Brief History of San Fernando

Mission San Fernando Rey de España was founded on September 8, 1797. The padres sought a location for another mission to relieve the long journey between Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Buenaventura. The most desirable spot was already claimed by Francisco Reyes, the mayor of the Los Angeles pueblo. He relinquished his claim, probably gracefully, was a patron at the formal dedication, and was godfather of the first child baptized.

Mission San Fernando was the fourth mission founded in three months as Father Lasuén hurried to close the gaps in El Camino Real. A church was completed only two months after the dedication. A ready market at Los Angeles soon had the mission producing hides, tallow, soap, cloth, and livestock; herds of the latter numbering in the thousands.

Nearness to Los Angeles produced another distinction for San Fernando. The wealthy mission became such a popular stopping place for travelers that the padres added again and again to the convento wing until the hospice became known as the famous “long building” of El Camino Real.

Land Claims of 1854 - Mission San Fernando

Unfortunately, the neophyte population tended to decrease in direct proportion to the arrival of new settlers. The time came when there were scarcely enough Indian workers to supply products demanded by the military, nor make necessary repairs to the buildings after the earthquake of 1812. The resident padre, Father Ibarra, refused to renounce allegiance to Spain, but the Mexican government allowed him to remain, as there was none other to supervise the mission’s decline. At last the good padre left of his own accord, unable to bear the hostility of the civil authorities. In 1845 Governor Pio Pico leased the mission lands to his brother Andres. The hospice became the brother’s summer home. Further decline saw the church and hospice used as a warehouse and stable, while the quadrangle became a hog farm.

The fortunes of the old mission increased dramatically with public awareness of the great historical significance of the chain of California missions. San Fernando became a church again in 1923. Since then the church, the “long building”, and quadrangle have been restored. The hospice and convento house an important museum, with a seminary, archives, and archdiocese headquarters on the grounds.

A prominent feature at San Fernando is the very long convento wing which was used as a hospice, or hotel, during Spanish times when the missions were a day’s ride apart on horseback. Across the street in Brand Park stands an old mission fountain and Barnham’s statue of Fr. Serra with his arm around an Indian boy. The beautifully restored church and lovely mission gardens give no hint today that after secularization the buildings came to be used as a warehouse and stable, while the patio was a hog farm. It was as recently as 1923 that church officials returned to take up the restoration work. The years of neglect cleaned away, the great strength of the thick walls which withstood such careless treatment is now all the more evident. In the beautiful “long building” the huge wine press, smoke room, refectory, and governors’ chamber for important personages are much as in former times.