December 30, 2018

Photo Essay: A Mission for Kings, Friars, Soldiers, and Zorro

Junípero Serra gets all the credit—and blame—for creating the California Missions and all the beauty, violence, and destruction that has surrounded them. He was even canonized.

But there's a "forgotten friar," who founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions in California...

...including the "King of the Missions," Old Mission San Luis Rey (or La Misión de San Luis, Rey de Francia).

Padre Fermín de Francisco Lasuén de Arasqueta, a Basque Franciscan missionary, founded this national historic landmark in 1798, making it the largest of the Spanish missions in Alta California. It was named in honor of King Louis IX of France (as in, St. Louis).

That puts this mission in Oceanside, California after Mission San Fernando Rey de España (c. 1797, in San Fernando) and before the Santa Inés Mission (c. 1804, in Solvang). Father Serra died in 1784.

Like many of the Southern California missions, the San Luis Rey Mission provides a glimpse into the brief period of missionary life along El Camino Real... well as military life, after the missions were secularized and Army soldiers from the Mexican-American War (1846-8) moved into barracks and washed their clothes at the lavanderia.

The oldest part of Mission San Luis Rey is the Carriage Arch, part of the colonnade of the original quadrangle of the mission.

That's where daily life would occur—cooking, converting Native Americans to Christianity, winemaking, getting water out of the well house (above), etc. That's also where you can find California's oldest specimen of the pepper tree (Schinus molle), native to Peru and later renamed the California pepper (though it can't stand up on its own anymore).

The architecture stands out among the missions as well—a composite of influences from the Old World and the New World, the West and the (Middle) East.

While Father Lasuén founded Mission San Luis Rey, it was Father Antonio Peyri of Catalonia, Spain who took on the role of its head missionary at not even 30 years old.

He kept it running until he retired in 1832, when secularization had begun to take its toll and the once-prosperous mission was falling into decline. In 1893, when the U.S. military was done with the mission, Mexican priests were permitted to return and restore the mission—which is why so much more of it remains than some of the other missions (though building materials were scavenged from it to build ranches nearby).

Now, much of the area from the Carriage Arch and beyond the Rose Gardens is used as a retreat center...

...though it's really more of a conference or convention center, with fully-equipped meeting rooms and a tinge of spirituality.

The mission also hosts occasional "quiet days" in the gardens and chapel, with spiritual direction available upon request.

Although the mission does operate as a museum and offer behind the scenes tours, it also still conducts masses, funerals, weddings, and other sacraments.

One of the main attractions is the Mission Church, which is open every day of the year for people who want to pray or meditate.

It's not original to the founding of the mission—this cruciform church was completed in 1815, adorned with a wooden dome and cupola.

The interior decor combines influences from Spain and Native Americans (specifically, the Payómkawichum or "western people" of coastal Southern California). Called the Luiseños (as in, "San Luis") by the Spanish, they were part of the Pauma band of Indians from the Pauma Valley, or the "place where there is water."

Next to the Old Mission Church is the Madonna Chapel, an unusual octagonal room for funeral services (a.k.a. a "mortuary chapel"). Mourners can view from a side altar (a.k.a balcony), accessible by secret passageway.

The cemetery is original to the mission, dating back to 1798 and making it the oldest burial ground in North San Diego County.

And it's still in operation.

Plenty of Franciscans are buried here, including the friars who served the mission... well as early settlers of the area...

...and even some of the Luiseños who helped build and operate the main mission as well as its sub-missions in Pala and Las Flores (now located on the grounds of Camp Pendleton Marine Base).

Upon exiting, take a long last look at the skull and crossbones above the cemetery gate—added by Disney in the 1950s for its production of the Zorro TV series.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Mission San Fernando Rey de España (Updated)
Photo Essay: Past the Mission
Photo Essay: On a Mission in the Santa Ynez Valley
Photo Essay: San Gabriel Mission, Rest In Peace

Photo Essay: Valley Relics Version 2.0, Van Nuys Edition (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 3/23/21 7:56 PM PT—new photos added at bottom of post]

I've loved Valley Relics Museum since it opened in Chatsworth in 2013. But... it was getting a little too crowded. You couldn't really see the stuff. You could barely walk through.

Fast forward five years, and Valley Relics has a new home—at the Van Nuys Airport!

With two huge rooms, it finally feels like a real museum instead of just a warehouse full of stuff.

In one room, the lit neon signs are front and center...

...with enough space in front of them to let you get a good look at them.

The rescued and rehabilitated neon represents many of the businesses gone by of the San Fernando Valley...

...with some backlit plastic above a mini re-creation of the defunct Family Fun Arcade (with actual arcade games you can play).

Somehow, they look even better in their new home.

Valley Relics can't bring those beloved businesses back...

...but it can kind of approximate the feeling of driving down Van Nuys or Ventura Boulevards, or turning off Vineland Avenue onto Burbank Boulevard.

And maybe grabbing a burger or a taco on the way.

Because The Valley is inextricably linked to Hollywood, Valley Relics has expanded its collection of memorabilia from movies...

...and television...

...with a particular affinity for Westerns...

...and, of course, the luminary of Western Swing and Country and Western live music, North Hollywood's long-lost The Palomino Club.

The glass cases at Valley Relics gave me a closer look at what Busch Gardens must've been like than did touring the Budweiser brewery where it was once located.

As many times as I've gone to Big Boy (and multiple locations of it), I'd never before spotted an issue of its comic book series. (The Canoga Park location, part of Valley cruising culture in the 1950s and '60s, has since been demolished.)

Perhaps the most surreal part of visiting Valley Relics, now that I've lived in LA for almost eight years, is seeing the memorabilia from places we haven't lost... yet.

But we surely will. And all of the memories we make today might one day end up in a museum just like this one.

Update 3/23/21—I returned to Valley Relics after the pandemic began to ease up to check out its display of Old Trapper's Lodge artifacts and see what else had changed in the two years since this location had opened. 

They're running out of room again—even considering the fact that not everything is out all at one time. But the larger pieces, like the neon signs, are pretty much fixed in place. 

Fortunately, I found enough elbow room to launch some balls on the pinball machines (set to Free Play), like Elvira's "Scared Stiff" (which was a hoot)...

...and "Earthshaker!"(which sent me into fits of giggles when I managed to trigger a quake).

I look forward to whatever brings me back for another visit in the future. 

December 28, 2018

The Seussian Mysteries of Mountain Munchkins and Bridges for Trolls

I'd gone to Mount Soledad in 2008 on my first trip to San Diego, but it was more or less by chance.

I'd read that there was a mountain with a view of the ocean and a cross on top of it, so I suggested we go check it out.

I didn't know then that Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) had called this mountain home...

...or that the mountain's lore was nearly as mythical and magical as the fantastical creations in the Seuss canon.

First, there are the Munchkins (as in, The Wizard of Oz). They never lived or even stayed on Mount Soledad, despite rumors to the contrary—but the myth was perpetuated because some of the houses that were built on the steep incline looked rather miniature.

And then there's the mini version of the Cabrillo Bridge, which famously brought visitors into the west entrance of Balboa Park for the 1915-16 Panama–California Exposition. The petite doppelgänger at Al Bahr Drive (Arabic for "By the Sea") followed in 1928.

its resemblance to the landmark of the Expo grounds—10 miles southeast as the crow flies—was no coincidence. The mini one was commissioned by San Diego transplant (by way of Indianapolis) William French Ludington, who'd purchased a large plot of very steep land on the slope of Mt. Soledad—considered "worthless" by many. "W.F." Ludington had been an early merchant in the prominent subdivision of La Jolla, moved to San Diego in 1904, and later became a director of the 1915-16 Panama Exposition.

In that role, he helped create the Cabrillo Bridge (Puente Cabrillo) as a way to traverse an unforgiving landscape. Likewise on Mount Soledad, he relied once again on those classical arches so that automobiles could access his new Ludington Heights development and snap up its ocean-view lots.

But one bridge proved to be not enough, so he built a second at Castellana Road—with a deck that connects to the dead-end Puente Drive (Spanish for "Bridge Drive") and a winding road that double-backs along a hairpin turn to send you under where you originally came from.

This one is even smaller, and it's obscured by lush landscaping that darkens its tunnels—which has earned it the nickname of the "Troll Bridge" (though that moniker has come to refer to both bridges on Mount Soledad).

The dense plantings were the work of past neighborhood resident Delbert C. "Del" Colby and his wife Lois, who used to live by the bridge at 1775 Castellana Road. Colby was a landscaper who owned Rancho Santa Fe Nursery (closed December 1992), and he used many of his own specimens to plant the triangular parcel. It's now designated Colby Park in his honor.

The construction date of this continuous concrete beam bridge presents another mystery of Mount Soledad, as conflicting reports have it as circa the 1930s, 1949, and 1950. CalTrans has no date at all for it in its Statewide Historic Bridge Inventory.

But considering the fact that Ludington himself died of a heart attack in 1928, it seems pretty clear that both bridges were built that same year—before the stock market crash of 1929 rendered much of his property worthless, at least for the duration of the Great Depression.

It appears that a resurgence of development came to Ludington Heights in 1947—but at that point, I'm pretty sure the bridges were already there.

And of course La Jolla as a whole, as well as Mount Soledad and Ludington Heights, are quite posh now.

Yet despite the popularity of the area, these two bridges remain curiosities, hidden from view for most.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The View from Above Balboa Park's Former Expo Grounds
Rocking the Boat Without Getting Seasick
Photo Essay: How An East Coaster Helped Turn San Juan Cove Into Dana Point