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Navigation for San Francisco de Asís:

Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores)

In Brief

Founded: 29 June 1776 by Padre Francisco Palóu
Named for: Saint Francis of Assisi
Number in Series: 6th
Indian Name:  
Brand: San Francisco Brand


June 1776: After a decision was made to establish a mission and military presence to protect the entrance to Yerba Buena (San Francisco Bay) June, 1776, saw an expedition leave Monterey. Some 14 soldiers, seven settlers, padres Francisco Palóu and Pedro Benito Cambón along with women and children plus 13 young Indian servants made up the founding party. A large mule train and herd of 286 cattle were also part of the expedition. One of the Indian servants from Monterey was the interpreter. Indians they met along the way were rather amazed at the number of people as they had only seen individual soldiers exploring in the past. The cattle were even more interesting to them as they had not seen cattle before. The party was well received along the way and when they arrived at the designated point they stopped and made camp near the seasonal Indian village of Chutchui and along Arroyo de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows Creek).

29 June 1776: Padre Palóu dedicated the site. Side note: This date is five days before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

26 July 1776: Padres Palóu and Cambón, five servants, six soldiers and families, and one settler with family stayed to manage the Mission site. The rest of the Spanish party moved about three miles northwest to establish the presidio of San Francisco close to the south shore of what is now the Golden Gate channel.

12 August 1776: An Indian attack on people in the area was carried out by the rival Ssalson tribe. From Padre Palóu...

The heathens of the villages of San Mateo, who are their enemies, fell upon them at a large town about a league from this lagoon, in which there were many wounded and dead on both sides. Apparently the Indians of this vicinity were defeated, and so fearful were they of the others that they made tule rafts and all moved to the shore opposite the presidio, or to the mountains on the east side of the bay. We were unable to restrain them, even though we let them know by signs that they should have no fear, for the soldiers would defend them (Palóu [1773-1783] 1926:4:135).

The reason for the attack was never clear in the historical record.

Mid-August 1776: The ship San Carlos arrived with supplies and remained until 21 October to provide help in building the presidio and Mission sites. Work at the mission was on a Church and living quarters along with a corral for herds of cattle and horses. Wheat and vegetable crop areas were also laid out and turned for planting.

December 1776: This month saw the first violent encounter with the Spaniards and local Indians who had started to return to their villages. According to Spanish reports the Indians were harassing soldiers and women. One Indian was caught and flogged while others escaped. Soldiers went after the others who denied guilt. As the soldiers started toward the Indians they started firing arrows, wounding a horse and soldier. The soldiers fired back, killing one Indian and wounding others. Seeing death at a distance, the Indians gave up and the two men accused of abetting the original crime were whipped and told they would be shot if they tried to attack a Spanish soldier again. The events were documented in Padre Palóu's log.

4 March 1777: The first burial at the Mission is listed as Francisca, nine-year-old daughter of a Spanish soldier, Joaquin Alvarez.

24 June 1777: Three young local men became the first baptisms at the Mission. Per Padre Palóu...

They began to come to the Mission, attracted by presents and other inducements, until we were able to celebrate our first baptisms on St. John the Baptist's Day (Palóu [1786] 1913:208).

Chamis, a 23-year-old from Chutchui is the first listed in the baptismal records. The other two were both 9-year-olds: Pilmo and Taulvo, both from Sitlintac.

29 October 1777: The first Indian, Pedro, was laid to rest in the cemetery.

1778: Existing buildings besides the Church and living quarters by this year include a dormitory for girls and single women which had been re-roofed. In this year a palazada (fenced corral) with granary and offices were built. A corn field and orchard were fenced and a corral and irrigation ditch built.

24 April 1778: The first Church wedding took place at the Mission on this date. The bride, named Paszém, was 14 years old. The groom, named Francisco Moraga, was 21 and was the first Mission neophyte.

19 December 1781: The animosity that led to the attack of two tribes in August of 1776 came to an end with the marriage of members of each tribe to one another. Maria Francisca of Chutchui married Mariano, a Ssalson. A week later María de los Remedios, a Ssalson married Jacome de la Marca, a Yalamu. The missionary logs record...

Some people from those villages [Ssalson] have come to be baptized and to live at this mission. They have married among those of this place.... With these conversions the continuous warfare in which they lived has ceased, with which both nations show themselves to be well pleased (Palóu and Cambón [1783]).

1782: Construction continued and an adobe church with a sacristy was built. Also built were quarters for the missionaries, including a reception room and apartments. A kitchen and girls' dormitory with offices were constructed. Unfortunately, growing conditions at the Mission site were not good and Padre Palóu decided to move the Mission about a half mile away to a new location. In fact, he moved the Mission about five different times until 1785 where he felt he found the right location.

1784: Padre Palóu visited the Carmel Mission to give the last rights to his friend Blessed Junipero Serra. After Serra's death, Padre Palóu took over as President of the missions.

1785: The Mission was resettled at its present location and construction started on the permanent Mission structures. The Church was dedicated 3 April 1791. Its walls were four feet thick, built of sun-dried adobe brick of playa soil or a mixture of local clay, sediment and straw. These bricks were made in forms four inches deep by eight inches wide by sixteen inches long. The completed adobe structure was about forty-four varas long and thirteen varas wide.

Side Note: Early measurements were given in terms of the Mexican vara. This measurement was also used in surveying grants and other transferences of property. A large part of the survey of the city of San Francisco was based upon the vara, which accounts for the present uneven dimensions of feet and inches of many parcels of property.

Failing health caused Padre Palóu to retire to the missionary College of San Fernando de Mexico where he was elected guardian of the college and continued to work on his Blessed Serra biography. He died in Mexico in 1789. Padre Palóu was replaced by Padres Martí de Landaeta and Antonio Dantí.

13 July 1785: Lieutenant Jose Moraga, the first Commandant of the Presidio, died and is presently buried under the sanctuary in the Church.

1786: An asistencia was established about 13 miles south of San Francisco in what is now Pacifica where farming conditions were better year round. Given the name San Pedro y San Pablo [Wikipedia], the first year the asistencia built a chapel, granary, tack room, and three other rooms. In addition, some 2,000 adobe bricks were made for future building projects.

1787: Construction continued at the Mission with a kitchen, tack room, and carpenter shop added. Other shop buildings were also rebuilt. At the asistencia a third wing of a quadrangle was constructed.

1788: A dam and irrigation ditch was built at the Mission.

1789: The Mission saw two additional rooms and a covered passage built to extend the eastern wing to the Church (still being built). The Church was designated to be the south wing of the quadrangle.

The asistencia saw a granary, mayordomo quarters, and rooms for the missionaries built.

1790: A carpenter shop and Indian residence was added to the Mission.

December 1791: The main Church was finished and dedicated. Other buildings completed that year include: 47-vara-long granary and 54-vara-long wing of rooms west of the main quadrangle.

1792: Around this time the first esquilon (small, call bell) was cast and presented to the Mission by Viceroy of Mexico Mendoza. His name and date are cast in the bell. The bell was arranged to swing.

This picture was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. Robert W. Kerrigan, Photographer, 10 April 1936.

First BellExpand

1794: The Mission and several other buildings got new roofs made of tiles.

1796: Originally, Indian settlements in the San Francisco area were largely seasonal with tribes moving to avoid the cold and damp seasons. With the coming of the Mission, the Indians were asked to stay full-time. But, the cold and damp weather, predation by presidio soldiers, and the lure of the better life across the bay caused many instances of Indians running away from the Mission. In this year alone some 200 tried to run away and soldiers were sent to retrieve them. Sadly, Padre Landaeta, particularly, was cruel and mistreated them. His actions, along with a couple of other priests at other missions, form the basis for many charges of mistreatment against the Franciscans.

1797: About this time two larger bells, dated 1797, were installed.

These pictures were found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. Robert W. Kerrigan, Photographer, 10 April 1936.

North BellExpand South BellExpand

[Note: While bells are generally expected to swing, all three bells are presently stationary, bolted and lashed in place with rawhide. The iron clappers are modern and operated by cords from the Church floor.]

1798: Padre Landaeta was replaced by Padre Ramón Abella.

1800: About this year the reredos you see today were installed. Probably made in Spain, they reached the Mission by way of Mexico. (Some historians maintain the reredos were from an older church in Mexico.) They were transported in sections on the backs of mules and oxen. For the time, the reredos were stunning art in a frontier location. Today you can still see the original pigments, stains, gold leaf, and lacquer. [Note: Some reports place the dedication of the reredos in 1796.]

The reredos replaced two decorated niches in the adobe wall. They are still in the wall but behind the reredos and so can't be seen. [Note: See below. In 2004 a mural on the wall was photographed and is now on display in San Francisco.]

By the end of 1800 there were only 47 Yelamu people (Indians from the local population) at the Mission. In this year the last Ohlonean-speaking convert from the San Francisco peninsula was written into the Mission's Baptismal Book...

On this day of the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1800, the conversions of heathens on this side of the bay is concluded (for the greater honor and glory of God), as today the last one was baptized, a soman of about 60 years age, known as The Auntie [La Comadre] to Latins and Indians alike, and I gave her the name Matea (SFR-B 2073 [June 19, 1800]).

1805: While mistreatment did occur at times, the missionaries tried to care for their charges. In this year an outbreak of measles brought down several hundred Indians. Padre Abella traveled north to examine the land for a hospital location. Further epidemics in 1815 and 1816 resulted in a plea to establish a hospital asistencia. The result was the founding of what is now Mission San Rafael Arcángel.

1810: The two side altars you see today were made and installed in the Church.

Due to migrations, the Mission population started to grow again in the last decade of the 1700's. By the end of 1810 the Mission population had climbed to 1076. Most of these were migrants as the original native population was down to 18.

15-30 October 1811: Padre Ramon Abella of San Francisco and Buenaventura Fortuni of San Jose made the first navigation of the Sacramento River by ascending the San Joaquin River, crossing Two-mile Slough, and descending the Sacramento.

1816: Artwork at the Mission between the Church and museum depicts the artist's view of the Mission as of 1816...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003

1820: By the end of this year migration boosted the population to 1252 but that quickly fell over the next few years as people were moved away from the Mission to other locations both north and across the bay.

During the later 1820's the Mission population ranged between 219 and 240.

2 August 1822: William Antonio Richardson (1795-1856) arrived in San Francisco on the British whaler Orion. He petitioned Fray Thomas Esténaga for employment at the Mission as a bricklayer and carpenter. That was granted and in October 1822 Governor Pablo Vicente de Sola granted him permanent residence in the province. He obtained the name Antonio when he was baptized at the Mission by Padre Altimira on 10 June 1823. In 1829 he journeyed to Los Angeles and later went to Peru on trading missions. In the early 1830's he petitioned Governor Jose Figueroa to establish a commercial town at Yerba Buena. Official approval was given by Governor José Castro on 20 October 1835. He built a shanty and later an adobe building at what is now the northwest corner of Clay Street and Grant Avenue of San Francisco. He later moved to San Diego where he died 20 April 1856. Thus is the story of the man who founded the city of San Francisco.

1826: Artwork at the Mission between the Church and museum depicts the artist's view of the Mission as of 1826...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003

28 March 1830: On this date the first Governor of Alta California, Luís Antonio Argüéllo, passed away and his remains were later laid to rest in the cemetery. This picture was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. A color version taken in 2012 can be found on the cemetery page for this Mission. Governor's Grave MarkerExpand

1834: The Mission was secularized. Even before the secularization the Mission had begun to deteriorate. Intruders and settlers had either squatted upon the land or speciously bought or leased it at the instance of Governors Pico, Alvarado and others, and their commissioners.

These proceedings were a part of the scheme for confiscation which was declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court after California was admitted to the Union. The situation was rectified in 1858 with the transfer of Mission properties back to the Church.

1842: Only eight Christian Indians were living at the Mission this year. The Mission continued to be a center of activity however as depicted in artwork between the Church and museum showing an 1842 bullfight...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003

1846: By this year only one original Indian, Pedro Alcantara, born in 1786, was alive. He was interviewed by Indian Agent Adam Johnston in San Francisco...

I am very old ... my people were once around me like the sands of the shore ... many ... many. They have all passed away. They have died like the grass ... they have gone to the mountains. I do not complain, the antelope falls with the arrow. I had a son. I loved him. When the palefaces came he went away. I do not know where he is. I am a Christian Indian, I am all that is left of my people. I am alone (Alcantara in Johnston [1850]).

1850: In the 1850s activity at the Mission picked up due to the inrush of people following a dream of getting rich in the California Gold Rush. The Mission was connected to the city by two plank roads and the area became a resort and entertainment district. Mission properties were used for saloons and gambling and even racetracks were built. Bullfights and other entertainments like those shown above entertained the crowds.

A portion of the Mission convento was still used for church use and was converted to a two-story wing for use as quarters for priests and as a seminary. Another portion of that wall of the Mission was developed as a tavern and stop for travelers; it was called Mansion House. This is depicted in artwork at the Mission between the Church and museum showing the artist's view of the Mission as of 1860...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003

3 March 1858: President James Buchanan, under an act of Congress, granted and conveyed Mission properties, in accord with surveys made by the U.S. Land Office, in trust to Bishop Sadoc Alemany.

30 January 1866: The streets of the Mission District were established by a survey run by the United States Land Office. The layout was approved by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor on January 30, 1866.

1868: About this year whitewash was used over the interior decorations in the Church and a simple wooden altar installed on the sanctuary platform. Fortunately, this was a short-term change and the whitewash was able to be removed without serious damage to the decorations. The reredos were repaired and metal railings installed around the sanctuary and front of the balcony.

4 July 1876: Before 1876 the Mansion House had been razed and a Gothic Revival church was built next to and north of the Mission Church. This church was dedicated on this date.

Following this, wood clapboard siding was applied to the adobe Church walls as a protective measure; the siding was later removed when the Mission was restored.

8 August 1901: Grading of Dolores Street, which the Church faces, was ordered. The grading forced there to be additional brick underpinning for the facade of the Church and a flight of steps at the entrance, changes which considerably altered the original proportions. The order also made it necessary to set the cemetery walls back as they encroached on the sidewalk.

18 April 1906: On this date San Francisco was rocked by an estimated 8.25 magnitude earthquake. While the earthquake itself caused much damage, including some to the old Mission, the fire that the earthquake started consumed much of the city and headed up the hill toward the Mission. Firefighters dynamited the convent across the street from the Mission but the fire still jumped the street to the Gothic Church along-side the Mission and damaged it to the extent that it had to later be razed. My some miracle, the original adobe Mission Church was spared and the fire advanced no further. Artwork at the Mission between the Church and museum shows a picture of the 1906 damage to the Gothic Church and the adobe Mission standing untouched...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003

1913: Construction began on a replacement for the Gothic Church and what is now known as Mission Dolores Basilica was completed in 1918.

1916: The roof of the original Mission Church was restored under the direction of the architect Willis Polk of San Francisco. Steel framework was inserted into the building and the walls strengthened and supported by concrete foundations. The original adobe construction was not disturbed. Original roof tiles were relaid with extras needed coming from Mission San Antonio de Padua. New tiles were used on out-buildings and the cemetery wall.

1926: The large church next to the Mission was further remodeled.

1936: The Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record report says of the roof trusses...

The roof trusses were of hewn logs lashed together at the joints with rawhide. These trusses are still in place, although steel trusses have recently been inserted actually to carry the loads. The original wood ceiling beams and planks are also intact. As nails were not available, wood pegs made of native hardwoods, such as manzanita and madrone, were used instead.

And, a picture found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress clearly shows this.

Roof TrussesExpand

1952: The church is officially called Basilica of Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores). A Basilica is a Church of historic significance as determined by the Pope.

Also in 1952, San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty, announced that Pope Pius XII had elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. This was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States. Today, the larger, newer church is called "Mission Dolores Basilica" while the original adobe structure retains the name of Mission Dolores.

2004: A light dropped from the ceiling behind the reredos revealed a mural painted on the wall by Indian artists in 1791. Photos were taken of the mural and the pictures were projected on the done in the basicilia next door to the Mission for a short period of time. A copy was then made of the mural and portions of it now are on display on Bartlett Street near 22nd street, in the Mission District. [Side note: I did not realize this until after my 2012 trip so there is a good incentive to go back.[Smile]]

Today: Artwork at the Mission between the Church and museum depicts the artist's view of the Mission as of today...

Picture taken 1:20pm 31 Aug 2003


  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Milliken, Randall. The Founding of Mission Dolores and the End of Tribal Life on the Northern San Francisco Peninsula. California Mission Studies Association Keepsake. February 1996.
  • Jackson, Robert H. Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America. Pentacle Press. 2005.
  • Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record San Francisco Mission Data Sheet at the Library of Congress

Succession of Rectors, Pastors and Administrators

Information from Wikipedia.

  • 27 June 1776: Father Francisco Palóu, O.F.M. , Father Pedro Benito Cambón, O.F.M.
  • 27 June 1776-1784: Father Francisco Palóu, O.F.M.
  • [???]
  • 1854: Father Eugene O'Connell
  • 1854-1860: Father Richard Carroll
  • 1860-1867: Father John J. Prendergast
  • 1867-1875: Father Thomas Cushing
  • 1875-1904: Father Richard P. Brennan
  • 1905-1916: Father Patrick Cummins
  • 1916-1939: Father John W. Sullivan
  • 1939-1948: The Most Rev. Thomas A. Connolly (First Auxiliary Bishop, First Rector)
  • 1948-1950: The Most Rev. James T. O'Dowd (Rector)
  • 1950-1969: The Most Rev. Merlin Guilfoyle, VG (Rector)
  • 1970-1974: The Most Rev. Norman F. McFarland (Last Rector)
  • 1974, 1974-1983: The Rev. Msgr. Richard S. Knapp (Served first as Administrator, then Pastor)
  • 1983-1997: The Rev. Msgr. John J. O'Connor
  • 1997-2003: The Rev. Msgr. Maurice McCormick
  • 2003-2007: The Most Rev. William J. Justice (Became a bishop after he left Mission Dolores)
  • 2007- Present: The Rev. Arturo Albano

In Popular Culture

Information from Wikipedia.

  • In Vertigo, Inspector Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) follows Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) into Mission Dolores and out to the cemetery, where she lays flowers at the grave of "Carlotta Valdes". Although the grave marker was fictional and set up specifically for the film, it was reportedly left to stand in the cemetery for a number of years after filming.
  • In Class Action, the Old Mission was featured in the funeral scene of the movie.
  • The mission is the subject of the Jerry Garcia song "Mission in the Rain."


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