The San Fernando Valley was first discovered by the Portola expedition in 1769, but it wasn't until 1797 that San Fernando Mission was established. In the late 1790s, Father Lasuen, successor to Father Serra, wanted to close the gaps in the El Camino Real, and he established four missions in four months, including San Fernando Mission.
The best spot in the area was claimed by Francisco Reyes, mayor of the Los Angeles pueblo. He had acquired rights to the land shortly after Los Angeles was founded, and he raised cattle there. Some say Reyes got his land from the king and had to be forcibly evicted, while others say he had simply been using the land and gave it up gracefully.
The San Fernando Mission was founded on September 8, 1797, and named for Saint Ferdinand III, King of Spain in the 1200s. Five Indian boys and five Indian girls were baptized at the San Fernando Mission that day. Reyes was a patron of the formal dedication and the godfather of the first child baptized.
Early Years of San Fernando Mission
The San Fernando Mission church was completed within two months after the dedication, and there were already more than 40 neophytes here. Because it was so close to the Los Angeles pueblo, there was a market for their goods.
By 1804, nearly 1,000 Indians lived at San Fernando Mission. By 1806, they were raising cattle and producing hides, leather good, tallow and cloth.
Its closeness to Los Angeles and location along a popular traveling route made this place unique. Travelers stopped often, and the fathers kept adding onto the convento wing to accommodate them, until the hospice (hotel) became known as the "long building" of the El Camino Real.
San Fernando Mission in the 1810-1830
The most successful year at San Fernando Mission was 1819, and they had 13,000 cattle and 8,000 sheep. Their herd of 2,300 horses was the third largest in possession of the missions. In 1810, work began on the convento, but it took twelve years to complete it.
After 1811, the San Fernando Mission native population began to decline, and productivity was threatened. By 1812, there were too few workers to farm the produce required for the military in Los Angeles. When the buildings were damaged by an earthquake in 1812, there were not enough workers to make the repairs.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1822. In the California province, there were struggles to control the land. A few Indians in the valley received land grants, but most of the surviving Indians remained depended on the San Fernando Mission.
When Mexican Governor Echeandia arrived in 1827, Spanish Father Ibarra was in charge. Father Ibarra refused to renounce his allegiance to Spain, but the Mexican government let him stay there because they couldn't find anyone else to run the operations.
Secularization at San Fernando Mission
Starting in the 1830s, the California officials began confiscating mission lands, although they usually left the buildings under the control of the church. From 1834 to 1836, most of the Indians stayed. The rest looked for work in Los Angeles or joined relatives and friends who were still living freely in the nearby hills.
Finally, 1835, Father Ibarra left because he could not tolerate the secularization. In 1842, gold was discovered on a nearby ranch. The area was overrun with prospectors. A rumor that the missionaries had been prospecting gold for years drew the gold-seekers to the church and they dug up the floor looking for buried treasure. This digging continued into the early 1900s.
The struggle between northern and southern Californians over the land intensified, and in February, 1845, two armed groups met at the Cahuenga Pass. They shot at each other for half a day, but the only casualties were two horses and a wounded mule. The northerners then left, and Pio Pico became the new governor of California. In 1845, Governor Pio Pico leased the land to his brother Andres for $1,200 a year. Andres used it as a summer home.
The San Fernando Mission was abandoned in 1847. From 1857 to 1861, part of it was used as a stagecoach station. By 1888, the hospice was used as a warehouse and stable, and in 1896, the quadrangle became a hog farm.
In 1896, Charles Fletcher Lummis began a campaign to reclaim the property, and conditions improved.
San Fernando Mission in the 20th Century
In 1923, San Fernando Mission became a church again, and the property was turned over to the Oblate fathers. Restoration proceeded steadily, but an earthquake in 1971 damaged the original buildings beyond repair. An exact replica was completed in 1974. More artifacts, including the soap works, original fountain and water reservoir, are located in a park across the street.
Today, because San Fernando Mission is close to Hollywood, it has been used for many movie location shootings.