The El Camino Real
Tomes have been written about the history of the Spanish and the Missions of California. It was a difficult period in the history of California, fraught with inhumanity, as well as, expansion and progress.
Much of California's history began with the Spanish Missions. The chain of 21 missions along California's El Camino Real ("The Royal Highway") represent the first arrival of non-Native Americans to California. Life for the California Native Americans was forever changed. In addition to Christianity and disease, the missions brought livestock, fruits, flowers, grains and industry. If you are interested I suggest you simply hop over to your library and begin your research. If you visit California, and have the opportunity, please take the time to visit a mission or two. They are beautiful structures and will give you a wonderful sense of how California began.
Every one of the California missions tells a story, all have been, to some extent, restored and are open to the public.
When I was growing up these bells were all along Highway 101 - the El Camino Real. El Camino Real refers to the 600-mile California Mission Trail, connecting the former Alta California's 21 missions (along with a number of support sites), 4 presidios, and several pueblos, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego in the south to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in the north.
In 1892, Anna Pitcher of Pasadena initiated an effort to preserve the as-yet uncommemorated route of Alta California’s Camino Real, an effort adopted by the California Federation of Women's Clubs in 1902. Modern El Camino Real was one of the first state highways in California. Given the lack of standardized road signs at the time, it was decided to place distinctive bells along the route, hung on supports in the form of a high shepherd's crook, also described as "a Franciscan walking stick." The first of 450 bells were unveiled on August 15, 1906 at the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olvera Street in Los Angeles.
The original organization which installed the bells fragmented, and the Automobile Club of Southern California and associated groups cared for the bells from the mid-1920s through 1931. The State took over bell maintenance in 1933. Most of the bells eventually disappeared due to vandalism, theft or simple loss due to the relocation or rerouting of highways and roads. After a reduction in the number of bells to around 80, the State began replacing them, at first with concrete, and later with iron. An El Camino Real restoration program resulted in the installation of 555 El Camino Real Bell Markers in 2005. The replacement and original bells were produced by the California Bell Company, and are dated 1769 to 1906.
Mission San Juan Bautista was founded in 1797. Mission San Juan Bautista is the largest of the Spanish missions in California. The mission was used in the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo, but the bell-wall was treated as a "bell tower" staircase, and constructed on a studio lot.
San Juan Bautista has suffered often from earthquakes, but has never been completely demolished.