San Juan Capistrano Mission

Two boys wearing t-shirts branded with the logo of their Catholic School experience the wild bird attraction at SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO MISSION, 1958. An old lady wearing a babushka observes from behind.

Unless I went to a mission on a field trip in fourth grade, and forgot — I’ve never been to a mission before. Until last Sunday, that is, when the desire and curiosity finally overwhelmed me enough to hop in the car and find my way to the San Fernando Mission in the San Fernando Valley. The arches and adobe walls were exactly what I anticipated. But the big surprise was the divine collection of arts and crafts spanning more than two hundred years. The ’40s “Fun with Dick and Jane” text book-style paintings of all the missions, ’50s gravel painting of Father Junipero Serra,’60s mannequins modeling religious fashions and other cheesy mid-twentieth century works are not to be missed. The Lord’s Prayer crocheted word for word in a big square doily was truly inspired.

The arts and crafts, displays, dioramas, furnished rooms, silversmith’s shop, saddle shop, coffin shop, textile loom and very well stocked souvenir shop reminded me of a early theme park-kind of a cross between Knott’s Berry Farm and Olvera Street. And seeing the Monsignor walk through the courtyard is much more exciting than seeing Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Ironically, the San Fernando Mission was originally intended to be built next to the Pueblo, now Olvera Street, in Los Angeles. Too bad, Olvera Street and the mission would’ve been a match made in heaven.

By California standards few places are more historic than the missions. The first was built in 1769, the last, 1823. They are California’s castles. The backbone of the state’s history and monuments to the days before pioneers and gold diggers came in search of promised land.

Here’s to the Missions and you