More than 230 years ago the first European settlements-
a chain of 21 Spanish missions-were built on California soil. The Spanish plan was
to colonize this area with native inhabitants by drawing on their willingness
to help, along with their considerable skills and creative talents. All
this was done with the intent of ultimately turning over the missions
to these indigenous people.
Things, however, didn't work out as planned. With Mexico's
independence from Spain came secularization of the Missions, followed by
the American occupation. After their initial 65-year period of operation,
the missions, by and large, fell into ruin.
From time to time since the late 1800s, groups and individuals
who recognized the historical, sociological, and artistic importance of
these settlements spearheaded efforts to restore and reconstruct them.
In 1948, for instance, the Hearst Mission Restoration Fund was established
with a grant of $500,000. Yet until the late 1990s no single entity has looked after
the missions' long-term preservation and restoration needs.
Here at the beginning of another century, it's increasingly
obvious that time continues to take its toll on these precious landmarks.
Tiles crack. Paintings fade and sag. Earthquakes rumble. Thieves strike.
Termites and beetles burrow. Floodwaters rise. Adobe walls crumble.
Contrary to what many people think, 19 of the 21 California
missions are NOT funded by any governmental agency. Most rely solely on
charitable donations to keep their wooden doors open. That's one reason
why The California Missions Foundation was created-"to raise funds
for the ongoing historic preservation, and rehabilitation needs of the
With their influence evident in everything from art
to agriculture, music to architecture, the missions have played a significant
role in California's past. Without their presence in our future, this
Golden State would indeed lose some of its luster.