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",

Post a Comment