A Retreat in Time : Inside the grounds of the San Fernando Mission, founded in 1797 in the northeast Valley, dwell history and peace.


The San Fernando Mission, founded in 1797, is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Southern California. Inside the lovely mission grounds, the 20th Century seems eons away.

10 to 10:45 a.m.: Enter through the gift shop and buy a ticket from the cashier, who also provides a flyer with a map and some facts about the various buildings you will visit. (We found the information on the self-tour rather sparse. At the rear of the gift shop is a rack of publications about this mission and others. We picked up one for $2, which was more informative.)

First stop on the tour is the museum, adjacent to the gift shop. It includes santos (small statues of Roman Catholic saints), pottery, basketry and clothing plus old photographs of the area--hard to believe that this nOrtheast end of the San FernAndo Valley was once nothing but open fields. Only some of these items are labeled, suggesting to us that a guided tour might have been the way to go.


10:45 to 11 a.m.: Exit onto the well-maintained grounds of the mission, where there are numerous spots for visitors to enjoy peaceful contemplation--except for the peacocks. . . . Yes, they’re beautiful, but they screech constantly and can be heard even from inside the buildings. We follow a walkway around to the mayordomo’s house, where the foreman of the mission ranch once lived. On the porch, we encounter roosters. At least they are relatively quiet and lend an air of authenticity to the place.

Visitors can’t go into the house, but its one room is easily visible from the entrance. The mission ranch originally covered 121,542 acres, according to our flyer, and, in 1819, its cattle, sheep and horses numbered 21,745.

11 to 11:45 a.m.: The main building is the Convento, next on our tour. This is the oldest original mission building in California, we are told. It has been lovingly maintained, authentically refurbished, and features the original ironwork on windows and doors. Previous visitors have tossed coins into an iron basin in the center of a bedroom once inhabited by Fray Fermin Lasuen, who founded the mission. At one end of the Convento, a room has been converted into a small theater that plays historical films. Some of the books found in the Convento library are as old as the mission.

The long, central sala was the original entrance to the mission, where travelers were greeted and given lodging. At the entrance to the Convento is a vat where grapes for wine, a major mission product, were delivered for pressing. A cheery sign notes, “Sorry! No samples today.”

11:45 a.m. to noon: Our tour takes us on a meandering walk between the West Garden and a babbling stream, past another old wine vat, a grinding stone, sculptures and two Spanish-cast bells dated 1686 and 1720.

Noon to 12:30 p.m.: The chapel is a replica of the original Catholic church, which stood from 1806 until an earthquake destroyed it in 1971. Our flyer makes no mention of the earthquake, but the pamphlet we bought in the gift shop includes details about the restoration, particularly the statue of St. Ferdinand, which overlooks the altar. The statue, carved from a single piece of wood, was smashed into 27 fragments, which were laboriously glued back together. Roman Catholic Masses are celebrated at 7:30 a.m. daily, and at 9 and 10:30 a.m. Sundays. Pope John Paul II visited the chapel in 1987.


Beyond the chapel are several graves from the 1800s and early 1900s, and an old cemetery where early settlers are buried, but the gate was locked, so we couldn’t go inside.

12:30 to 12:45 p.m.: A walk through the East Garden leads to a display of carpentry, pottery, saddlery and blacksmithing shops used by the early mission ranch.

Last stop on our tour is the Archival Center of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but it is closed. Researchers may use the archives by appointment. The archival museum is open to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

12:45 to 1 p.m.: We exit the mission the way we came in and spend some time in the extensive gift shop, which offers an array of religious jewelry, small statuary, books and other items--and a more secular display of novelties, including rubber snakes and plastic fortune-cookie key chains.

Where and When What: San Fernando Mission, 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Guided tours at no extra charge at 2 and 3 p.m. Saturdays, by appointment weekdays. Price: $3 adults, $1.50 children ages 7 to 15, free under age 7. Call: (818) 361-0186.