Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mission San Jose, Fremont, CA

Main entry of church with DeAnza Trail bell in foreground
The 2012 national HALS Challenge is to document an American Latino landscape. At a recent Northern California Chapter HALS meeting the idea to record each of California’s missions was adopted. I created a flyer to announce the challenge and have been leading the group’s effort to organize volunteers who will prepare a HALS short forms for each of the 21 sites. So far 19 missions have been adopted.

Initially I prepared a form for the Carmel Mission – see my blog post from August 2010 - and used it as an example. Last month I visited Mission San Jose with my 4th grade grandson and together we observed, photographed and took field notes for that site.

Central space between the church and monastery wing
Mission San Jose was founded on June 11, 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It was the fourteenth of California’s twenty-one missions and the first of five missions Father Lasuen planned to fill in the gaps between the original thirteen missions.

The Mission was known for its production of olive oil and for its Native American musicians – a band and choir taught by Father Narciso Duran. In May 1827 when Jedediah Strong Smith spent time at the mission he noted that the band had “12 or 15 violins, 5 base vials and one flute.” During the 1830’s and 1840’s Mission San Jose functioned as the social center for the ranchos on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Junipero Serra in garden courtyard

The original church building was completed in September of 1797 and expanded in 1798. That building was replaced by a larger adobe church in 1809. Other buildings in the quadrangle housed the padres, a granary, schoolrooms, workshops, dwellings for converts, barracks for soldiers, guestrooms, storage areas and a gristmill on Mission Creek. At its peak there were more than 100 buildings in the complex.

The 1809 edifice stood until it was destroyed in an earthquake on October 21, 1868. In 1869 the adobe church was replaced by a wooden gothic-style church built over the original foundation. That building was moved to the City of Burlingame in 1982 and an authentic replica of the 1809 adobe church was reconstructed and completed in 1985.

View of mission tower from the cemetery
 Mission San Jose was the second to last to be secularized in 1836 and Jose de Jesus Vallejo was placed in charge. For a short time portions of the mission were used by renters and squatters. During the California Gold Rush it served as a trading post run by Henry C. Smith, a member of General Fremont’s California Battalion. In the 1860s a tavern and hotel occupied space at the mission. Today the mission church is part of St. Joseph’s Parish in Fremont, and is part of the Diocese of Oakland.

Mission San Jose is California State Landmark No. 334, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Studying the missions is something every 4th grade student does in California. If you didn’t attend elementary school in California you should make a point of visiting one or several missions to get a unique view of the state’s history. Even if you did attend school in California it may be time to go back and refresh your knowledge of our state’s beginnings.

The graves of many California pioneers are in the Mission cemetery


  1. Chris,
    Thanks much for this tour of the Fremont mission. As a transplant, I did not get that fourth grade California education so I appreciate the lesson! I think many of our members will as well so I'm including a link to this post in the May CGS eNews.

  2. 4th grade was a long time ago for me, but I loved studying the missions then, and this is a great push to revisit them. Thank you, Chris.

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