Deprecated: Hook jetpack_pre_connection_prompt_helpers is deprecated since version jetpack-13.2.0 with no alternative available. in /home/tracyc8/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 6078
Spanish Era Sites | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

Spanish Era Sites

In the San Fernando Valley, these sites were sited by the Spanish in the midst of Kizh/Tongva/Gabrielino, Tataviam, and Chumash territories. Before long, the missionaries controlled the entire valley and the native people for a 45 year period. Orchards, crops, and vineyards radiated out from the mission built at the northern edge. The sheep and goats ate up the native grasses. The cattle herds roamed at will, spreading invasive seed via their dung.

Satellite ranches were built at Cahuenga and Newhall. When the padres needed still more land to cultivate, they took over the Santa Clarita Valley, too (100,000 acres). A granary at Castaic Junction was built to process and store wheat. With some imagination, you can picture 1000 Native Americans making this all work for their Spanish conquerors. The Spanish intention to turn a hunter/gatherer, Mother Earth-centric culture into a European-style, Catholic farming community was vigorously pursued on a daily basis.

As the Indian villages (rancherias) were depopulated, they gradually disappeared. After several generations died within the mission system, the exact locations were forgotten.

You can read more about each site and its relationship to the others on the history page here Spanish Era History.


Los Encinos State Historic Park  S Central SFV

On the 1769 march with Portola from Mexico, soldado de cuero (“leather-jacketed soldier) Juan Francisco Reyes would later request Valley lands for grazing cattle when he retired from the army. Reyes established the original Los Encinos Rancho first in the northern part of the Valley near the Tataviam village Pasheekgna. When the Roman Catholic church wanted Don Reyes’ ranch in the Mission Hills district for a new mission, he ceded it to them in 1795. Reyes, who was then mayor of Los Angeles, had been grazing cattle around the springs he had first seen 25 years earlier. Some native people had either been pulled into the San Gabriel Mission (established 1771) or moved to get away from the Spanish. So Reyes moved to this ideal location on one square league (4,460 acres) between the Los Angeles River and the hills. It became a resting place for travelers along the dusty King’s Highway (Ventura Blvd) between Los Angeles and Ventura. The springs still burble out of the ground year-round as they have for thousands of years.

16756 Moorpark Street                                                                                                                                                                                           Encino 91436                                                                                                                                                                                                           Open Wed – Sun 10 am – 5 pm                                                                                                                                                                               Los Encinos State Historic Park                                                                                                                                                     


Courtesy of Lopez Adobe Collection

 Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana (Saint Ferdinand, King of Spain)  N Central SFV

In 1797, Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen dedicated the 17th mission to a 12th century king who united Spain. King Ferdinand had been granted sainthood in 1671. His name is commemorated in a few locations in the Spanish empire. Eventually, he was to become the patron saint of this entire valley.

Lasuen sited the mission at the Tataviam village Pasheekgna, 25 miles north of the Los Angeles pueblo, as he would need a supply of free laborers. At this point, the San Gabriel Mission had been in existence for a quarter of a century (1771). It was producing on a grand scale, but had to search further afield for labor each year as deaths within the system outpaced births. The pueblo Los Angeles had expanded in its 15 years of existence (1781). The townspeople and outlying settlers pulled in non-christianized natives to do the hard work they couldn’t/wouldn’t keep up with. Soldiers didn’t perform manual labor. So Lasuen would enlist from the multicultural end of the Valley where Chumash, Kizh/Tongva, and Tataviam families lived in harmony together. Then the missionaries would have to fan out into the surrounding mountainous regions, clear up to Castec (Castaic).

The Franciscan missionaries used the Reyes adobe home until a small chapel and outbuildings were built. The Long Building (Convento), which housed the padres and guests, is the largest adobe building in California (took 13 years to build). It is the largest surviving building from Spanish mission days. It’s the oldest building in SFV.  Five of the original bells are still in use. The star-shaped fountain is part of the original water system. (The dam was a mile away to the northeast.) The chapel is used today, as is the cemetery. Two notables are buried there — Ritchie Valens and Bob Hope.

In 1797, the first order of business was to get to know the original inhabitants of the Valley. The padres gave them trinkets and little gifts, invited them over for religious instruction, and performed baptisms. While converting everyone to their version of Christianity was a #1 priority, the need was equally great to get workers to grow the mission — who had to be baptized first. It was a barebones operation at first. However, the Indians of the region had learned what conversion meant through experiences with zealous missionaries at San Gabriel. Once they willingly entered into the system as “neophytes,” the natives immediately lost their freedom and could not leave. If they tried, they would be hunted down and brought back. They were part of the religious order.

As their hunting and gathering lifestyle was becoming more disrupted, some Indian families accepted the inevitable. Another way to bring families in was to baptize children and babies. They were left to grow up with their parents in the village, but the padres kept in contact. Around age 10, the padres sent soldiers to bring the children to the mission for religious education. To keep their families intact, the parents would follow. And with no one then to care for the elderly, the grandparents and extended family would come along, too. In this way, traditional life was destroyed and villages emptied. Those who held out would find themselves alone, died of European diseases, or moved to unrelated tribes far beyond the Spanish reach. Regardless of their traditional tribal affiliations and kinship relationships, all Indians living here were called Fernandenos after the mission.

Missions were an instrument of colonization designed the frontier. They had to sustain themselves, plus provide food and cloth for soldiers stationed at a presidio (fort). To do this, it meant fulltime work by 1000 neophytes (what baptized Indians were called) at San Fernando using primitive European methods in a plantation-type setting. The Spanish California empire was built on free Indian labor. The Catholic priests imposed a strict monastic lifestyle regulated by bells all day long. It has been noted that the type of religious men who came to California chose that extreme lifestyle for themselves. They could not control the soldiers’ behavior or the townspeople. But they kept a tight leash on their native workers, forcing on them what they could not demand of their fellow countrymen here or in Spain.

In later years when the padres couldn’t persuade the Native Americans to convert, soldiers were sent out to “recruit” the unwilling. The economic system would collapse without a steady stream of free labor to build it — not unlike what was going on in the American south, Caribbean, and Mexican plantations. The difference was that Spanish missions had a distinctive religious overtone because their interest was in developing obedient citizens loyal to the Crown. The goal was that after 10 years of agricultural or crafts instruction the Indians would become independent taxpayers to support the realm.

The mission fathers would come to dominate the entire 260 square mile (138,000 acres) San Fernando Valley for agricultural and ranching purposes. Within 20 years, the Indians had bred  13,000 head of cattle and 5,000 sheep, planted 32,000 grapevines and 1,000 fruit trees, and harvested 156,000 bushels of beans, barley, wheat, corn and peas. An astounding amount of work! Think of the elaborate irrigation ditches dug to water all those crops.

From the perspective of the 21st century, and my five years at the Southwest (Indian) Museum, I don’t find this an idyllic institution (and neither did a number of writers/witnesses at that time). But I honor those who labored in, died for, or survived this harsh clash of cultures. The missions are a testament to them. In all, over 53,000 Native Californians were baptized as Spanish citizens. Spanish became a unifying language among diverse tribes.

15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd.                                                                                                                                                                     Mission Hills 91345
(818) 361-0186

Historic photos of the Mission ruins


Mission Bell (1796)

In the mission, there is a remarkable artifact that causes some head-scratching. How did a 100 pound Russian bell from Kodiak, Alaska get all the down way to this location? It commemorates the Russian presence in Alaska, and their presence in California waters hunting thousands of otter and getting rich. Does this gift from a Russian Orthodox church official acknowledge Spanish Catholic sovereignty? Is it a peace offering? The Russian inscription reads: “In the Year 1796, in the month of January, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak by the blessing of Archimandrite Joaseph, during the sojourn of Alexsandr Baranov.” Well, there was some kind of contact between these two nations at the extreme edge of their empires where they overlapped.                                                                           


Mission Tallow Pits and Soap Works

Brand Park                                                                                                                                                                                                                 15174 San Fernando Mission Road                                                                                                                                                                     Mission Hills 91345


Mission Cemetery (founded 1800)

Ritchie Valens is buried in Section C. Bob Hope’s widow funded his Memorial Garden.

11150 Sepulveda Blvd.                                                                                                                                                                                             Mission Hills 91342                                                                                                                                                                                                 818.361.7387


Mission Dam

This is a tiny remnant of what was a much larger complex built by Indian labor (now obliterated by I-5). Walking by, you might think it’s just an old wall.

14801 Rinaldi Street                                                                                                                                                                                               Mission Hills 91345                                                                                                                                                                                             Mission Dam & Wells – The Mission Trail Today


Mission Wells and Settling Basin (LA Cultural Heritage Monument #50)

This area was swampland, which provided water to the mission. It would be the reason a native village would be located nearby. Wells were built from mission tiles by the mission Indian laborers. A settling basin collected dirt out of the water, before it moved into an aqueduct to the mission. This 6 acre site is the oldest existing source of water other than the Los Angeles River. It’s protected by DWP and fenced off.

Havana and Bleeker Street                                                                                                                                                                                     Sylmar 91342                                                                                                                                                                                               Mission Wells and the Settling Basin – Landmarks … – Yelp


Limekiln Canyon Park

This is a popular hiking/biking trail in the upper northwest corner of the Valley — a mini-wilderness oasis within suburbia. I don’t know if the name refers to an actual limekiln in the canyon, but the conditions would have been ideal for one. It’s close to the mission. Oak trees and limestone are the major ingredients. Early sources reported several limekilns in this region of the Valley, actively being used by the padres building out San Fernando Mission and later private adobes.

The Limekiln Canyon Trail is 3 miles between Sesnon and Tunney Avenue. The lower trail is between Rinaldi and Chatsworth. The upper trail is between Rinaldi and Sesnon.

Parking is on Rinaldi                                                                                                                                                                                              19585 Rinaldi Street                                                                                                                                                                                               Northridge 91326…/porter-ranch-aliso-canyon-palisades-sesnon-and-limekiln


Chatsworth Calera (1800) LA Cultural Heritage Monument #141

The Indians built a straight trail from the mission to a village on the west side of the Valley, Moomgna. Many people listed on the mission books came from here. They labored at various caleras (limestone quarry and ovens/kilns) along the Simi hills. Burnt limestone was the main ingredient in whitewash,  and in concrete and mortar for bricks and tiles at the mission. Making thousands of bricks was a fulltime business. Each brick weighed about 40 pounds.

This limekiln built around 1800 is protected behind a DWP (Department of Water and Power) chainlink fence. It has suffered damage. What remains is a six foot hole in the ground going down 15 feet. It was located in an area of plentiful lime deposits with many oak trees for fuel. The kiln was kept busy in the early Spanish era and in later Mexican times. Woolsey Canyon and Valley Circle Drive within the Chatsworth Reservoir site.…/no-141-chatsworth-reservoir-kiln-s…                                                                 


Santa Susana Pass

The well-established El Camino Real (The King’s Highway) connected Spanish frontier towns, military forts, and missions all the way up the coast. Mission San Fernando was off the beaten path. This Indian trail over the Simi Hills had been used for eons, connecting inland groups. The Spanish thought it might be a faster shortcut to get to Mission San Buenaventura then going all the way around to the coast. It will continue to be developed through the American stage coach era. However, it was the Spanish padres who named the trail after a 3rd century Christian martyr Susanna, and it stuck.

Susanna and her family were martyred by Roman Emperor Diocletian in the last Christian persecution. Her father was a prominent Christian when those following these teachings met in house churches. The family was beheaded in their home. A century later when Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, a church was built over the house and named for Saint Susan.

Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park | EveryTrail


Olive Trees (LA Cultural Heritage Monument #49)

Seriously, these trees were granted preservation status in 1963. The reason I included them here is that the original cuttings were collected by homeowner N.A. Grey from the mission’s remaining olive groves in 1893. By the way, at one time Sylmar became the largest olive grove in the world!

Lassen Street between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Farralone Avenue, Chatsworth

49: Lassen Street Olive Trees – Los Angeles Love Affair

 SFV Historic Cultural Monuments | San Fernando Valley Blog

Verdugo Canyon – Rancho San Rafael (1784)

This site marks the eastern boundary of SFV.

Jose Maria Verdugo was born in the Spanish military fort on the Baja peninsula, New Spain. He grew up to become a colonial leather jacket soldier. He was part of the military detail that came in 1769 on the first overland Portola-Serra expedition. He was assigned to the Presidio at San Diego, and then to Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. When he was 33, he asked his commanding officer for a land concession to settle and graze cattle. While the Spanish government retained title to the land, he was given 36,000 acres (8 square leagues) of hills between Arroyo Seco in Pasadena and the Los Angeles River in the eastern SFV. He named it Rancho San Rafael, nicknamed La Zanza (the ditch). As a landed Don, his name is immortalized in the Verdugo Hills, Verdugo Canyon, and two family adobes built during the Mexican era.

When Verdugo retired from the army at age 47, he applied for a permanent grant from the Spanish governor. His hilly rancho was between the fertile plains dominated by the two missions on either side of him. He became a full-time rancher until his death at age 80, raising 11 children. This beautiful land eventually became today’s cities and southeast neighborhoods of Glendale, Atwater Village, Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Mount Washington; as well as northeastern Verdugo City, Montrose, and La Canada-Flintridge. To get amazing views of all that Verdugo owned, try the vigorous hikes behind the Brand property going up to Tongva Peak.

Mountain Street and Grandview Avenue via Brand Park                                                                                                                                Glendale 91209

RANCHO SAN RAFAEL Ranch of the Angel Raphael

Stough Canyon Nature Center                                                                                                                                                                              There are displays and docent tours about the environment of the small Verdugo mountain range. You can get a good sense of what the Verdugo ranch land was like.

2300 Walnut Avenue, Burbank
(818) 238-5440                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Directions: From Glenoaks Blvd, take Olive Avenue north towards the mountains. Turn left onto Sunset Canyon Drive. Turn right onto Walnut Road. Continue on Walnut Road all the way to the end.

 Stough Canyon Nature Center – 92 Photos – Hiking … – Yelp

Stough Canyon Hike                                                                                                                                                                                          Walk on the old rancho and enjoy some amazing views of the SFV.                                                                                                   


Rancho Felis (1795)

Courtesy Lopez Adobe Collection

Courtesy Lopez Adobe Collection

When you go to Griffith Park, you’re on half the old land grant given to one of the soldiers who had come on the Anza expedition. Jose Felis (now Feliz) served as a guard at El Pueblo de Los Angeles. He was appointed as the first public officer, before their was a mayor. This early land grant encompasses Hollywood as well. On the Valley side, it’s the end of the Santa Monica range at the Los Angeles River.  The old adobe overlooking the river is used as a Ranger Station. At the turn of the last century, Griffith J. Griffith would buy this piece and give it to the city. Griffith Park is the largest city park in the country.

4730 Crystal Springs Drive                                                                                                                                                                                   Los Angeles  90027

History of the rancho

Map of Griffith Park


Campo de Cahuenga/ Casa de Adobe (LA Historic-Cultural Monument #29)

Cahuenga Pass Twilight 2

Distinctive Mt. Cahuenga on the left; Cahuenga Pass is the low point in the Hollywood Hills at the edge of SFV.

In the Spanish era this was a ranching operation for Mission San Fernando — hence “campo” (camp). It later plays a significant role in the American era as the site where the US completes its drive for Manifest Destiny. In this adobe, the treaty was signed ending the Mexican-American War in California in 1847. In the 20th century it’s purchased for early moviemaking, eventually transforming into Universal Studios.

3919 Lankershim Blvd.                                                                                                       Studio City 91604                                                                                                               818.762.3998                                                                                                              

 Archaeological And Historic Investigations At Campo De …                                                                                                                                              Campo de Cahuenga – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia            

 Historical Photos of Cahuenga Pass

An early drawing of the Cahuenga Pass. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Courtesy of the Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.







Outside SFV

This was one site considered for the San Fernando Mission:

About 10 miles north of the current mission is a little valley in the hills that the Catholic priests once considered in the 1790s. There was a Tataviam Indian village here, so they would have provided the free labor needed. While the mission would end up being built down in the larger San Fernando Valley, this pleasant location became a satellite farm of the mission. Later in the American era, it was a stagecoach inn once a toll road was built nearby through Beales’ Cut. Then finally a pioneer cemetery. It’s still used as a cemetery today.

Eternal Valley Memorial Park

23287 Sierra Highway
Newhall 91321


Mission Granary (1804) CA State Historical Marker #556                         The Asistencia de San Francisco Xavier, 1804, was a ranch out-station, and perhaps a religious outpost, of Mission San Fernando.

This site is NW from the mission, up the road off I-5 at the headwaters of the Santa Clara River. Believe it or not, San Fernando Mission (138,000 acres) needed more crop land and a place to store the bounty. It had many mouths to feed since it also supported the presidio and soldiers at Santa Barbara. This site had been considered early on by the original Spanish padres Serra and Lasuen as a good location for a mission. But it was very difficult to get over the San Fernando mountains. Which is hard to believe as you zip along I-5 today.

Once San Fernando needed to expand in 1804, the then-current priests returned to this location to take over 100,000 more acres. The padres evicted the local Tataviam people from the surrounding villages directly to San Fernando mission. This was the location where grain was stored at the “mission ranch.” An old plaque marks it. Later it would become the significant Rancho San Francisco, where California’s first gold rush took place in Placerita Canyon.

SW corner “The Old Road” and Henry Mayo Drive /Castaic Junction                                                                                                         0.2 mile southwest I-5 and State Highwy 126 interchange, on the w side of The Old Road                                                                   Valencia 91355

The Story of Rancho Camulos | Rancho Camulos Museum