Redirect to CHS blog

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

This Day in San Francisco History: The Founding of Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asís)

William Alexander Coulter (b. Ireland, 1849-1936)
Mission San Francisco de Asis, 1910
Oil on canvas, 11 -1/2 x 17 -1/2 inches
California Historical Society, acquired through purchase and exchange
Acc. 62-88-1-2
On June 29, 1776, Mission San Francisco de Asís, named after St. Francis of Assisi but commonly known as Mission Dolores, was founded by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Francisco Palóu. It was officially dedicated on October 9, 1776. Today it is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and is in active use by the local Parish. On the 240th anniversary of the founding of Mission Delores, we look back on the importance of this institution in shaping California and its history.

Called “Mission Dolores” because of the nearby creek named “Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores” (meaning “our lady of sorrows”), Mission Dolores was built on the site of the Ohlone Indians of the Chutchui village. The Ohlone Indians comprised one of 40 tribes in a large Native American population —numbering 10,000—that predated the arrival of the first Europeans to the Bay Area. For thousands of years they occupied the area in settlements of 200 to 500 persons and sustained themselves with a “hunter-gatherer” lifestyle: they did not cultivate crops or herd domestic animals but instead hunted native game as needed and utilized naturally available foods

Under the leadership of Father Junípero Serra, a Majorcan and superior of the Franciscan Fathers, the first mission was dedicated Mission San Diego de Alcalà on July 16, 1769. It was the first of nine missions Father Serra would personally found and the beginning of a series of twenty-one missions that formed the framework of what is now the modern state. Some of these sites evolved into cities we recognize today: San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Jose, and San Francisco. The Spanish used the missions as frontier outposts to colonize and convert Native Americans thus the missions provide a window to California and our nation's past. Few regions of the world have such a physical, visual timeline of a nation's growth and development.

Padre Fray Junipero Serra
Courtesy, California Historical Society, FN-23572
Jeu des habitans de Californie, 1822, Choris
Courtesy, California Historical Society
Vault 910.4 C45_004
Mission Dolores was the sixth mission established by Father Serra. Father Serra remains unchallenged as a pivotal force in California’s early history, though his canonization on September 23, 2015 was met with controversy and protest from many indigenous groups who criticized his treatment of the Native Americans. For more than twenty-five generations prior to the Missions, Native Americans lived in their own places and under the terms of their own culture;  however, the social forces, diseases and violence they encountered soon brought them to the brink of extinction. The missions enslaved Native Americans and used them for labor. Those who ran away were captured by soldiers, brought back, and whipped severely. The conditions allowed disease to spread like wildfire, ravaging the native population.

In 2004 artist Ben Wood and archeologist Eric Blind investigated a centuries-old mural
concealed behind the wooden altar of Mission Dolores. It was painted in ochre, white, red, yellow, black, and blue/gray directly onto plaster by Native Americans, though the names of the artists are unknown. A reredos covered up the 22 feet by 20 feet mural in 1796.  Whether the mural was a gesture of Christian piety on the part of the natives or if it reflects a native aesthetic or symbolism remains unclear. Wood and Blind photographed the mural over two weeks, shooting one foot at a time. The images were then manipulated into a single composite.

Photo of the recreated mural on Bartlett at 22nd Street.
Photographer: LisaRuth Elliot
San Francisco, CA
On April 14, 2011 a public painting of the mural was unveiled on Bartlett at 22nd Street in San Francisco. It was the result of a collaboration between the Mission Community Market and Jeremy Shaw and recreated by Ben Wood and local muralists Jet Martinez, Bonnie Reiss, and Ezra Eismont. The mural and Wood’s work with Mission Dolores has provided the public a glimpse of a very important piece of San Francisco history.

Mission Dolores and the Parish
Photographer: Kathleen Yago
San Francisco, CA
Mission Dolores. Dolores & 16th (Sixteenth) St., CA (1906)
Courtesy of the California Historical Society

The Mission Dolores chapel was finished in 1791 and built with adobe walls that were four feet thick. This may have been one of the reasons that the chapel was one of the buildings left standing after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. In 1916 the buildings were reinforced with steel and survived subsequent earthquake Loma Prieta in 1989. Today the Mission continues to play a central role in the religious, civic, and cultural life of San Francisco.

Sarah Lee
California Historical Society


· Ben Wood, "The Hidden Mural At Mission Dolores",

· Guire Cleary, "Encyclopedia Of San Francisco",

· "Junipero Serra",

· Kevin Starr, California. (New York: Modern Library, 2005)

· "Native Groups Protest Pope Francis' Canonization Of Junípero Serra Over Role In California Genocide", Democracy Now!

· Rickie Lazzarini, "The History Of California",

· "San Francisco De Asís | California Missions Resource Center",

· Tricia Weber, "Mission San Francisco De Asis (Mission Delores)", Californias Missions.

· University of Santa Clara, "Historical Information - Mission Santa Clara De Asís",

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates NPS and the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Centennials

Genl. Grant National Park, California. The World's Largest Tree.
California Historical Society

From Redwood National Park in the north to Joshua Tree in the south, California’s parks are as varied and diverse as the population of the Golden State itself. The oldest, Yosemite, was established in 1890; the youngest, Pinnacles, graduated from monument to park just three years ago, on January 10, 2013. Each California park has its own kind of beauty and all are a reflection of the society into which they were born—a reflection of us. With this offering in the “Mirror of Us” series, the California Historical Society celebrates Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Yosemite: A History of Presidential Attention

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite Valley, Cal (1903), Photographer: Pillsbury. California Historical Society.
This Father’s Day weekend, President Obama and the first family will pay a visit to Yosemite National Park to highlight the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and the President’s efforts to preserve natural resources, according to a release from the White House. President Obama is the first sitting President to visit the park since John F. Kennedy did so in 1962, over 50 years ago.

Prior Presidential visits to Yosemite included Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, William Howard Taft in 1909, and Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 (see above). The trip so impressed Teddy Roosevelt that it ultimately led to the expansion of Yosemite and Roosevelt establishing five other national parks, among many of his other conservation efforts. 

Interestingly, Yosemite may have received its most important attention from a President who never visited. On June 30, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant which marked the first federal act to protect wild lands for the enjoyment of people and the first California State Park.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of this Act, the California Historical Society created Yosemite: A Storied Landscape, a major public history initiative that included a powerful exhibition, eBook, and related program series. (CHS's current exhibition, Experiments is Environment—about the famous collaboration between Anna and Lawrence Halprin in the 1960s—is also connected to Yosemite, as Lawrence Halprin was inspired by the Sierra Mountains in his design of the Yosemite Falls Approach.)

As noted above, President Obama is using his trip to highlight the Centennial of the The National Park ServiceThe NPS was established in 1916 after a group organized by Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright gathered at UC Berkeley in 1915 (on the sidelines of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition) to plan a future for the existing and evolving national parks in the country. (Last year, UC Berkeley celebrated the Centennial of its role in creating the national parks system with a major symposium.) 

"I want to make sure that the whole world is able to pass on to future generations the God-given beauty of this planet," Obama said in a Facebook video announcing next week's trip. The visit will certainly serve as an example of respecting our public lands and, more importantly, preserving legacy.

The California Historical Society has been celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service with a series of essays on national parks in California. Read more from the "Mirror of Us" series below:

Sarah Lee

California Historical Society

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Bear Flag Revolt - June 14, 1846

1890 Photo of the original Bear Flag. 
Stored in the Halls of  The Society of California Pioneers 
the flag was destroyed in the
San Francisco earthquake and firestorm of 1906

In the late 18th century California was an important part of New Spain, having been colonized by the Spanish Empire primarily through the establishment of missions and presidios over the period between 1769 and 1823.  The 21 Missions established by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan order, were both military and religious settlements that functioned independently of each other and allowed for the further colonization of what was then known as Alta California.  Prior to the arrival of Portuguese, English and Spanish explorers, California had one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse populations in pre-Columbian North America including more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans.

In 1821 the Mexican War of Independence effectively freed Alta California from Spanish Control.  California was divided into huge land grants for Mexican "Californios" who established family-controlled ranchos in what was then a remote northern province of the Mexican Empire (later Republic).

On June 14, 1846 a group of American settlers declared independence from Mexican rule, this uprising was known as the Bear Flag Revolt and occurred during the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848).  As a result of the war, California was ceded to the United States by Mexico and became the 31st state admitted to the Union on September 9, 1850.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Rise of Ronald Reagan: 50 Years Ago Today

Ronald Reagan, San Francisco Airport arrival, 1966, photo ©Bob Campbell,
San Francisco Chronicle, courtesy, California Historical Society,

With conclusion of yesterday's California primary season, we look back to one of the most significant party primaries in State history: the Republican race in 1966. It was 50 years ago today when Californians awoke to the news that actor Ronald Reagan had won his party's primary on June 7, 1966, defeating San Francisco mayor George Christopher by nearly 35% percentage points.

Reagan's primary victory in 1966 set the stage for an epic showdown in the Fall with two-term governor, Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown, the father of current California Governor Jerry Brown. At the time, Governor Brown (who defeated Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty in the Democratic primary) was pleased that Reagan defeated Christopher, thinking that Reagan would be easy to beat in the Fall. But Reagan would end up defeating Brown in November, setting the stage for the "Reagan Revolution" nationally and foreshadowing the themes that many Republicans, including Reagan, would use against Democrats in the decades to come: soft on crime, pro-welfare, tolerant of citizen unrest.

As we noted at the very beginning of this year, the 50th anniversary of 1966 allows us to look back at a revolutionary year in California history when two opposing forces that continue to shape the State and country were unleashed. In the primary against Christopher and then against Brown, Reagan ran explicitly against the growing tide of student activism in the Bay Area, saying he "would clean up the mess at Berkeley." Meanwhile, across the Bay, student activism had merged with a growing youth culture in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury area, creating the counterculture of the "hippies" that would capture the attention of the country the following year during the infamous "Summer of Love."

Yet, just as the masses were starting to gather on Haight Street and "rock dances" were being held every weekend at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and The Avalon, Ronald Reagan won his first significant political election. In short, California's complicated history and split personality was on full display in 1966.

Monday, June 6, 2016

California, Primarily

California Counts, 2015 
Courtesy KPBS
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
― Theodore Roosevelt, 1913
Teddy Roosevelt made this analogy in his 1913 autobiography while expressing support for women’s suffrage. “I believe for women, as for men, more in the duty of fitting one’s self to do well and wisely with the ballot than in the naked right to cast the ballot,” he explained.

In today’s political climate, with emotions running high, voters appear to be using their votes as rifles. Once Californians have cast their votes, will they have voted “well and wisely”?

As California prepares for its primary election on June 7, we look at some reminders of past primaries, some groundbreaking, some surprising, some tragic—and some very recognizable.


Theodore Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson, 1912
California Historical Society
In the 1912 election, Progressive (Bull Moose) Party nominee Theodore Roosevelt teamed up with California Governor Hiram Johnson. It was the beginning of both the Progressive Party and the primary process in California. Prior to the primary, presidential candidates were selected by their fellow politicians.

(Left) John Nance Garner California Button Ribbon, 1932 
(Right) John (“Cactus Jack”) Nance Garner, c. 1905
California Democrats originally from the South won the day in the 1932 primary as House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas beat New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When it became clear that Roosevelt was considered the stronger candidate in the general election—despite being short of the two-thirds votes required for nomination—Garner cut a deal and joined Roosevelt’s ticket as vice president.

(Left) Upton Sinclair, c. 1920–39
Courtesy Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library
(Right) Governor Earl Warren, 1946 
California Historical Society
Running as a Democrat, Socialist Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, campaigned against poverty in California’s 1934 gubernatorial race, receiving almost 900,000 votes. Two years later, he ran in the 1936 presidential primary against Franklin D. Roosevelt, winning 11 percent of the Democratic vote. Republican Earl Warren was favorite son in the 1936, 1948, and 1952 primaries. He never won the Republican nomination but obtained judicial influence as the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States.

"It’s Nixon in ’60!” Bumper Sticker, 1960
California Historical Society
A 1960 California Republican Party pamphlet touted Nixon as “the most able and electable presidential prospect, of either party, in the Nation. Republicans, leading Independents and thoughtful Democrats throughout the State are swelling the ranks of one of the greatest citizens’ movements in California history.” In his closely contested race against John F. Kennedy—undermined by a poor showing during the presidential debates—Nixon lost the popular vote by .2 percent and the electoral vote by a 302–219 margin.

Victory Celebration, 1968 
Courtesy Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Democrat Robert Kennedy addressed enthusiastic supporters in the ballroom of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, after winning the 1968 California presidential primary the previous day. Shortly after delivering his victory speech, Kennedy was critically shot in a hotel kitchen corridor. He died the next day. Kennedy’s assassination, which closely followed Martin Luther King’s (April 4, 1968), “shattered the nation,” the U.S. News & World Report observed.

George McGovern, Dennis Weaver, and Tom Bradley, date unknown 
Courtesy Gary Leonard Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Despite a “Stop McGovern” campaign led by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Senator George McGovern’s anti-Vietnam War platform helped him win California’s winner-take-all delegates in the 1972 California Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Factors such as his  outsider status, perception by others as a left-wing extremist, and lack of party support, however, cost McGovern’s the election against incumbent President Richard Nixon by a wide margin.
Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager