The Hispanic-American History Timeline
1772 Good hunting determines site
of Misión San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Based on the success of a hunting expedition – more than 25 mule loads of dried bear meat – Father Junípero Serra selects the site to establish Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the fifth of the 21 California Spanish missions and the namesake of today’s City of San Luis Obispo.
Facing a food shortage while based at Misión San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (also known as Mission Carmel in today’s City of Carmel-by-the-Sea,), Serra remembers the stories he has heard from the soldiers in the Gaspar de Portola expedition, stories of a valley with plenty of bears and buffalo. In fact, the soldier already have a name for that area. They call it “El Llano de los Osos” – “The Valley of the Bears.”
Serra has been told that this area has a mild climate, with plenty of food and water, and that the local Chumash natives are very friendly. And so he decides to send a hunting expedition down south to The Valley of the Bears. The expedition is so successful that, instead of continuing to send other hunting parties to that area, Serra decides to build the fifth California mission there.
He leads a small group down to El Valle de los Osos, carrying some mission supplies, and establishes Misión San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse. He celebrates the first Mass there. But the construction of the mission is then left to father Jose Cavaller, along with five soldiers and two neophytes.
Although the mission population grows, in 1776, four years after its establishment, Native Americans who resist the mission way of life, burn down the mission. And they do it two more times, until Cavaller decides to replace the original buildings, and their wooden-stake walls, with adobe and tile structures.
After 1810, when Mexico begins its war of independence from Spain, like the other California Spanish missions, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa faces a decrease of funds and supplies from Spain. And after 1821, when Mexico wins its independence and secularizes the missions, Spanish friars are replaced with Mexican missionaries and management of the missions is turned over to government administrators. Mission lands often are sold and divided into “ranchos.”
Mexican Governor Pio Pico sells Misión San Luis Obispo – everything but the church – for $510.00 in 1845. Mission buildings go on to be used a school, a jail and the first county courthouse. After California becomes part of the United States in 1848, and a state in 1850, the Catholic church petitions the U.S. government to return some of the Mission properties back to the church.
These mission buildings have undergone considerable structural alterations over the years, and although they were somewhat different than the originals, in the 1930s, they undergo extensive restoration to transform them back to the architectural style of the early Spanish missions.
Misión San Luis Obispo has a secondary nave, situated on the right side of the altar, forming the only L-shaped mission church in California. It is also the only mission where the bells have names: Sorrowful, Joyful, and Gloria.
Nowadays, still in the center of downtown, in the City of San Luis Obispo, the mission features gardens, a museum, a gift shop and a Roman Catholic Parish.
By Maria Fernandez, Lehman College
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