Mission San Gabriel Archangel

Quick Facts
428 South Mission Dr., San Gabriel, CA, 91776
An important stopping point at the western end of the Old Spanish Trail, Mission San Gabriel holds the keys to understanding interactions between Europeans, Anglo Americans, and Indigenous people in the Los Angeles area.
National Register of Historic Places, Certified Site

The fourth Franciscan mission in California and the oldest building in Los Angeles County, Mission San Gabriel was founded in 1771--a decade before the nearby pueblo of Los Angeles. Its original location near the Whittier Narrows experienced frequent flooding, and in 1775 it moved to its present site closer to the mountains. Like other Spanish missions, San Gabriel was designed to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism and introduce them to other parts of European life. The missionaries stationed there relied upon the labor of neighboring Indigenous communities--most notably nearby Gabrieleno villages--to build the mission, harvest its crops, and tend to its livestock. San Gabriel became one of California's most productive missions, but at a tremendous cost; Indigenous neophytes faced violence, overwork, disease, malnutrition, and religious persecution on a regular basis. These factors spurred Indigenous leaders, including a Gabrieleno woman named Toypurina, to attempt a rebellion at Mission San Gabriel in 1785. A new exhibit, which opened in 2023, highlights Native perspectives on mission life.

In an era when Santa Fe's population dwarfed that of Los Angeles, Mission San Gabriel was one of the most important population centers along the Old Spanish Trail. Antonio Armijo visited the mission in 1829, during his first trip between Abiquiu and Los Angeles. A few years later, Mexico secularized its missions. Although clergymen remained in control at San Gabriel, much of the mission's land was distributed to nearby ranchers in the 1830s.  Mission San Gabriel continued to provide nearby settlers with religious services, especially those in San Bernardino and Agua Mansa (which had small churches known as estancias, or outposts, to the mission). During this period, many Gabrielenos moved to the new pueblo of Los Angeles to seek work. Some Gabrielenos remained on the former mission lands, but they faced competition from Anglo settlers. Many of the church's buildings fell into disrepair after secularization, but efforts to restore them began in the early 20th century.

The city of Los Angeles and the mission maintain close ties, and every year descendants of Los Pobladores--the families that trekked from Mission San Gabriel to found Los Angeles in 1781--reenact this nine-mile walk at the western end of the Old Spanish Trail.

Site Information

Location (428 South Mission Dr., San Gabriel, CA, 91776)

Borrowing elements from a cathedral and former mosque in Córdoba, Spain, Mission San Gabriel appears almost like a fortress. Its espadaña is especially beautiful, featuring bells cast as early as 1795. The church's interior features stations of the cross thought to have been painted by Native neophytes in the 1820s.

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More Site Information

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Last updated: December 5, 2023