California Historical Landmark No. 242: Mission San Diego de Alcala & No. 784: El Camino Real

At the beginning of February, we spent a day to find a few more California Historical Landmarks, all connected to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Here’s the two that are at the Mission site – both are found on the exterior wall of the Mission courtyard, accessible to the public at all times.

No. 242 Mission San Diego de Alcala

First stop was the mission itself. The mission, which was founded in 1769 by Fr. Junipero Serra at the Presidio Hill, but relocated from there to its current location further up Mission Valley in 1774 by Fr. Luis Jayme to have better access to water for irrigation, to be closer to the Native Americans, and further away from the Spanish military garrison at the Presidio.

Plaque text:

    On Sunday, July 16, 1769 Fathers Junipero Serra, Juan Vizcaino, and Fernando Parron raised and blessed a cross to establish Alta California's 1st mission. Relocated from Presidio Hill to this site in August 1774 the mission was the mother of those founded by the Franciscan order. The present buildings, first completed in 1813, were rebuilt in stages from 1915 to 1931 after many years of deterioration. They have been in use as a parish church since February 1941.

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 242

    Originally registered June 10, 1936. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Diocese of San Diego and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, Sunday July 16, 1989.

This points out the basic history of the mission, though there’s more to it. The mission remained active from the Spanish colonial period (even building a dam and flume to supply water to the mission and its crops) through Mexico’s independence in 1821, but eventually the mission system was dissolved and the lands redistributed through the 1834 Decree of Secularization. In the 1850s, with California now a state in the United States, the mission was used as a military outpost, with the soldiers building a second floor within the chapel: the upper floor was a barracks while the main floor was the stable. In the late 1800s, the mission was used as an Indian children’s school. By the early twentieth century, the building complex was falling into ruin, and efforts to restore it as a historical site. Read more about the history at the Mission’s website or at the National Park Service’s site for American Latino Heritage.

After being rebuilt (though the campanario, or bell wall, were rebuilt with no photographs of how they were originally structured), the church was re-opened as a parish in San Diego in 1941 (though perhaps at that time, Mission Valley was still rather sparsely settled.) In 1976, the mission was named a minor basilica of the Church.

The plaque is located along the main front wall, to the right of the entrance passage to the gift shop.

The mission today houses:

  • the main church (still active as a parish) – a two-story rectangular building built as wide as the longest beams would allow.
  • a smaller chapel (for daily services)
  • some museum displays – a recreation of what the priests’ main residential room, and a room of artifacts and displays of the history of the mission, from its use as a mission, to the Mexican secular period, to its use as a military barracks, to its abandonment and restoration.
  • gift shop, where you can enter the grounds to explore the mission (donation is suggested, and they have a handy guide map and pamphlet of a walk around the grounds)
  • a garden courtyard behind the campanario with trees, fountains, statues, and devotional spots
  • a central courtyard / church parking area with a display of a traditional Kumeyaay house, a central fountain, and a Pieta statue.
  • archaeological dig site of the cloister building that went along the front wall. Parts of the adobe walls are visible as the site is closed off for future discovery.
  • some additional buildings – perhaps related to the school and education center.

A good time to visit the Mission might be during the annual Festival of the Bells, which celebrates the anniversary of the mission in July.

No. 784: El Camino Real (As Father Serra Knew It and Helped Blaze It)

Further to the left of the gift shop entrance, as you get closer to the chapel facade, there’s another California Historical Landmark plaque in the wall:

Plaque text:

    This plaque is placed on the 250th anniversary of the birth of California's apostle, Padre Junipero Serra, O.F.M., to mark the southern terminus of El Camino Real as Padre Serra knew it and helped to blaze it.

    1713 - November 24 - 1963

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 784

    Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with the Committee for El Camino Real. December 29, 1963

About El Camino Real:
El Camino Real (or Royal Highway) was the network of roads that connected the 21 missions of California. There is a matching plaque at the Mission San Francisco de Asis as the northern terminus of Father Serra’s El Camino Real (the Mission Trail itself extends further north from San Francisco to the mission in Sonoma, which was built in 1823.

Mission Bells and La Playa Trail:

Also at the mission site, are several Mission Bells from the El Camino Real marker bells from the early 1900s. Donated by the Pacific Beach Women’s Club, they likely were relocated during the development of PB to the mission, where they now line the driveway from Mission Center Road up the hill to the church. And in the lower parking lot, there is one more marker of note:

La Playa Trail Marker – The La Playa Trail is considered the oldest commercial trail in the western United States/oldest European trail along the Pacific Coast. Starting off as a Native American route, it entered commercial service as the route that connected the Presidio to La Playa (where the ships landed in San Diego Bay, along the bayside of Point Loma) and then later expanded east when the Mission moved further east. The La Playa Trail Association’s website has more history about the trail and its original six commemorative markers placed in 1934.

Mission San Diego is located in the eastern portion of Mission Valley, just off of Interstate 8 and Interstate 15 in San Diego.

    Mission San Diego
    10818 San Diego Mission Road
    San Diego, CA 92108

Both California Historical Landmark plaques are located along the front wall of the courtyard, facing the outside, along with several other historical marker plaques and alcoves containing statuary representing the namesakes of the missions in the Franciscan mission system.

The plaque for No. 784 (El Camino Real) is located closest to the chapel, while the plaque for No. 242 is located to the right of the entryway to the gift shop/visitor entrance.

View all the photos from my visit to Mission San Diego de Alcala in my flickr album.

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