97. SAN GABRIEL ARCANGEL
A Mission that Launched Cities
California Road Trip #16
By Miguel Pérez
Its beautifully maintained buildings and gardens, and its proximity to Los Angeles easily make Mission San Gabriel Arcangel one the most popular in California. And yet what makes this mission truly special is the people who first gathered here on their way to other places.
This is the fourth of 21 California missions, established by Padre Junípero Serra in 1771. But this is also the place where two groups of Spanish-led settlers gathered before going on to establish San Francisco and Los Angeles! Starting from here, there is much Hispanic history that some of us forgot, some of us never learned, and some of us take for granted.
It was from here that the Juan Bautista De Anza expedition went on to establish San Francisco in 1776. It was from here that the founders of El Pueblo de Los Angeles began their historic 1781 march to build their new town.
On the first overland expedition into present-day northern California, De Anza led some 240 soldiers and settlers - men, women and children - all the way from Sonora, Mexico, to San Francisco Bay. On their way there they cut across present-day southern Arizona and the Colorado River to finally find a welcoming feast when they arrived at San Gabriel (see the images bellow). From San Gabriel, they went on to establish San Francisco.
About five years later, another group gathered at San Gabriel because the king of Spain had ordered that a pueblo be built in its proximity, and that be named after the "Queen of the Angels." That's when 44 men, women and children, most of whom also came from Mexico, accompanied by two mission priests and four soldiers, made their historic march to establish Los Angeles.
Their nine-mile journey - from the mission to downtown Los Angeles - is still recreated every September by city residents as a way of recognizing and honoring their Hispanic heritage.
This is why this mission, named after the Archangel Gabriel, is often called the "Godmother of the Pueblo of Los Angeles."
So where do you think The Great Hispanic American History Tour is going next? We need to visit this pueblo!
But before we leave San Gabriel, there are many noteworthy things I must cite, like its Moorish architectural influence and fortress-like structure, with narrow windows and five-foot thick walls, which is unlike other California missions. Or like its six priceless altar statues that were brought from Spain, around Cape Hope, in 1791. Or like its impressive six-belled campanario. Or its winery, kitchen, gardens and graveyard, which have been beautifully preserved and are now eye-opening exhibits.
Normally, when we have toured other historic sites, in my articles, I have cited the information usually posted alongside the exhibits I have photographed and shared on this website. But this time - since San Gabriel displays large information signs - I'm going to let you read them! To enlarge them, just click on them! I'm sure you will find them fascinating!