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Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana
(Ferdinand II of Castile)
A brief history
The Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana is the 17th mission founded in California. It was founded on September 8th, 1797 by Friar Fermin Lasuen. Named for King Ferdinand III, king of Castile and Leon around 1230 A.D. He fought the Moors with great success and built churches in the conquered areas. He is noted for founding Spain’s University of Salamanca in 1243. He died in 1252.
Located in a spacious valley named Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos (St. Catherine of Bologna’s Valley of the Live Oaks). The valley had four springs that flowed strong, thus influencing the friar’s decision to build here, between the Missions in San Gabriel and San Buenaventura. Don Francisco Reyes, the alcalde of the Los Angeles, supposedly owned the property. Since the property was really owned by the Mission San Gabriel, he was removed and the padres took over his ranch house as living quarters.
The first small chapel was raised within two months. Soon a granary, a storeroom and a weaving room were in operation. A year later a new church had to be built to accommodate the growing population. Seven years after it’s founding, there were over a thousand converts being housed on the property. In 1806, a third church was dedicated and completed. On December 21, 1812 the earthquake hit that shook the church. It was found to be necessary to install thirty new beams and a new buttress to support the building. These repairs allowed it to survive additional earthquakes over the years.
At its peak in 1819, Mission San Fernando had over 30,000 grapevines and a wine factory. In addition to the wine they had a large trade in hides and tallow. There were more than 21,000 head of livestock. The natives became skilled in leather working. They made shoes, clothes and saddles for their own use and for trading. In addition, they made large quantities of rawhide strips that were used in building. Since spikes and nails were rare, pieces of rawhide were used to tie structures together.
In 1846, Governor Pico made San Fernando his headquarters before abandoning it to the United States Army under the command of Colonel Fremont. Just before the American occupation, Governor Pico sold most of the buildings to the Pueblo of Los Angeles. Eventually the buildings fell into disrepair and were damaged by vandalism. After secularization the roof tiles were removed from the mission for use in other buildings, leaving the adobe walls unprotected. After gold was discovered on a remote ranchero of the mission, rumors persisted for years that more gold was buried by the padres, eager treasure seekers dug up the church floor seeking the buried gold.
In 1861 the buildings were returned to the Church, but little was left. The only building that survived was the large adobe building that was alternately called the Mission House, the Long Building, the Monastery and the Hospice. It was a huge building and many travelers mistook it for the mission itself. In 1896 it was used as a hog farm.
In August of 1916, the Landmarks Club turned their attention to Mission San Fernando. In order to restore the roof to the church before it completely collapsed, they sold candles for a dollar apiece and raised $6,000 to begin the restoration. Since then the mission has been gradually restored and while far from complete, it is a beautiful place filled with history. Its close proximity to Hollywood has allowed it to be used for many movie location shootings.
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