‘Time Jockey ’: La Mission Vieja

by Joe Castillo
July 2, 2014 • 284 views

Original Mission Site….. On September 8, 1771, Father Junipero Serra founded the 4th of the California Missions and named it Mission San Gabriel. The site of the mission was located in the fertile plains of the Rio Hondo, which today is located in the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area.  The site met the qualifications as established by Fr. Serra, including a good source of water, a well-established labor source and ample lands to grow and develop agriculture crops. The Rio Hondo , Spanish for the ‘deep river’, provided the water resource and is the largest and most voluminous tributary of the Los Angeles River. It runs parallel with the San Gabriel River to form the two primary rivers which run through the San Gabriel Valley, but it also creates an uncontrolled and wild water resource.  The Gabrieleno-Kizh village of Sheevangna was located in the area of the Rio Hondo and was identified by the Spanish as a potential labor source.  And of course, the land was fertile enough to grow any crop which the Spanish wanted to grow.  The Spanish started construction of the Mission but relied more on willow brush, tule and brush to construct a simple structure which was used to hold daily masses and services. The rivers were constantly changing directions, often overflowing their banks and wreaking havoc on the crops being grown by the Spanish.  The mission structure, being not built of solid materials, was in constant failure and disrepair.  By 1775, the Spanish recognized that their present location was not viable and identified an alternative site for the Mission. Shortly thereafter, it was moved it to its present day site in the City of San Gabriel.  Recently, the Gabrieleno-Kizh Band of Mission Indians organized a field trip to locate the original site along the Rio Hondo. Led by Chief Ernie Salas Teutime, a small group hiked through the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area to reach the original site of the Mission. Though nothing remains of the structure or the village, the land is pretty in the same state as it was decades ago. The Rio Hondo is now tamed with dams and concrete banks but the land still remains fertile in the flood plain. Chief Ernie provided recollections of ‘La Mission Vieja’ as he visited the site when he was a child. His son Andy, recalled that he would accompany his father with him on certain visits and remembered even back then that there was no structure or other remains. The group stopped to talk with Joe Hernandez, a long-time resident of the area, who noted that the area was called Savannah in reference to Shevaangna, the onsite Gabrieleno-Kizh village. Walter P. Temple placed a California Historical Marker on the corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, recognizing the site of the original San Gabriel Mission. However, this site is probably a quarter to a half mile away from the original location and was placed on Temple-owned land rather than on privately held property. There are many interesting and historical hiking trails through Whittier Narrows, and knowing some of the local history makes it that much more enjoyable…..

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