Church Built on Liquid Assets

Seed money for the construction of Los Angeles' first house of worship in the Old Plaza literally sprung from the "vineyards of the Lord."

It took seven barrels of brandy donated by the Franciscan Order to get the project off the ground in 1814, but soon after the cornerstone was laid, the brandy ran out and the work stopped.

The following year, Los Angeles had its worst flood in the annals of the time, and torrential rains overflowed the Los Angeles River, wrecking everything in its path--most of the adobe, the entire Indian village of Yang-na near 1st Street and the partially built church.

Considered unsafe on the low ground, the church site was moved to its present location and construction resumed in 1818 with considerably more brandy being sold in the name of spiritual advancement.

By then the pobladores (city builders) were getting restless and the townspeople were encouraged to seek additional donations of 500 head of cattle to help finance the project.

A less-than-honorable governor, however, confiscated the cattle, agreeing to include the building of the church in his next year's budget. His promise was never fulfilled and construction ceased.

Once again the good padres of Mission San Gabriel were summoned to the rescue. They donated seven more barrels of brandy valued at $575, and pious Angelenos rose to the occasion with raised glasses.

One account of the day reported that "conversion of the brandy into cash, drink by drink, was accomplished with the enthusiastic cooperation of the citizens."

Finally in 1822, after "immense quantities of brandy had been consumed," the report read, the new church was dedicated as Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles Church.

In 1830, a 50-pound bell was added as penance imposed on Capt. Henry Fitch for scandalizing (and delighting!) Californios by his elopement with the daughter of a wealthy San Diegan.

In hindsight, the pobladores left us with at least one constructive thought: It is far wiser to have some liquid assets on hand than none at all.


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