Native American members of the Mutsun tribe were there first. Then came the Spanish missionary Father Fermin Lasuen (1797). He was followed by John C Fremont (1846) and Patrick Breen (1848). Alfred Hitchcock dropped by in 1957. It was a popular stage-coach stop in the 19th century and many folks today on Highway 101 road trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles take the Highway 156 exit and drive three miles east to Mission San Juan Bautista.
Mission San Juan Bautista is the 15th and largest of the 21 California Missions. It was founded by Father Fermin Francisco Lasuen (Junipero Serra’s successor) in 1797 at a location on the El Camino Real that is a day’s walk to either Mission Santa Clara to the north or Mission Carmel to the southwest. The Mission is 81 miles south of our home in Castro Valley and we have visited San Juan many times. These pictures are from our visit in 1986.
The next photo is my entry this week to Laura and Leanne’s Monochrome Madness Challenge. Why don’t you check out all of the other photos on Leanne’s website?
The Mission is on the original town plaza which is now a state Historic Park. The town boasts that they have the only remaining plaza in California from the early Mission Days. The Mission is still an active Catholic church. About half of the population of San Juan is Latino and the Mass we observed one day was in Spanish.
The cemetery is on the Mission building’s right. More than 4,000 Native Americans are buried here plus a handful of Californios. At the bottom of the hill is the original El Camino Real and the San Andreas Fault.
John C Fremont visited San Juan in 1846. When told by authorities to leave California immediately the defiant Fremont built a fort atop a nearby hill and raised the American flag. That night he thought better of the situation, however, and left the area and headed north to Oregon. He returned to California a few months later, though, and was instrumental in the American takeover of California from Mexico.
Patrick Breen, famous survivor of the Donner Party disaster, and his family settled here and bought the old Castro Adobe. His descendents lived there until the 1930s when the adobe and other buildings on the plaza became part of the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park.
The Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo was filmed here in 1957. The original mission did not have a bell tower. A steeple was added in 1867 but was destroyed by a fire in 1915. A stucco tower was then built in 1929 but was taken down in 1949. Hitchcock didn’t like what he had to work with: a few bells hanging from a wooden crossbar. So he built his own bell tower on a Hollywood set. The present bell tower was constructed in 1976 and restored in 2010 to resemble some of the towers in other missions.
Several of the Mission churches were built by the Franciscans to face the morning sun during either the winter, summer or spring-fall solstices. On December 21st of this year rays from the rising sun will poke through the front window of the San Juan Bautista Mission church and make their way down the main aisle to the altar. The event is called an Illumination. So if you missed the summer solstice celebration at Stonehenge this year why not drive down to San Juan Bautista to witness a similar event? You’ll have to get up early, though. The sun will rise at approximately 6:00am.