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in front of the building, which has lately been restored—much to its
artistic detriment, we are told. This is an almost inevitable result of
restoration, it is true, but without restoration it would be impossible
to preserve the crumbling fragments of these old adobe structures. San
Luis Rey is considered by many good authorities to have been the finest
of all the missions in its palmy days—a claim well borne out by the
description of Dahant Cilly, a French traveler who visited it in 1827,
when it was in the height of its glory. He wrote:

"At last we turned inland and after a jaunt of an hour and a half we
found before us, on a piece of rising ground, the superb buildings of
Mission San Luis Rey, whose glittering whiteness was flashed back to
us by the first rays of the day. At that distance and in the still
uncertain light of dawn, this edifice, of a very beautiful model,
supported upon its numerous pillars, had the aspect of a palace. The
architectural faults can not be grasped at this distance, and the eye
is attracted only to the elegant mass of this beautiful structure....
Instinctively I stopped my horse to gaze alone, for a few minutes, on
the beauty of the sight.

(Before Restoration)
From Photograph by Dassonville]

"This building forms a large square of five hundred feet on each side.
The main facade is a long peristyle borne on thirty-two square pillars
supporting round arches. The edifice is composed, indeed, of only a
ground-floor, but its elevation, of fine proportions, gives it as much
grace as nobleness. It is covered with a tile roof, flattened, around
which reaches, as much without as within the square, a terrace with an
elegant balustrade which stimulates still more the height. Within is
seen a large court, neat and levelled, around which pillars and arches
similar to those of the peristyle support a long cloister, by which one
communicates with all the dependencies of the mission."

We see before us now a huge, dormitory-like building adjoining the
ancient church, which is also undergoing repair and restoration—an
adobe structure with a beautiful tower which is about the only exterior
remnant of the mission's ancient glory. A brown-robed, bare-footed
Mexican priest responds to the bell and offers to guide us about the
building. He conducts us to the church—a long, narrow apartment with
high beamed ceiling, resplendent in the bright colors of the ancient
decorations recently restored. The beautiful mortuary chapel—the
finest in the whole chain of missions—was still in ruins when we first
visited San Luis Rey, but two years later we found it restored in solid
concrete. Its artistic beauty was sadly impaired by the improvement,
but the preservation of the chapel is assured. We are glad, though,
that we saw it when the crumbling remnants were covered with grasses and
wall-flowers, and it was still redolent of memories of mission days. The
quaint old cross in the cemetery has undergone like treatment, its rough
brick foundation having been smoothly coated with cement and decorated
with bright red stripes at the corners. About the only part of San Luis
still in its original state, save for the destructive effect of time
and weather, are the arches of the ancient cloisters, which stand in
the enclosure to the rear of the dormitory and keep alive the sentiment
always awakened by such memorials.

Our guide told us something of life at the present time in the mission,
which is now a training school for monks of the Franciscan order. There
are eight brothers in residence who do all the work, each one having
some particular trade, our guide being the tailor. They did much of the
work of restoration, though, of course, some assistants had to be hired,
mainly from the sixty parishioners of the church, most of whom are
Indians. For his courtesy we offered him a gratuity, but he declined.

"The brothers must not receive gifts," he said. "I will take you to
Father O'Keefe if you wish to give anything to the work."

And so we met the kindly old Irishman who has done so much for the
restoration of the California missions. He was of portly stature,
unshaven for several days and clad in the brown robes of his order. He
came to San Luis Rey in 1902 from Santa Barbara and all the restoration
had been done since then. He had raised and expended more than twenty
thousand dollars in the work, besides the labor of the monks themselves,
who receive no pay.

From Photograph by Putnam & Valentine]

"I will accept your contribution," said Father O'Keefe, "for this work;
the Franciscan fathers take nothing for themselves; and will you write
your name in our visitors' book?" I did as requested and Father O'Keefe
declared, "That name looks good anywhere—it has a genuine flavor of the
Ould Sod about it."

And we fell to talking of the Emerald Isle, which the kindly old priest
never expected to see again. He was greatly interested when he learned
that we had made a recent motor tour through the hills and vales of the
Ould Countrie, which he still loves as a loyal son. He bade us adieu and
before departing we paused on the cloistered porch to admire the beauty
of the scene before us. The mission overlooks a pleasant green vale
shut in on every hand by low hills, through which we caught a fleeting
glimpse of the sea. It was a prosperous scene—as it no doubt was in the
days of old—with ranch-houses, cattle, and cultivated fields—another
instance of the unerring eye of the early monk in choosing a site for
his mission home.

San Luis Rey was one of the later foundations, dating from June 13,
1798. From the very start the mission was prosperous. In 1800 there were
three hundred and thirty-seven neophytes, and twenty-six years later
it had reached its zenith with twenty-eight hundred and sixty-nine.
It had then great holdings of live stock and harvested a crop of over
twelve thousand bushels of grain. From this time it began to decline and
at its secularization in 1834 its net worth was but a fraction of its
former wealth. So indignant were the Indians over the decree that, it
is recorded, they slaughtered twenty thousand head of cattle to prevent
them from falling into the hands of the Mexicans. In 1843 the property
was restored to the church, but its spoilation had been accomplished and
barely four hundred poverty-stricken Indians remained. In 1847 General
Fremont took possession and later the building and site were returned
to the church.

Beyond Oceanside there was much fine scenery along the road and
everything was at its best on this glorious May afternoon. It was a
clear, lucent day, with only a slight purplish haze in the far distance.
The sea was as transcendently beautiful as this warm soft southern sea
can be in its loveliest mood—a deep, dark, solid blue flecked with
purple seaweed and shading to pale green near the shore, upon which
the long white line of the breakers swept incessantly. At times we
ran at the foot of desert hills covered with cacti and scrub cedars,
but relieved from monotony by the orange flame of the poppies. Again
we passed through wide meadows starred with wild flowers—the delicate
daturas, dahlias, poppies, and a hundred others spangled the hillsides
everywhere. Along the beaches gleamed the pink verbenas and yellow
sand-flowers. Birds were numerous; the clear, melodious note of the
meadow lark and the warble of the mocking bird were heard on every hand.
In places we ran along the shore on a headland high above the sea and
again we dropped down to a sandy beach. Much of the road was dusty,
rough, and poor—sand and adobe that must have been well-nigh impassable
in wet weather. Need I say that it has been improved since the new state
highway follows the course of El Camino Real south of Los Angeles?

From Photograph by Dassonville]

After closely following the beach for many miles the road rounds a
huge cliff and turns sharply inland—we saw no more of the ocean. Dana
mentions the coast just above the point in "Two Years Before the Mast,"
as a spot where the ship's people landed to trade with the natives,
whose merchandise consisted chiefly of skins and furs. Climbing to the
summit of a pass through the hills, we caught a distant glimpse of the
crumbling walls and red tiles of another of the old-time retreats of
the fathers of St. Francis.

I find in my "Log-Book of a Motor Car," set down on the spot,
"Capistrano is really the most picturesque of all the missions we have
seen"—a judgment which I am still willing to let stand after having
visited every link in the ancient chain. Perhaps this impression is
partly due to the fact that the restorer's hand has so far dealt lightly
with San Juan Mission and partly because the town of Capistrano itself
is so redolent of ancient California. Indeed, this scattered hamlet must
have looked very much the same fifty years ago as it does to-day, and
as yet it shows little sign of waking from its somnolence and catching
step with the rapid march of California's progress. The population is
mostly Mexican and half-breed—a dreaming, easy-going community that
seems quite content with its humdrum life and obvious poverty. There
is a good-sized wooden hotel which in numerous roadside signs makes an
earnest bid for the patronage of motorists, and looks as if it might be
fairly comfortable for a brief sojourn.

To see Capistrano, the motor which takes you away when you are ready
to go, is the means par excellence. The charm of the place is the
mission, which you can see to your satisfaction in an hour or two,
though you will doubtless desire to come again. It stands at the edge
of the village in the luxuriant green valley, guarded by the encircling
hills so omnipresent in California. Someone has styled it the Melrose
Abbey of the west, but it is quite as different from Melrose Abbey as
California is unlike Scotland. We enter the grounds and look about some
time for a guide, but find no one save a dark-eyed slip of a girl in a
broad sombrero, placing flowers on the altar of the diminutive chapel.
She leads us to the quarters of the padre and we hear him chanting a
Latin prayer as we approach. He is a tall, dark, ascetic-looking young
fellow, who greets us warmly and asks us to step into his study until
he is ready to go with us. It is a bare, uncomfortable-looking room,
which from the outside we would never have suspected to be occupied. He
is Father St. John O'Sullivan, a young Kentuckian of Irish descent and
one can soon see that he is at San Juan Capistrano because his heart
is in his work. He tells us little of the story of the mission, for
he has written a booklet covering that—which we gladly purchase, and
also a number of the beautiful photographs which he himself has taken.
Like every other mission priest whom we met, his heart is set on the
restoration and preservation of his charge and every dollar that he gets
by contribution or the sale of his pictures or souvenirs is hoarded for
that purpose.

From Photograph by Dassonville]

And who can look about the beautiful ruin and not be impressed that
his purpose is a worthy one? For here, beyond question, was one of
the largest establishments and the finest church of all the twenty-one
missions of California. Our pictures must be the best description of
the ruin—but they can give little idea of the impressive ensemble. The
inner court was surrounded by arched cloisters, part of which still
remain, though time-stained to a mellow brown and covered with vines
and roses. A tiny garden now relieves the wide waste of the ancient
enclosure, fragments of whose walls are still to be seen. The original
tiles still cover the roof, giving that rich color combination of dull
reds, silver-grays, and moss-greens which one seldom sees elsewhere.
The ruins of the great church are the most impressive and melancholy
portion—doubly so when one learns that the earthquake of 1812 tumbled
the seven stone domes of the roof upon the congregation while at mass,
crushing out forty lives. Traces of the carvings and decorations still
remain which show that in rude artistic touches Capistrano church
surpassed all its compeers. A little nondescript campanile with four
bells remains, whose inscriptions and history are given in Father
O'Sullivan's "Little Chapters." Here, also, he gives one or two pleasing
traditions of the bells, which are worth repeating here:

"Of the mission bells there are many traditions known to all the older
people of San Juan. One of these relates to the good old padre, Fray
Jose Zalvidea. Of all the mission padres, he more than the others, still
survives in the living memory of the people and his name is the 'open
sesame' to the treasure caves of local tradition.

"Adhering to the ancient custom of his brethren, he always traveled
afoot on his journeys to other missions, or on calls to the sick. Once
while returning from a visit to a rancheria in the north, the story
runs, he was overtaken near El Toro, some twelve miles away, by the
other padre of the mission, who rode in a carreta drawn by oxen. On
being invited to get in and ride, he refused and answered pleasantly.

"'Never mind, my brother, I shall arrive at the mission before you to
ring the Angelus.'

"The other father, respecting Padre Jose's desire to proceed afoot, did
not urge him further, but continued on his way in the carreta.

"Now in those days El Camino Real came into San Juan from the north,
not as it does now, along the level side of the Trabuco Valley, but
some rods to the east, over the rolling breasts of the lomas. From
the mission patio one may still see the depression in the hill-top to
the northwest of the mission, where the roadway came over the swelling
ground there, and gave the weary traveler from the north a first full
view of the mission. When the father in the carreta reached this
point on the King's Highway, it was just the hour for the Angelus,
and promptly on the moment the bells rang out the three-fold call to
prayer. Wondering who could have rung the Angelus in the absence of both
fathers, he hastened forward and found that Father Zalvidea, true to his
word, had reached the mission before him; but how he did so to this day
remains a mystery.

From Photograph by Pillsbury]

"Another of the traditions is as follows: There lived with her parents
near the mission an Indian maid named Matilda, who was very gentle and
devout and who loved to care for the sanctuary and to keep fresh flowers
upon the altars. She took sick, however, and died just at the break of
day. Immediately, in order to announce her departure, the four bells
all began of their own accord, or rather, by the hands of angels, to
ring together—not merely the solemn tolling of the larger ones for an
adult nor the joyful jingling of the two smaller ones for a child, but
a mingling of the two, to proclaim both the years of her age and the
innocence of her life. Some say it was not the sound of the mission
bells at all that was heard ringing down the little valley at dawn, but
the bells in heaven which rang out a welcome to her pure soul upon its
entrance into the company of the angels."

This church was built of hewn stone and lime mortar, though most of the
other buildings are of adobe.

Capistrano has many interesting relics. There are several statues,
including one of San Juan Capistrano in military-religious habit, and of
the Blessed Virgin. In the library are numerous illuminated books done
by the old-time monks, who always ended their work with a flamboyant
"Laus Deo." There are numerous old paintings of doubtful value and
several beautiful silver candlesticks.

The story of the mission is soon told, for it was very much like that
of every other. It was founded in November, 1776, Father Serra himself
taking part in the ceremonies. Ten years later there were five hundred
and forty-four Indians under the padres, who had made good progress in
the cruder arts and manufactures as well as agriculture. The beautiful
church was consecrated with great ceremony in 1806 and was destroyed
just six years later. It was the first of all to be "secularized." "The
administration of the mission," writes Father O'Sullivan, "passed from
the fathers into the hands of salaried state officials and it was only
a short time until the lands and even the buildings themselves were
sold off and the Indians sent adrift. Some years later, 1862, smallpox
appeared among them and almost entirely wiped them out of existence,
so that to-day not half a dozen San Juaneros remain in the vicinity
of the mission." Even this pitiful remnant has disappeared since the
foregoing words were written. On our last visit, Father O'Sullivan told
us that on that very day he had buried the last descendant of the once
numerous San Juan Mission Indians. "Surely," said he, "the day marks the
end of an era in the history of San Juan Capistrano Mission, since it
witnesses the utter extinction of the race of people for whose welfare
this mission came into existence."

It was a lowering evening as we left after our first visit. The sky had
become overcast by a dark cloud rolling in from the sea and raindrops
began to patter on the ruin about us. "I am sorry to have the weather
interfere with your pleasure trip," said Father O'Sullivan, "but I know
that you yourselves would welcome the rain if you understood how badly
it is needed here." And so we cheerfully splashed over the sixty miles
of wet roads, reaching Los Angeles by lamplight.

From Photograph by Putnam & Valentine]

We made other pilgrimages to San Juan Capistrano under more favorable
weather conditions, for the road is a lovely one. I have already told
of a trip through the charming country to Santa Ana through the orange,
lemon, and walnut groves that crowd up to the road much of the way.
Beyond Santa Ana there are fewer fruit trees; here grain fields and huge
tracts of lima beans predominate. The latter are a Southern California
staple, and it was some time before we learned what they were planting
with wheeled seeders the latter part of May. The beans usually mature
without rain or irrigation—a crop that seldom fails. The country in the
main is flat and uninteresting between Santa Ana and Capistrano, but
there is always the joy and inspiration of the distant mountains. On
one shimmering forenoon we saw a remarkable mirage in this vicinity—the
semblance of a huge lake with trees and green rushes appearing in
the distance. It receded as we advanced and finally faded away. Its
startling distinctness forcibly recalled the stories we had read of
travelers being deceived and tormented by this strange apparition in
waterless deserts.



San Gabriel and San Fernando we had already visited in our rambles out
of Los Angeles. The next link in the chain is Ventura, seventy-two
miles to the north. From there we planned to follow El Camino Real
beyond the Golden Gate to Sonoma, where San Francisco de Asis, the last
and remotest of all, passed its short existence—and it proved in all a
journey of nearly two thousand miles before we returned to the City of
the Angels. A day or two was spent in preparation, studying our maps,
packing our trunks, and tuning up the car for the rough roads and stiff
grades that it must soon encounter. We were in high anticipation of a
glorious trip, for had we not already felt the lure of the open road in
California?—and when an old-time friend and his charming wife accepted
our invitation to accompany us, our cup of happiness was full.

It is not necessary to say that it was a beautiful day when we finally
set out; all California days are beautiful after the first of May and
call for no special remark. Leaving Hollywood, with its gorgeous banks
of bloom, we crossed over Cahuenga Pass into San Fernando Valley. Of
this I have written elsewhere, but it looked even better than when
we visited it last; the barley fields were maturing and the olive and
apricot groves promised a generous crop. Along the road the roses were
in bloom and here and there new houses were going up. Lankershim and
Van Nuys are clean, modern towns joined by the splendid new boulevard
and show many signs of making good the numerous sweeping claims which
they advertise on billboards near at hand. Beyond Calabasas we entered
the hills and pursued a winding course through a maze of wooded canyons.
On either hand were magnificent oaks, which often overarched the road.
Under one of the noblest of these—four or five feet in diameter, with a
spread of perhaps one hundred and fifty feet—we paused for our noonday
lunch, while the birds among the branches furnished a concert for our
benefit. This hill country was but thinly populated and the little
ranches which we occasionally passed had anything but a prosperous look.
It has shown a marked improvement in many ways since the completion of
the new state highway, work on which began shortly after the time of
which I write.

The long easy loops of the Canejo Pass led us from the hills to the
beautiful Santa Clara Valley, affording an unrivalled view as we
descended. This grade is four miles long and, while not very steep
at any point, is dangerous because of its many turns and precipitous
sides, which in places drop almost sheer for hundreds of feet. A notice
at the top restricts speed to four miles per hour, which, if obeyed,
would require just an hour for the descent—an example of the ridiculous
extremes of many of the "speed limits." A Ventura garage man told me
that a few years ago a driver made a wager that he could "do the Canejo"
at thirty miles an hour—a piece of folly that resulted in his death as
well as that of a companion who was riding with him. We ourselves had
ocular demonstration that the descent might be dangerous, for we saw
parts of a wrecked car near the middle of the grade and also the tackle
used for hauling it up the steep bank down which it had tumbled. The
Canejo has since been paved and the grades and sharp turns so greatly
reduced that one may do twenty-five miles per hour with far less risk
than twelve under the old conditions.

In the valley the road was straight and level for many miles and
bordered much of the way by giant eucalyptus trees. The eucalyptus, so
common in Southern California, is a wonderfully quick grower and serves
some very useful purposes, especially for piles in sea water, since
the teredo will not attack it. On either side of the road were vast
fields of lima beans; one tract, we were told, comprising more than
four thousand acres. Here again we saw a distant mirage—waves of the
sea apparently sweeping over the low, level ground before us. We soon
came in sight of the ocean and caught a glimpse of Oxnard—the beet-sugar
town—a few miles off the main road.

There are two alternate routes which every tourist should take should
he make subsequent trips between Ventura and Los Angeles. One of these
follows the San Fernando Boulevard to San Fernando town. Here one takes
the road past the old mission—about a mile from the town—and leaves the
valley a few miles farther through the Santa Susana Pass over a moderate
grade—practically the only unimproved section of this road. The highway
continues through the wayside hamlets of Simi, Moorpark and Saticoy,
running through a well-improved and fertile valley and joining the state
road a few miles south of Ventura.

The other route follows the San Fernando Boulevard through Newhall
Tunnel past Saugus to Castaic, where it branches to the left. It takes
us through the fine fruit-growing and farming country of the Santa
Clara Valley and the well-improved towns of Fillmore and Santa Paula.
Near Camulos Station on the S. P. R. R. is the famous old Spanish ranch
house of the same name which served Helen Hunt Jackson as the prototype
of the early home of Ramona. It is said to be the best example extant
in Southern California of the hospitable home of the old-time Spanish
grandee and one may read a very accurate description of it in Mrs.
Jackson's novel. It was formerly freely shown to tourists, but frequent
acts of vandalism led the owner to close the house to practically all

The Santa Clara Valley road is now all improved and is bordered
with some of the finest fruit ranches in Southern California. It has

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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 12 of 25)