La Cristianita Pageant Is Canceled--Vandalism, Lack of Money Cited

Times Staff Writer

Vandalism and a shortage of funds for repairs have, for the first time in 12 years, canceled the colorful La Cristianita Pageant staged each summer in a rustic San Clemente canyon.

The program, which was to have started July 18, is also known as “The Cross and the Arrow,” a re-enactment of the first baptism in Southern California that is said to have been performed by Father Junipero Serra as he accompanied the Gaspar de Portola expedition in 1769.

Pageant officials said Thursday that, apparently beginning in April, vandals using trucks, axes and paint have devastated more than $2,000 in props, including a cross, on the site in a canyon just off Camino de Los Mares.


“We just don’t have the funds or the time to put the site in shape,” pageant association Chairwoman Bertha Henry Taylor said. “Cancellation was inevitable.”

She also said plans for a permanent $5-million amphitheater on the 60-acre site, announced in March, “have been forgone for a while.”

She said about $20,000 of the $5 million had been raised, but “that has all been spent on roads, utilities and other preparations, so we’re just going to cool it (the amphitheater project) for now.”

Gordon Moon, site superintendent for the pageant, said a dressing room facility, the large cross that was a centerpiece of the performance, a false-front representation of a mission and other props that stayed in the canyon year-round were knocked down by a truck, battered by axes and sprayed with paint.

“We had to remove all the debris,” he said. “There’s nothing there now but weeds and brush.”

He added that about $4,000 in advance tickets had been sold for this year’s performances. The money is being refunded.


The pageant, which began in the 1950s but was interrupted in the ‘60s, has been continuous since it began again in 1976. In the past, it took place at night for four weekends, but this year it was to have been held during daylight hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

A volunteer cast of more than 100 people, accompanied by live burros and other animals, is normally involved, acting out the baptism of an Indian child by Father Serra as he passed through the hills behind what is now San Clemente during his mission-founding trek with Portola. About 3,000 spectators attend each year.

Taylor said it costs the pageant association $25,000 to $30,000 annually to stage the show, with money paying for costumes, promotional advertising, utilities and other items.

“Unfortunately, a lot of that money has already been spent this year,” she said.

Taylor added that despite unfavorable reaction from some residents in a subdivision near the canyon to the idea of a permanent amphitheater, plus the difficulties caused by the cancellation of the show, “we’ll start going again” on construction plans and resumption of the pageant next year.