Mission San Fernando History

History In Brief

Founded: 8 September 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: St. Ferdinand, King of Spain (1217-1252)
Number in Series: 17th
Indian Name: Pashecgna
Brand: San Fernando Mission Brand


5 August 1769: After an arduous journey from Mexico to San Diego and after helping to start the mission in San Diego, Don Gaspár de Portolá, the appointed Governor of California, led an overland expedition to explore the route up to Monterey. Along the way Padre Juan Crespí, diarist for the journey, documented a large valley he named Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos (Saint Catherine of Bologna’s Valley of the Live Oaks). It was here that the future Mission San Fernando Rey de España would be established.

8 September 1797: This summer was a busy one for Padre Lasuén; this mission is the fourth he opened in 1797. The first buildings were finished only two months after dedication. The property the mission was constructed on belonged to Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and was being lived on by Don Francisco Reyes, alcalde of the Pueblo of Los Angeles. During construction, the padres lived in the Reyes ranch house. Reyes was a patron at the mission’s formal dedication and became godfather to the first baptized child at the mission.

1799: The first church was completed.

1800: Second church replaced the first due to mission growth and wells are dug and a filter basin established. The Los Angeles market was a ready buyer for the mission’s hides, tallow, soap, cloth, and livestock. Additionally, the large number of travellers required the construction of new buildings to house them. In particular, the famous “long building” (Convento) stood over all the others and at 243 feet long, 50 feet wide, and two stories high, with 20 arches along the front it became the largest adobe building in California (it’s often confused for the mission itself). [Note: Convento construction started in 1810.]

At its peak, the mission had 30,000 grapevines along with wine-making facilities. 21,000 head of livestock browsed the area. From these, large quantities of rawhide strips were made (used to hold buildings together in lieu of nails).

1806: The third church on the site was dedicated amid great celebration. The quadrangle was also completed.

1808: A dam and aqueduct for the water system are completed.

1812: A series of devastating earthquakes brought many of the mission buildings down. On 8 December, the Wrightwood quake weakened and/or brought down many buildings and the 21 December quake destroyed much of the new church. It took 30 new beams and brick buttresses to shore up the building. The Convento was the only building left standing.

1813: The Convento arches are completed (19 full plus two on the ends).

1819-1820: A second story is added to the Convento.

1834: Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. At San Fernando, Padre Ibarra was allowed to remain but eventually he left due to the hostility of civil authorities. Lt. Antonio del Valle was the appointed commissioner for mission secularization.

1842: A worker (Francisco López) at a local rancho (Placerita Canyon) pulled up onions and found gold flakes in the roots. This caused a mini-gold rush six years before the big 1849 California gold strike. Over the next four years everything that could be dug up in the area was dug up, including the floor of the church under the assumption that the padres had hidden a store of gold there.

1845: California Governor Pio Pico leased the mission property to his brother Andres for use as a summer home. This quickly ended when Colonel Frémont (U.S. Army) occupied the mission for a short period in 1847.

1861: The courts gave the property back to the Church. On 31 May 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation returning about 177 acres/buildings to the Church. But, little was done to preserve the buildings.

Over the following years the roof tiles and anything else of value were removed by settlers and others for use on their own property. As a final insult…

1896: The Convento was leased out to be used as a hog farm.

6 August 1916: The Landmarks Club took interest in restoration. They organized a ceremony where 6,000 individuals came, bought candles for $1.00 each, and formed a procession. Thus began the long process of turning the piles of adobe back into a mission.

1922: One fountain moved 500 feet from the Mission Court Yard to its present location. The fountain is a replica of a fountain in Spain. Both fountains in the part opposite the mission belonged to the mission water system.

1923: Church officials took up the restoration task. The work continues.

1930s: Photos were taken as part of the survey of National Historical Buildings. Here are a few…

  • Photo of the arches on the Convento from 1934.
HAB Photo from 1934


  • Photo looking down the arches on the Convento; also from 1934.
HAB Photo from 1934


  • A view of the back door of the Church from what is now called the West Garden. Taken in 1934.
HAB Photo from 1934


  • A 1935 photo of the mission bell and work man sitting next to it.
HAB Photo from 1935


  • Finally, a photo of the mission fountain from 1936.
HAB Photo from 1936


8 September 1941: The restored third church is rededicated.

9 February 1971: The Sylmar earthquake breaks a main church beam causing the church to be torn down and rebuilt in place. This fourth church was dedicated 4 November 1974 by Cardinal Timothy Manning.

16 September 1987: Pope John Paul II visits the mission.

1991: The Ezcaray collection altar is installed (see Church page).

17 January 1994: The Northridge earthquake damaged the Convento and other buildings. These are restored between 1996 and 1997.

2001: The bell carillon is removed from the mission, cleaned and sent to the Cathedral in Los Angeles. An electronic bell system along with the original 1809 bell and two Ezcaray bells are installed at the mission.

In addition to being a tourist attraction, the mission’s location relative to Hollywood has allowed it to star in a number of pictures.


  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Pauley, Kenneth E. and Carol M. San Fernando Ray de España, An Illustrated History. (2005) The Arthur H. Clark Company. ISBN-10: 0870623389, ISBN-13: 978-0870623387
  • San Fernando Rey de España Info Page previously at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/fernando.htm
  • San Fernando Rey de España Info Page previously at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/sanfernando.html