Topics / RELIGION : New Day to Ring at Mission Bell Tower

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The old San Gabriel Mission's bell tower and museum were already scheduled for restoration when the January 17 Northridge quake hit.

The quake caused corner walls in the museum to separate and shifted the museum and bell tower 2 to 6 inches in some places, according to restoration director Helen Nelson. It added a new sense of urgency--as well as $100,000 in repair costs--to the project as bracing hastily went up to prevent aftershocks from causing further damage.

"It's a historical landmark," Nelson said. "We have to save it."

Mission church parishioners agreed, pledging $1.2 million for restoration. Nelson said the work on the bell tower and museum should be completed by the end of the year. "Our parishioners are great," she said. "Their generosity has been overwhelming."

The church, which was badly damaged by the 1987 Whittier earthquake, reopened in September after extensive repairs and seismic strengthening and was undamaged in the January earthquake.

The San Gabriel Mission was founded in 1771 by Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra. It was the fourth of the 21 missions founded by Serra, who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1988.

The museum and bell tower, more than 200 years old, attract thousands of tourists and students every year, but Nelson said many of the museum's treasures--including Native American paintings, artifacts and vestments worn by the original padres--have been inaccessible since the earthquake.

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