and fruits of Mexico. His detractors charge that he was complicit in the colonization of the American continent and the enslavement of indigenous peoples.

Californio Society

The wealthy Spanish Californian families called Californios were the first group to receive large-scale benefit from California’s rich agricultural resources. Many were given land grants from Spain. After 1821, other families received land title from the newly independent Mexico to encourage settlement in what was known as Alta California.

Californio wealth was closely tied to their land holdings and provided credit at local markets. Californios cultivated orchards and crops, but large-scale cattle ranching on large ranchos was key to their wealth. As the paintings show, even small-scale Native American and Mexican rancherias contributed to the management of cattle.

Nearly all aspects of Californio society were connected to its relationship to the land. This is reflected in diseños, hand-drawn maps, which mark the natural geography of the land. Diseño del Cayuma includes sketches of trees and waterways and provides a key in the lower left corner explaining details of the land.

With the Gold Rush, and the end of the US-Mexican war in 1848, a massive influx of settlers laid claim to Californio land. Californios were forced to prove their land title in court, incurring large legal fees.

Under the US legal system, official surveyor maps replaced imprecise diseños as legitimate markers of land ownership. The official 1884-85 surveyor map of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Bernardino counties charts the grids of land with straight lines and careful measurement. Court cases often took over a decade to settle. Many Californio families were forced to sell off their land piece by piece in order to pay mounting legal fees.

As transcontinental rail transportation moved westward, railroads pressed the US government for large land grants. Californios’ holdings grew smaller, as the official map of land granted to the railroads by 1875 makes clear.

Californios depended on labor supplied by Native Americans and Mexicans. In exchange, they would provide shelter and lodging, further intertwining laborers to the land and patriarchal relationships. The photograph of Indian “John” and his family at the Santa Rosa Rancheria highlights the identification of this Native American family to the rancho. In contrast, Californios such as Julia, wife of Joaquin Bolado, and Juan Ignacia Cantua are photographed in studio portraits as individuals.

Towards the end of the 19th century, immigrants from around the world were flooding into California. Many Californios married American and European settlers to secure their land and class status. The stately portrait of Dona Ramona Carillo de Pacheco de Wilson is a good example. Her title, Dona, and her elegant attire denote her elite Californio heritage. Her marriage to a Scottish settler and US military official would continue to secure her status in the early years of American control.

As the 19th century came to a close, Californios found their political clout vastly reduced and their past already becoming mythologized. Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona told the tragic story of a Californio orphan girl who married an Indian. Written to create sympathy for the plight of native Californians, it was instead received as the portrait of an idyllic past. This romanticized vision persisted well into the 20th century.

The 1950s-era photos of light-skinned actors in the popular Ramona Pageant illustrate contemporary racial biases rather than the cultural reality of early Californio society. During this period, the Bracero Program was in full force. Increased border regulations and immigration concerns began to separate California’s future from its Mexican past. Commercialized tourism surrounding the Ramona myth, shown here in the photographs of the curio room at Ramona's marriage place (which never existed), reinforced the curiosity of modern Californians about its Spanish pastoral past. Today, descendants of Californio families still live in the state, and their names—Sepuvelda, Yorba, Pico, Vallejo, Peralta—mark the streets and towns of modern California. Californio society, however, is gone forever.

Note about picture captions


Land grant: a gift of real estate made by a government or other authority to an individual. It may be as a reward for services, or as incentives to develop undeveloped land in a relatively unpopulated country.

Diseño: an informal, hand-drawn map made by Californios to mark out their properties. Diseño means "drawing" or "sketch" in Spanish.

Surveyor map: an official land map created for legal purposes and drawn by trained professionals.

Tintype: a positive photograph made on a sensitized sheet of enameled iron or tin.

San Luis Rey Mission History in the 1820s -1830s

By 1821, the first church was finished. Only six years after its founding, the San Luis Rey was already producing 5,000 bushels a year, and its herds numbered more than 10,000 animals. The Fathers trained the Indians to do many kinds of work: candle and soap-making, tanning, wine-making, weaving, farming, and ranching. They also taught them to sing in the choir.

San Luis Rey Mission reached its peak in 1831 when records show there were 2,800 natives living there. It produced 395,000 bushels of grain, and its vineyard yielded 2,500 barrels of wine.

Named For

Gabriel, Holy Prince of Archangels

Founding Father Presidents

Junípero Serra, first Father President of the California missions

Founding Missionaries

Fathers Pedro Benito Cambón and Angel Fernandez Somera y Balbuena

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Between 1775 and for the next 28 years, Fathers Antonio Cruzado and Miguel Sánchez worked together to make this one of the most successful of the California missions. Fr. José Zalvidea continued their work for another 20 years and is credited with introducing large-scale viticulture to California.

Indians Joining Mission

In the mission era these natives, who spoke one of the Cupan or Cupeño languages of the Takic family were called Gabrieleño after the mission.

Known now as the Tongva, the descendants were recognized as a distinct tribe by the State of California in 1994. They have sought Federal recognition for decades.

Mission Site

The mission was originally established along the slopes of the Montebello hills at the native site of Shevaanga, overlooking the San Gabriel Valley.

In 1775 the mission was relocated to the native site of Iisanchanga "about a league" (3 miles) to the northwest. This mission is 9 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.


Traditional quadrangle, with soldiers’ barracks, neophyte housing, warehouses, and other structures (forming a second incomplete quadrangle) extending out from the central compound.

Water Source

The Río Hondo and several springs fed an aqueduct, reservoirs, and a canal system that provided abundant water to the mission and its extensive vineyards, orchards, gardens, and mills.


Within fifteen years of its founding, San Gabriel had 1,000 neophytes. The highest population recorded was 1,701 in 1817.


Starting with only 128 animals in 1772, the mission herd reached 42,350, primarily cattle (25,000) and sheep (15,000) at its peak in 1829.

Mission San Gabriel became a Parish Church after it was secularized in 1834 and was never abandoned. The area continued to be a center for cattle and sheep ranching

Agricultural Output

Over its active life, San Gabriel was far more productive than any other mission in California harvesting over 353,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils and garbanzos (chickpeas).

Mission Church

The unique San Gabriel church, completed in 1805, features a Moorish, "fortress-like" appearance, with capped buttresses and long narrow windows along the prominent side wall. This style is similar to the Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain.

Mission Bells

Six bells occupy an espadaña or bell wall. The oldest bells were cast in Mexico City in 1795 by the famous bell maker, Paul Ruelas. The largest bell (dated 1830) weighs over a ton and was used for over a century to ring the Angelus, a prayer said at morning, noon, and evening in commemoration of the Incarnation.

Mission Art

The Stations of the Cross are said to be authentic neophyte Indian paintings. They were exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbia Expedition in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World.

Significant Events

On March 22, 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza, who was trailblazing an overland route from Southern Arizona to California arrived at Mission San Gabriel en route to Monterey. The next year he stopped again at San Gabriel with a sizeable group of colonists.

On October 25, 1785, an armed band of Tongva Indians from six or seven different villages were about to attack Mission San Gabriel but the padres and soldiers had been tipped off. Twenty conspirators were captured, including one of the leaders, a young woman shaman named Toypurina. The Toypurina Mural in Los Angeles honors her.

The legendary mountain man Jedediah Smith, who was the first American to reach Alta California by land in 1826 initially arrived at Rancho de la Puente, an outpost of Mission San Gabriel, and was escorted to the mission where he met with Fr. Jose Sanchez.

Named For

Saint Anthony of Padua, a thirteenth-century Franciscan, the finder of lost possessions.

Founding Father President

Fr. Junipero Serra

Founding Missionaries

Frs. Miguel Píeras and Buenaventura Sitjar

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Buenaventura Sitjar remained at San Antonio de Padua for 37 years and is largely responsible for its success. This tireless missionary created a 400-page native vocabulary and used this to develop catechism in the Indian language.

Since the mission’s restoration, Franciscans have continued to provide religious services and hold retreats at Mission San Antonio de Padua, although they are no longer resident at the mission.

Indians Joining Mission

This was the first mission established in the land of the Salinan people at the site of Telhaya. In the mission era, the natives who became neophytes at San Antonio de Padua were called Antonianos. Mission records show the natives were predominantly Northern Salinan but there were some Yokuts and Esselen.

Mission Site

Located in the Santa Lucía Mountains in an oak-studded valley southeast of Monterey, on what is presently a military reservation. The setting of this mission is much as a traveler would have seen two centuries ago.


Traditional quadrangle, largely restored by W.R. Hearst and the Franciscans between 1948 and 1952.

Signs mark the location of important buildings and features, such as the water-powered gristmill, throughout the vast mission grounds.

Water Source

San Antonio River, about three miles above the mission. Water was brought by aqueducts or zanjas and stored in reservoirs.


The highest recorded population was 1,217, in 1806.


In its peak livestock year of 1828, the mission had 20,118 animals, including 8,000 cattle, and 10,000 sheep.

For practicality, the herd was dispersed to several locations. Ranchos San Benito and San Bartolomé del Pleyto were used for sheep and lambs. There were cattle ranches at Los Ojitos and Rancho San Miguelito, all within three to ten leagues (10-30 miles) of the mission.

Agricultural Output

This mission quickly became self-sufficient. Over the years it was an active mission San Antonio harvested 110,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, and peas.

Mission Church

The present or 3rd church was completed in 1813. In 1821, an arcade with three arched openings and fashioned from ladrillos, or burned brick, was built out from the church portico, giving the mission a unique appearance.

The church was extensively restored by the Landmarks Club between 1903 and 1908.

Mission Bells

Each side of the facade includes a square bell tower, both of which have one bell. The 3rd and largest bell, which is original, is at the center of the arcade, over the largest arch.

Mission Art

The walls of this charming church boast colored decorations painted by the mission Indians. Behind the altar is a large bulto of the archangel San Miguel, with extended wings and just below, the bulto of the church patron, San Antonio.

Significant Event(s)

In 1776, Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza stayed at the mission with 240 immigrants from Sonora. San Antonio proved to be an important stop in Anza's pioneering effort to establish a land route from Mexico to Alta California.

Selected Mission Era Paintings

Most of today's visitors to the California mission have grown up in an era where full color images are not only commonplace, they are expected. Most of the ‘drawn from life’ illustrations or contemporary renderings we have of mission-era places and events are a handful of drawings and oil paintings done by talented visitors or expedition artists in the 1800's, and the original religious art of the missions that has survived. However we can also envision this era "in color" through the splendid mission-era revival paintings done by such artists as Edwin Deakin and Henry Chapman Ford, and through murals, dioramas and large-scale models on display at selected California museums. This gallery displays a sample of each of these categories of art.

We first introduced this gallery five years ago. We have now expanded it to include twenty representative full-color images. (Additional event drawings are in the Dodge and Harmer Gallery). Each image in this gallery provides information on the artist, the location and the scenes being depicted, when available.

The Land Expedition to Alta California arrives at the Bay of San Diego

In 1769, after a splendid watercolor by Lloyd Harting, now in a private collection.

This painting appeared in The Call to California, one of several books on California’s early history sponsored by James S. Copley some sixty years ago.

First Mass in Monterey in 1770

After a painting by Leon Trousset [1838-1917].

The Mass was said by Fr. Junípero Serra, spiritual leader of the “Sacred Expedition.”

Portola Exploring the California Coast in 1769

After a mural by Robert Evans, published with permission of the artist.

This contemporary mural is on display in the City of Laguna Hills, California. While Portolá was unsuccessful in finding the Bay of Monterey he discovered many promising mission sites.

Mission Carmel Borromeo in 1792

After an original drawing by John Sykes. © 2014 Pentacle Press.

Padre Teaching at an Indian Village

A diorama at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The Franciscans did not stay isolated in their missions. They went to Indian villages to minister to the sick and seek new converts.

Indians Making Adobe Bricks

One of an extensive collection of drawings by Escobar- Keith, on display at Mission San Fernando.

The building at most mission was almost continuous during the first several decades after their founding.

Traveling Between Missions

After a bank mural no longer available.

The missionaries usually travelled by donkey or on horseback (when they were experienced riders), accompanied by soldiers.

Fr. Narciso Duran and His Indian Band

After an original pen and ink drawing by Alexander Harmer © 2014 Pentacle Press.

Fr. Duran had both a boys’ choir and an Indian band at Mission San José, where he served for twenty-seven years. He developed both those institutions at Mission Santa Barbara.

Chapel at Cieneguitas

Site of Kaswa’a Village, after a painting by Henry Chapman Ford [1828-1894].

This village was located near Santa Barbara.

Mission Santa Barbara in 1794

After an original drawing by Alexander Harmer. © 2014 Pentacle Press.

This image shows the mission as it appeared before the stately neoclassical church was built in 1820.

Argentine Privateer Hippolyte Bouchard

In 1818, Hippolyte Bouchard, attacked Alta California.

After attacking Monterey, Bouchard pillaged Rancho del Refugio, north of Santa Bárbara, an event captured in this colorful painting by Theodore Van Cina. Santa Bárbara itself escaped harm due a truce between Bouchard and Comandante José la Guerra.

Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Rafael

One of the many splendid paintings preserved at Mission Santa Bárbara is this depiction of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Rafael.

The largest collections of late 18th and early 19th century religious art are at Missions Santa Bárbara and Mission Santa Ines, both of which survived secularization and became the site of Franciscan seminaries.

Station III of the Exceptional Via Crucis

(Stations of the Cross) Paintings done by the neophytes of San Fernando in early 1800s. The Via Crucis paintings are now in the museum of Mission San Gabriel.

A depiction of the Archangel Rafael

Done by mission Indians. This rare painting on canvas is now at Mission Santa Inés.

Mission Santa Cruz

After a circa 1902 painting by Edwin Deakin [1838-1925], who was admired for the accuracy and detail of his paintings.

The Santa Cruz church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1857, and this painting recreates how it looked during the mission era.

Santa Clara Mission built in 1825

Sadly, this mission burned to the ground in 1926.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo and the Bay of Carmel

A lithograph of a painting by William Smyth, 1827. Originally published 1839 in A History of Lower and Upper California by Alexander Forbes, and subsequently colorized.

Mission San Antonio de Padua

Looking north, after an 1881 painting by Henry Chapman Ford.

The original oil painting in the Collection of the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside California.

Indians Leaving Their Mission After Secularization

After an original drawing by Alexander Harmer © 2014 Pentacle Press.

The missions were secularized 1834-36. Many of the neophytes were disoriented and reluctant to leave the only home they had known, as this painting suggests.

The Mission Play

During what was called the ‘mission revival era’ a 3-hour long extravaganza was staged to tell the story of the founding, success and ultimate decline of the California missions.

San Diego's Landscape Legacy

San Diego Bay was first claimed by Spanish explorers Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sebastian Vizcaino in 1542 and 1606, respectively, the latter of whom named the region after the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, San Diego de Alcalá. Threatened by encroaching Russian fur trappers, Spain began colonizing what was then the province of Las Californias in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1769 Spaniards led by Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipera Serra arrived from New Spain to establish the Fort Presidio of San Diego and the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá on the western bluffs of the San Diego Valley. The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first in a chain of 21 missions built within California, including the Mission San Luis Rey De Francia in 1798, south of the San Luis Rey River. The missions were connected via the El Camino Real, a 600-mile-long road that stretched from the San Francisco Bay to the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, and whose markers can still be seen today. Supported by military garrisons, the missions were tools of conversion and conquest, as missionaries forced the indigenous Californians to live and work on settlements called reductions. The missionaries introduced western farming technology, supplanting the Kumeyaay’s seasonal agrarian pastures with large agricultural fields, whose produce were then traded to Boston, Lima and San Blas. The first major Colonial-era irrigation system used on the West Coast was the Old Mission Dam and aqueduct, now part of Mission Hills Regional Park, constructed by the Mission San Diego de Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in 1803. In 1804 Las Californias was split into the two provinces of Alta and Baja California, with San Diego forming aprt of the former.

San Diego as a Mexican Pueblo

After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government passed the Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California in 1833, resulting in the confiscation and sale of most of the missions’ extensive land holdings. Both the Mission San Diego de Basilica San Diego de Alcalá and the Mission San Luis Rey De Francia’s properties were divided and granted to prominent Mexican citizens. The disestablishment produced the Warner Carrillo Ranch in 1840, which in time became a notable way station along the Missouri Trail and is preserved as an historic site today, and Guajome Ranch in 1845, now Guajome Regional Park. Following Spain’s defeat, Fort Presidio was abandoned, and the soldiers formed a gridded community at the base of the hill, near the mouth of the San Diego River. In 1834 the Mexican Government recognized the community of San Diego as a pueblo, allowing the residents to form a municipal government and claim thousands of acres of surrounding land.

When the Mexican American War erupted in 1846, John C. Fremont, a major in the U.S. Army, seized San Diego’s town and harbor, where upon he raised the United States flag over the town’s Plaza de Las Armas. This occupation was short lived, however, and the town and its accompanying Fort Presidio, changed hands between the Americans and the native Spanish inhabitants, the “Californios,” several times during the Autumn of 1846. In December of that same year, American troops under the command of General Stephen Kearney engaged Colonel Andres’ Californios at the Indian village of San Pasqual, 30 miles north of San Diego. Following what is largely considered the bloodiest battle fought on California soil, commemorated today at the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, Kearney and Fremont conquered the Pueblo of Los Angeles. Their seizure of the city resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga, effectively ending Californio resistance in the Alta California province. In 1848 Mexico surrendered to the United States, ceding its control of Alta California and New Mexico with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. A year later the Mexican-United States Boundary Commission laid down the first boundary point on Imperial Beach, 24 miles southwest of San Diego, marked by a marble obelisk. The marker has been incorporated into the larger, binational Friendship Park, opened in 1971. Intended to symbolize cross-cultural communication and understanding, the park’s original message has been lost due to the site’s increased fortification following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

New Town and Horton’s Addition Established

In 1849 Border Commission surveyor Lieutenant Andrew B. Gray suggested to trader William Heath Davis that a site closer to the San Diego Bay would be ideal for the formation of a new city. Shortly thereafter Davis partnered with four investors to buy 160 acres of pueblo land along the bay, where they built a harbor and laid down a street grid for their ‘New Town.’ Lacking access to fresh water, the new settlement, and the investment, floundered. Seventeen years after California’s admittance into the Union in 1857, American real estate developer Alonzo Erastus Horton bought 960 acres of pueblo land along the San Diego Bay, which included Davis’ New Town. Deemed attractive for its natural harbors, the settlement known as Horton’s Addition grew in population, supplanting the declining “Old Town” beneath Presidio Hill as the center of San Diego by 1880.

As the city continued to develop, civil and military institutions were formed. These included the city’s first public burial ground, Mount Hope Cemetery, founded in 1869, three miles beyond what were then the city’s boundaries, and the 1,400-acre City Park [today’s Balboa Park], established in 1868. Horton created a town plaza outside his hotel in 1870, which was deeded to the city in 1895. Initially designed by horticulturist Kate Sessions, the landscape that is today known as Horton Plaza Park was redesigned by Irving Gil in 1910, and Walker Macy in 2016. The city’s harbors were secured by the installation of Fort Rosecrans in 1873, along the peninsula of Point Loma, whose southern point had been reserved for military use in 1852. The fort’s burial ground, formed in 1879 and later expanded by the Works Progress Administration, was designated the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. During the interwar period civic leaders established a second public cemetery, the picturesque Greenwood Memorial Park designed by George Cook, adjacent to Mount Hope in 1907.

Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth-Century Urban Development

The completion of the California Southern Railroad in 1885, which connected San Diego to the transcontinental Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, set off a land speculation boom that transformed the small town of San Diego into a bustling port city. As the population exploded from 5,000 to 35,000 between 1885 and 1888, a modern streetcar system was implemented to connect the downtown with growing neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, reaching as far as Old Town San Diego. Among these new residential neighborhoods were the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District, developed from Davis’ New Town, established in 1850, and the coastal village La Jolla Park, formed by land speculators Frank Botsford and George Heald in 1886. Inspired by the City Beautiful movement, Botsford and Heald reserved five acres within their community for a waterfront park, designed in part by landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. Known today as Ellen Browning Scripps Park, the blufftop site was at the forefront of a wider city beautification effort that would begin in earnest in the early twentieth century.

Despite an economic crash in 1889, growth continued at a steady pace throughout the 1890s and into the new century. The city became a tourist destination for thousands of health seekers who sought the advantage of the region’s tropical climate. Their presence spurred the development of spas and resorts, such as the Hotel Del Coronado, along the Bay. Meanwhile, suburban communities, including Golden Hill, Sherman Heights, and Banker’s Hill, continued to thrive farther away from the urban core.

At the turn of the century, civic leader George Marston, impressed by the beautification efforts undertaken in San Francisco and New York, pushed for an urban park system in San Diego. In 1899 he pressured the city council to reserve 364 acres of pueblo lands north of downtown San Diego as a public park. Designed by landscape architect Ralph Cornell and naturalist Guy Fleming in the 1920s, the reservation was expanded southward, eventually encompassing 1,750 acres. Acquired by the State of California in 1959, the park was renamed the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in 2007. In 1902 the San Diego Chamber of Commerce formed the Park Improvement Committee to develop City Park, which was constantly threatened by land speculators. Marston personally hired New York City landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr., who, with the assistance of local horticulturists Kate Sessions and T.S. Brandage, developed the 1902 Samuel Parsons & Company City Park Plan. Parson’s plan, carried out by George Cooke until 1906, transformed 300-acres of parkland into a picturesque landscape, complete with an ungraded, curvilinear circulation system that provided vehicular access, while also preserving viewsheds of the surrounding ocean, mountains and canyons. Assisted by Session, Parsons also implemented a planting palette of evergreen trees and exotic flora across large swaths of parkland, whose growth was supported by a series of reservoirs. An exception to this was the park’s system of canyons, which an admiring Parsons left relatively untouched. Parson’s landscape design would be altered only a few years later with the development of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Desiring to boost both the population and economy of San Diego, G. Aubrey Davidson, President of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce proposed that the city host an exposition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915. The Panama-California Exposition Company, founded in 1909, chose to host the event in City Park, renamed Balboa Park in 1910. The Company initially hired the Olmsted Brothers to design the exposition grounds, but the firm, who objected to the disruption of Parson’s design, soon dropped the project. Bertram Goodhue, taking over the design, laid out an axial plan surrounded by Spanish Colonial structures upon 167-acres of the parkland located atop the Vizcaino Mesa. Resulting from this design was the construction of the House of Hospitality and the International Harvester Building, later incorporated into the San Diego Zoo as the Reptile House. . A second master plan, designed by landscape architect John Nolen, was implemented in 1927, followed by the addition of the Alcazar Gardens, designed by architect by Richard Requa in 1935.

In 1907 Marston hired John Nolen to create a city plan for San Diego. Critical of the city’s existing grid of narrow, repetitive streets, he produced a plan that favored wide, planted boulevards, a European-style public plaza between today’s Cedar and Date Street, open recreational spaces along the bay front and a promenade to connect City Park to the plaza. Inspired by the City Beautiful Movement, Nolen also recommended that San Diego develop small, open spaces throughout the city with gardens, plazas, and playgrounds, as well as a system of parks for the mental and physical relief of residents. The city council was reluctant to adopt Nolan’s plan, and many of his suggestions went unrealized. However, Nolan’s 1908 proposal was influential in the design of the subsequent historic subdivisions of Mission, Marston, and Presidio Hills, all of which featured wide, curvilinear street patterns designed to follow the region’s natural topography. Additional elements of the 1908 city plan were realized in 1938, with the creation of the San Diego Civic Center, initially designed by landscape architect Roland Hoyt, and the Works Progress Administration, on infilled tidelands along the waterfront. In 1924 Marston again contracted Nolen to update the plan, which further recommended an eleven-mile-long, bay-front drive connecting the city’s south boundary to Point Loma, as well as the preservation of Old Town. Having been partially restored by sugar magnate John Dietrich Spreckels and architect Hazel Wood Waterman in 1909, Old Town was designated a state park in 1968.

Despite the council’s refusal to adopt the Nolen plan in its entirety, Marston continued to press for the creation of civic and recreational spaces. In 1907 he and members of the city’s Chamber of Commerce restored the Casa de Carrillo, the oldest surviving adobe home in San Diego, built in 1817, and converted the surrounding landscape into the Presidio Hills Golf Course. Marston purchased the nearby Presidio Hill, the site of the old Spanish Fort, that same year. John Nolen created a plan to convert the steep site into Presidio Park, accepting design advice and refinements from fellow landscape architect Roland Hoyt, horticulturalist Kate Sessions, and Percy Broell, who later served as the park superintendent. Marston further underwrote the building of the park’s Spanish Revival-style Junipero Serra Museum, designed by William Templeton Johnson in 1928. Patronage was and continues to be an essential ingredient in the formation of various public spaces across the city. Operating concurrently with Marston, fellow philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps underwrote the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, (1905), the adjacent the Torrey Pines State Reserve (1921), and the Children’s Pool in La Jolla (1931).

During the early 1900s, San Diego’s city leaders acquired federal assistance to improve the harbor for commercial shipping, with funds coming from the sale of large tracts of waterfront property for use as naval installations. One of these sites included the Naval Training Center, placed along the shores of Point Loma in 1921. Initially sited on 200 acres, the base was expanded with the dredging of the adjacent harbor in 1939. The onset of World War II resulted in the creation of Camp Callan, adjacent to the Torrey Pines Reserve, in 1941 and Camp Pendleton on the former Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, in 1942. The Naval Training Center remained active throughout the Cold War before being decommissioned in 1990, when the land was transferred to the city and subsequently developed into the mixed-use neighborhood Liberty Station and the Naval Training Center Park. Camp Callan, closed in 1945, was similarly transferred back to the city, and subdivided for educational and recreational institutions including the University of California, San Diego (1956), Torrey Pines Golf Course (1957), and Salk Institute of Biological Studies (1967).

Mid to Late Twentieth Century and Beyond

In the postwar years, increased suburban growth within Mission Valley, and the introduction of the highway system, shifted commercial and institutional development, such as the University of California, San Diego (1956), away from the city’s center to its periphery. As the region expanded, landscape architects played an increasingly important role in high-profile, public projects. Beginning in the 1960s, Garrett Eckbo created overarching design principles for the entirety of Mission Bay Park, encouraging a variety of uses while unifying the experience by maximizing waterfront access and orienting visitors towards the shoreline. Meanwhile, local firm Wimmer Yamada & Associates created plans for SeaWorld San Diego (1964) and Embarcadero Marina Parks, North and South (1978). Despite a rising population and the introduction of popular recreational spaces, the once bustling downtown San Diego entered a state of decline. In 1972 San Diego Mayor Peter Wilson announced plans to reduce urban blight by introducing mixed- use housing, educational, recreational, and cultural amenities to the downtown. In response, the Marston Family, continuing their legacy of patronage, sponsored a study by prominent urban planners Kevin Lynch and David Applewood. Called Temporary Paradise?, the study advocated for the creation of sharable cultural spaces that would democratize the city’s urban core.

Afterwards, in 1975 the city formed the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), a public, non-profit organization. The CCDC issued a master plan created by ROMA Design Group, which laid the foundation for urban renewal and resulted in the revitalization of historic landscapes and districts, such as the Gaslamp Quarter, and the creation of Modernist and Postmodernist urban spaces. The six-block-long Horton Plaza mall, by architect Jon Jerde, with a landscape design by Wimmer Yamada & Associates, opened in 1985. While successful in bringing businesses and visitors into downtown areas, renewal projects also sometimes resulted in the displacement of existing residents. In more recent decades the city has turned its view towards the water, transforming former industrial sites into public spaces that include Children's Park and Pond (1995), Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade (1997), Tuna Harbor Park (2012), and San Diego Civic Center’s Waterfront Park in 2014.

Interactive Historic Timeline of the California Missions

  • 1768
  • 1769
  • 1770
  • 1771
  • 1772
  • 1773
  • 1774
  • 1775
  • 1776
  • 1777
  • 1781
  • 1782
  • 1784
  • 1785
  • 1786
  • 1787
  • 1791
  • 1792
  • 1795
  • 1796
  • 1797
  • 1798
  • 1803
  • 1804
  • 1805
  • 1806
  • 1810
  • 1812
  • 1813
  • 1815
  • 1816
  • 1817
  • 1818
  • 1821
  • 1822
  • 1823
  • 1825
  • 1826
  • 1827
  • 1828
  • 1829
  • 1831
  • 1833
  • 1834
  • 1835
  • 1836
  • 1839
  • 1841
  • 1842
  • 1845
  • 1846
  • 1847
  • 1848
  • 1850
  • 1851
  • 1853

San Blas is founded as a naval base and supply depot. Alta California will be supplied from here.

José de Gálvez, Visitor General of New Spain, plans a land-based and sea-based expedition to settle Alta California May 5, 1768.

Unknown to Portolá and Serra the expedition is imperiled. The main supply ship, the San José, left Loreto carrying urgently needed supplies, but the ship and it’s crew are lost at sea.

The San Carlos, a sixty-four-foot packet boat with 62 persons aboard, sets sail from San Blas bound for San Diego on January 9, 1769. A second ship, the San Antonio, leaves San Blas five weeks later.

The San Antonio arrives in San Diego with nearly everyone on board incapacitated on April 11, 1769. Driven far out to sea, the San Carlos takes almost four months to reach San Diego and Arrives on April 29. Twenty-four of the crew die of scurvy.

The expedition leader, Gaspar de Portolá, and the first FatherPresident, Junípero Serra, arrive in San Diego after an arduous six-week journey. Over two-thirds of the expedition’s Indians desert en route.

The undermanned expedition establishes a garrison on San Diego’s Mission Hill. The compound as such consisted of little more than brush-covered enramadas and several grass huts.

With many sick and dying, and supplies already low, plans to proceed to Monterey by ship are scrapped. Portolá leaves San Diego to journey up the coast in July of 1769.

Shortly after Portolá departs, Fr. Junípero Serra founds Mission San Diego de Alcalá on Presidio Hill.

The Kumeyaay attack the San Diego compound occurs, killing José Vergerano, the servant of Fr. Serra. A wooden stockade is hastily erected.

Portolá is unsuccessful in finding Monterey but discovers the Bay of San Francisco.

Presidio of Monterey is established.

Portolá returns to San Diego in November of 1770. The new colony is in desperate straits and may have to be abandoned.

The San Antonio returns to San Diego and the struggling new colony is saved.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo (known in the mission era as San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey) is founded. A provisional pole and thatch chapel is erected at the presidio.

Mission San Antonio de Padua is founded in the land of the Salinan people at the native site of Telhaya in the Santa Lucía Mountains, southeast of Monterey.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is founded along the slopes of the Montebello hills, overlooking the San Gabriel Valley.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo is relocated to the Carmel Valley near the Indian village of Ekheya.

The first mission in the land of the Chumash people, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is founded at the village of Tilhini.

The Dominicans agree to a take over responsibility for the Baja California missions through a decree, freeing up the Franciscans to concentrate on Alta California.

Fr. Serra travels to Mexico City to clarify his authority and bolster support for the Alta California missions from 1772 to 1773.

The first Christian wedding in Alta California takes place at San Antonio de Padua.

Conversions begin to increase. The Chumash and Salinan people are more receptive to the Spanish.

Fr. Francisco Palóu and five other missionaries leave Baja for San Diego, setting the boundary between Alta and Baja California en route.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is relocated from the slopes of the Montebello hills to the native site of Lisanchanga, three miles to the northwest.

Juan Bautista de Anza departs the Arizona presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac on January 8, 1774. The expedition discovers the first overland route to California, arriving at Mission San Gabriel on 03/22/1774.

San Diego Mission is relocated five and a half miles inland to the native village of Nipaquay in August of 1774.

The military outpost at San Diego is formally granted Presidio status.

Sergeant José Ortega escorts colonists from Baja California to San Diego Presidio.

The San Carlos is the first ship to enter San Francisco Bay. Captain Juan de Ayala names Angel Island (Isla de los Ángeles) and Alcatraz (Isla de los Alcatraces - Pelicans in Spanish).

A group of 240 colonists and over 1000 animals arrive at San Gabriel, destined for Monterey and the San Francisco presidio. Eight babies are born on the trail.

California is transferred from direct control by the Viceroy in Mexico City to the northern military command of the Interior Provinces, headed by Teodoro de Croix.

Presidio of San Francisco is established under the direction of Lieutenant José Joaquín Moraga.

Mission San Diego de Alcalá is rebuilt in October 1776.

Mission San Francisco de Asís, popularly known as Mission Dolores, is founded.

The seventh mission, San Juan Capistrano, is founded.

Mission Santa Clara de Asís is founded in the land of the Ohlone people. The neophytes ultimately include the Bay Miwok, Tamyen, and Yokuts.

The seat of government for Baja and Alta California is moved to Monterey in February of 1777.

Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe is established with 68 men, women and children. A central purpose of the civil settlements is to provide food for the army.

Felipe de Neve becomes first Civil Governor of California from 1777 to 1782. He reorganizes the administration of finances, streamlines regulations, and takes steps to grant the neophytes a greater role in mission management.

Quechans Indians destroy the two Spanish missions in the Yuma area, severing Spain’s tenuous overland route from central México to California.

Another group of settlers arrives in Alta California. Thirty-two men and women settle the pueblo of Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula.

Presidio of Santa Bárbara is established. This is the only California presidio that is partially restored.

The Serra Chapel at San Juan Capistrano is completed. This is the only church that remains in which Fr. Serra held mass.

Mission San Buenaventura is founded near the sizeable Chumash Indian village of Mitsqanaqa’n.

Fr. Junípero Serra dies at age 71.

Fr. Francisco Palóu is appointed interim Father-President from 08/28/1784 to 02/06/1785.

Juan José Domínguez, a retired soldier, receives the first land grant in Alta California, Rancho San Pedro.

Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuén becomes second Father-President of Alta California missions.

A rebellion led by a native woman, Toypurina, and the Alcalde, Nicholás José, occurs at San Gabriel over suppression of Indian ceremonies and other grievances.

Mission Santa Bárbara is founded at the Chumash village of Xana’yan.

Mission La Purísima Concepción is founded at the Chumash Indian village of Algsacupi.

Fr. Francisco Palóu publishes Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra.

The remote mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is founded.

The Malaspina Expedition stops in Monterey in 1791. The drawings by Expedition artist José Cardero increase interest in this unique land.

Mission Santa Cruz is relocated to the native site of Uypi, near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and Monterey Bay.

California is returned to direct control by the Viceroy in Mexico City in 1792. The military focus shifts to defend against foreign invaders. Tension between the army and church leaders largely disappears.

The magnificent Royal Presidio Chapel at Monterey is completed in 1794 and dedicated on 01/25/1795.

An epidemic at San Francisco de Asís decimates the population.

In the 1790s foreigners arrive by ship in increasing numbers to trade for sea otter pelts, cattle hides, and tallow.

Mission San José is founded in the land of the Ohlone people.

Mission San Juan Bautista is founded on June 24, 1797. The mission sits on the only original Spanish square left in California.

Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz) is established.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel is founded at a site the local Salinan Indians call Valica.

Mission San Fernando Rey de España is founded on Rancho Los Encinos, held by Don Francisco Reyes.

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is founded at the native village of Tacayme in the region known as Quechia.

Upon the death of Father Lasuén, Estevan Tapis is appointed the Father-President from 06/26/1803 to 12/08/1812.

Mission Santa Inés Virgen y Mártir is founded near the ranchería of Alajulapu in the Santa Inez Valley.

The unique San Gabriel church, which features a Moorish “fortresslike” appearance, is completed.

A devastating smallpox and measles epidemic kills over 150 neophytes at San José from 1805 to 1806.

Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov arrives in San Francisco in April of 1806, seeking supplies for the Russian settlement in Alaska.

The Mexican War of Independence closes the port of San Blas and disrupts the flow of goods and missionaries to Alta California over the next decade from 1810 to 1821.

The first California autopsy was performed at Santa Cruz on Fr. Andrés Quintana. Period accounts indicate that the friar was poisoned.

The Great Stone Church at San Juan Capistrano is destroyed in a massive earthquake, killing 40 neophytes.

Fr. Narciso Durán develops a choir and band of some 30 musicians at San José, using teaching methods documented in his 1813 book Prólogo.

Recruiting and taking of Miwoks, Yokuts, and Chuillas Indians from the interior bolsters neophyte population from the 1810s to the 1820s.

The Asistencia of San Antonio de Pala is established at a mission rancho about 25 miles to the east of San Luis Rey.

San Rafael Arcángel is founded as a medical asistencia (sub-mission) for San Francisco de Asís.

The Russian-American Company operates a hunting station on Farallon Islands starting from 1819 to 1834.

Hippolyte de Bouchard, a Frenchman with a privateer’s license from the Republic of Río de la Plata (Argentina), attacks the coast of California, burning both the Monterey Presidio and Mission San Juan Capistrano in December of 1818.

One of the first American settlers in California, Thomas Doak, constructs and paints the main altar reredos at San Juan Bautista.

México achieves full independence from Spain and takes control of Alta California.

San Rafael Arcángel is given full mission status.

The impressive 210-foot long San Fernando Rey Convento (padre’s quarters and a guest house) is built.

Mission San Francisco Solano is founded, becoming the last of the California missions, and the only one established during Mexican rule.

México becomes a Republic.

Narciso Durán becomes Father President of the Alta California missions.

The population of San Luis Rey de Francia reaches 2,869, the highest achieved by any mission. Much of the population lives at outlying settlements such as Las Flores and San Antonio de Pala.

Jedediah Strong Smith, legendary American Mountain Man, reaches California by land and visits the Spanish settlements.

Gov. Col. José María Echeandía issues a provisional emancipation decree allowing a small number of neophytes born in the missions (or living there for at least fifteen years) to leave with permission of Franciscans and the presidio Comandante.

A major measles epidemic erupts in Alta California and 951 adults and 751 children die from 1827 to 1828. This represents over 10% of the mission population.

Estanislao, a San José mission neophyte, leads a large-scale Indian uprising that requires several military expeditions to quell from 1828 to 1829.

Soldiers of the Monterey Presidio launch a revolt in 1829. Fr. Luis Antonio Martínez, of San Luis Obispo, is accused of complicity in the affair but is ultimately exonerated on February 3, 1830.

Mission San Rafael Arcángel is badly damaged in an Indian attack led by Chiefs Marin and Quintín.

Fr. Narciso Durán is appointed as the last Father-President of Alta California on June 16, 1831. Santa Bárbara becomes headquarters of the mission chain from 1833 to 1846.

Missions are secularized from 1833 to 1836. Administrators are appointed. Many emancipated neophytes leave. Tradesmen, vaqueros and some others prosper but most become field hands or servants. Some neophytes join other Indian people in the interior.

A pueblo de Indios (a special town for former mission Indians) was established near San Juan Capistrano Mission in 1833. However, there were too few Indians to sustain a viable town and this experiment was subsequently dissolved and the land distributed to the remaining Indians and settlers.

One of many schemes to manage former mission land includes the Hijar-Padres Colony, under which some 300 liberal, educated individuals (teachers, artisans, medical attendants, etc.) would receive large grants of mission land and twenty-one Administrators from their ranks would oversee the Indians. Most of the colonists make it to Alta California [1834-1835] but the scheme is never implemented.

Richard Henry Dana serves as a crewmember of the Pilgrim, collecting hide and tallow, and visiting the missions and presidios [1834-1835].

Most of the neophytes leave Mission Soledad after it is secularized and the last priest, Fr. Vicente Francisco de Sarría dies May 24, 1835. The former mission is used as a ranch house for a number of years, and then falls into ruin, and is abandoned for over a century.

Santa Clara is the last mission secularized in December of 1836.

Mariano Vallejo is named Comandante General of California and Director of the Northern Frontier.

Mexican Administrators begin to move friends and relatives into former mission buildings.

John Augustus Sutter arrives in Yerba Buena and becomes a Mexican citizen.

Illegal immigrants from the United States move into Northern California in large numbers over the Oregon Trail in the late 1830's.

Richard Henry Dana publishes Two Years Before the Mast, his first-hand account of life in California. After gold is discovered in California, his book becomes a best seller.

John Sutter receives a land grant of 48,827 acres in June of 1841. That same year he purchases the Russian settlement of Fort Ross, unsuccessful as a source of food.

A small deposit of gold is discovered near San Fernando Rey and for years after treasure-seekers dig up the walls and floors of the abandoned church seeking gold.

What is left of the Pious Fund of the Missions of California is confiscated by Mexican President Antonio López María de Santa Ana.

The last Franciscan missionary to arrive in California in the 18th century, José Ramón Abella, dies at Santa Inés.

The former missions of San Gabriel and San Miguel become the first two parishes in California [1842]. San Buenaventura follows in 1843.

The last Mexican governor of Alta California, Pío de Jesús Pico grants his brother Andrés a very favorable nine-year lease on San Fernando Rey.

The Republic of Texas becomes part of the United States.

A former missionary of British Guiana, Fr. Eugene MacNamara, promotes a scheme under which 3,000 Irishmen and their families would immigrate to Alta California. Events overtake the implausible scheme when Americans sweep into California [1845-1846].

The U.S. notifies Lt. John Charles Fremont, who has been surveying the west, to “watch over U.S. interests in California.” By the time the message reaches Fremont in May of 1846 the U.S. Congress has already declared war on México.

American warships under the command of Commodore John D. Sloat of the frigate USS Savannah, and two sloops, including the USS Cyane and the USS Levant, capture Monterey and claim California for the United States.

The Californios resist American occupation and fighting continues into 1847.

Missions San Luis Rey and San Diego are occupied by the U.S. Army during the MexicanAmerican War [1846-1847].

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo cedes California (and parts of what today comprise the states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico) to the United States [concluded 02/02/1848].

Gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill, near Sacramento [01/24/1848].

The Gold Rush had a devastating impact on the remaining California Indians. Disease, starvation and genocidal attacks reduce the Native population to an estimated 31,000 by the 1870 census.

California becomes the 31st state of the Union [09/09/1850]. It ultimately becomes the 3rd largest state in land mass (after Texas and Alaska), and by 1960 has the largest population.

Congress passes the Land Act of 1851, creating a commission to review land titles in California [1851].

Watch the video: The Missions of Alta California