The Cathedral has three aisles, two of which were restored as late as the 1950's. The original church was destroyed by an earthquake, and so the three aisle construction was an inspiration to build bigger on the hilltop knoll where the church was consecrated. Unfortunately, while the work progressed on the church, the neophyte congregation for whom it was planned declined at a considerable rate. In 1805, the Indian population had stood at 1,100. By 1812, when the church was completed, death and desertions had reduced the number by more than half. The great new edifice dwarfed the attending congregations, and Padre de la Cuesta walled in the two rows of arches which separated the three naves of the church. Except for the area near the altar, the church interior then resembled other mission churches, with the two outside naves forming large, separate rooms. In decorating and furnishing the church, however, the energetic Franciscan was not to be denied. He continually sought out needed religious articles with an appreciative eye for the finest workmanship available. In 1820 he hired Thomas Doak, an American carpenter who was gifted with a decorative talent, and embellished the interior walls. It was Doak, incidentally, who deserted his ship and came ashore at Monterey in 1816 to become the first American citizen to settle in California. He took Spanish citizenship, found permanent residence at San Juan Bautista, and married a daughter of José Castro.
The old stage coach route between San Juan Bautista and Salinas is called Salinas Grade Road at the Jan Juan Bautista side and San Juan Grade Road at the Salinas side. This route is part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that follows this explorer's 1200 mile overland route through Arizona and California to San Francisco.
Today this seldom-used road is a scenic and rural route that leads up some beautiful canyons and over he end of the Gabilan Range near Fremont Peak. The entire route between Salinas and San Juan Bautista takes only about 30 to 45 minutes. Notice the decades old concrete road bed that is still the primary road surface along many sections of this route.
The focal point of this small town is the mission. Founded in 1797 as the 15th California mission, the first cornerstone was laid in 1803. The church was dedicated in June of 1812 and became the center for a mission servicing the local natives. Today, you can tour the church, gardens, cemetery and adjoining buildings. The buildings around the church include the priest's living quarters, now a museum.
The mission has quite a few little "quirks". As you walk through the church you'll notice cat holes cut in the heavy wooden doors to help keep vermin away. Additionally, on the tiles inside the church you'll occasionally see little animal footprints from when the tiles were originally dried int he sunshine outside. The San Andres Fault runs next to the mission and a cliff drops off from the side of the cemetery wall.
Tours of the mission and its grounds are offered, but must be scheduled in advance. The church, museum and gardens are open to the public and information booklets make it easy to enjoy the mission on your own.
About six miles south of San Juan Bautista you might notice Fremont Peak, a 3,169 foot summit, standing alone and bristling with several tall antenna towers. The 33 acres around the peak are designated as Fremont Peak State Park. This tiny park is home to an observatory, several small primitive campgrounds, perhaps two miles of trails, and a few historical markers. From the summit of Fremont Peak, you can see about 30 miles in every direction: Hollister, San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz, Moss Landing, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas and just about everything in between.
The peak is named after controversial US Army officer and former California Senator, John C. Fremont, who made camp on this peak (with some 60 US soldiers) in 1846. It is claimed he raised the first American flag on California soil on this peak during this visit, despite orders to depart the area immediately to prevent war between the US and Mexican-controlled California. Fremont was later named the first military governor of California, was one of California's first senators, and failed in a bid for President of the United States as the first-ever Republican candidate.
Entrance fee is $4 to park or $15 to camp. Unlike many California State Parks, no free parking is available outside the main entrance to the park.
Hollister was founded in 1858 and was originally intended to be named San Justo. According to local lore, some of the locals objected due to the fact that saints had a monopoly on city names in California, so they should name the town after someone less holy. Apparently William Welles Hollister was no saint....
Today the town is a mid-sized farming community with about 35,000 residents and is known for sitting astride part of the San Andreas Fault and for its annual Independence Day Motorcycle Rally (which was canceled in 2006).
Hollister is just a few miles east of San Juan Bautista along State Route 152. Between the two towns is some beautiful farmland in the Salinas Valley.
The area in from of San Juan Bautista Mission chapel has a large rose garden that I didn't even notice when I visited in the winter. But when I returned in July, the fragrant roses of all colors were in full bloom. They created a beautiful setting for this historic mission and the nearby farming valley.
Today many of the California Missions have rose gardens near the historic chapels.
The various rooms of the mission are largely devoted to a museum that has redecorated them into the style of the day. Original furniture and articles used during the day are on display and explained. Some valuable antiques, music scripts, and other documents are available for viewing under glass. Like many missions, San Juan Bautista has an admirable collection of indigenous baskets and other artifacts which are now priceless.
The state of California owns the hotel and stables, among other things, which can be visited for a small donation. The Mission itself of course is owned by the Catholic Church, although state law requires that it be maintained for visitors. In any case, the stables are open and have plenty to see. Carriages and saddles are the main theme, although the building itself, complete with tack room are also of some interest. There are a number of specialized saddles, such as the side-saddle ridden by women wearing full dresses of the day. There's also a small mountain lion mounted as a trophy. The donation box is mostly ignored by visitors, so a contribution would be nice.
Most mission plazas are long gone, in some cases having been paved and built over in the modern era, and in other cases, having been plowed under. The San Juan Bautista Plaza remains just as it was during the mission heyday, with pueblo era buildings lining the sides away from the mission itself. The plaza though is basically a large lawn. In the old days, the plaza would have been simply dirt, tamped down by the traffic and by ceremonial activities performed there. Besides the Mission, the plaza is lined by a hotel and horse stables, which today are part of the historical experience owned by the state of California.
I've strolled through the mission many times over the years, and yet there are objects and construction details that I've frequently walked by until recently. For example, the floor tiles in the main church are the originals molded by hand by the indians. Most missions have to replace the floor tiles with factory made ones from today. Also, in an alcove near the front door, the huge baptismal is the original carved by indian artists from a single block of local sandstone.
The San Andreas Fault runs about 800 miles along the coast of California and has been the source of the state's most devastating earthquakes including the 1906 San Francisco quake and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. This fault line separates two tectonic plates, the western-most slowly moving northwest and the eastern plate shifting south. When the plates "catch" on each other and temporarily stop moving, an earthquake is likely.
The San Andreas fault runs along the edge of San Juan Bautista, close to the old El Camino Real just below the mission. The 1906 earthquake destroyed some of the walls of the church, but they were restored and strengthened in 1976. Inside the church museum you will find a drum recorder seismograph which records movements of the plates in an attempt to accurately measure and predict future earthquakes.
The San Juan Bautista State Historic Park covers many of the historic structures of downtown San Juan Bautista except for the mission which is run by the catholic church. The main park areas include the Plaza in front of the mission and all of the surrounding buildings: the Plaza Hotel, Plaza Hall, Castro-Breen Adobe, Plaza Stable, Vicky Cottage, the old town jail, a blacksmith shop, and a cabin. Entrance to the park is $2, but you can see the outsides of all of these buildings for free.
In San Juan Bautista, sections of the original El Camino Real exist in their original location with a packed earth surface. Just below the mission is a small stretch of the road.
El Camino Real--the King's Highway--is a series of roads from San Diego to San Francisco which connected Spain's 21 missions, 3 pueblos (or towns located in LA, San Jose, & Santa Cruz plus a 4th established by Mexico in Sonoma), & 4 presidios (at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco) along the California coast. The first outpost on this trail--San Diego--was established in 1769 while the final mission at Sonoma was completed in 1823.
The missions were religious centers, run by a priest, for the purpose of converting the native population to Christianity. The presidios' main function was a strategic military fortification and barracks, primarily to prevent competing colonial claims from Britain or Russia along the California Coast. The pueblos were designed as towns to provide food & other support to the military presidios. The last piece of the intricate colonial structure of the Spanish was the ranchos which consisted of some 800 private plots of land land used for farming.
The modern El Camino Real is marked every 1-2 miles by a bell hung from a bent guidepost with a small sign reading "Historic El Camino Real." There are about 600 bells along the route today as it traverses parts of 14 different California roads, but most of the El Camino is US-101, I-280, and I-5.
SJB is just a tiny little town with a population of about 1,500 people. The entire downtown area is just about 1/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile long with most of the businesses centered on 3rd Street, just one block from the mission, the historic plaza, and the state park. The entire area along 3rd Street has a very old-fashioned wild west feel making for a very unique small town experience in a historic setting.
This little community has a wide variety of restaurants of all styles including Basque, German, Mexican, Italian, Steak, and even Chinese...very impressive for such a small town. There also numerous stores with arts and crafts, antiques, and other specialty stores.
Begun 1797, the Mission at San Juan Bautista was the 15th of the 21 Spanish missions in California. The current church building was built from 1803 to 1812, and today it hosts a small museum, gift shop, and an active church. You will also find a neat little garden with an amazing variety of plants and a cemetery out back, laid right beside the El Camino Real and almost on top of the San Andreas Fault.
Admission is $4.