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1906 installation of first El Camino Real bell

1906 installation of first El Camino Real bell

April 15, 1906: Raising of the first El Camino Real bell at Los Angeles Plaza near Olvera Street to launch the state’s first road marker program. 

In the next few years, 450 of the bells were placed along the original mission route from San Diego to Sonoma.

A story on the original El Camino Real bell appeared in the Aug. 16, 1906 Los Angeles Times:

Quaintly beautiful and picturesque were the ceremonies held at the old Plaza Church yesterday noon in dedication of El Camino Real and also in commemoration of the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the ancient and honorable pueblo of Los Angeles.  …

Father (Juan) Caballeria made the opening address and announced the object of the meeting. He spoke eloquently of the wonderful growth of the Golden State and the auspicious affair they were celebrating.

He told graphically of when the bare feet of the padre of a century ago trod the famous highway that stretched its entire length throughout the entire State and how the padres that followed in the footsteps  of the illustrious fathers of former days had endeavored to add their efforts to the building and growth of the great State.

A stirring scene followed the termination of Father Caballeria’s address. As he concluded Gen. Antonio Aguilar, one of the last of the old guard that fought under Fremont and was present when Los Angeles was taken by the United States troops, fired a salute and simultaneously the clapper of the bell on the sign post of El Camino Real was raised and throughout the city echoed the sounds of all the bells in the Catholic churches as they tolled in honor of the reopening of the King’s highway again to travel. …

This 1906 article was accompanied by three photos, the installed bell, Father Caballeria and Gen. Aguilar. These photos are no longer in the Los Angeles Times archives. (Many files and photos were lost in the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times.)

In January, 1948, staff photographer Frank Q. Brown copied the above photo from an unknown source. The image accompanied a Jan. 26, 1948 Los Angeles Times story on the El Camino Real bells.

The 1948 story reported:

They are trying to bring back its historic ring to “the highway of the bells.”

This is the El Camino Real, the trail the padres trod from San Diego to Sonoma and one of the world’s most famous highways. Remember the mission bells that used to line it?

That was a long time ago and now most of these guidons have succumbed to time and neglect until many have the idea that El Camino Real is a fictional path, just a thin line on legendary maps.

And this is why such organizations as the California Mission Trails Association, the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and others are working for the restoration of “the highway of the bells.” The highway is still there. But the bells aren’t.

Some 450 of these 100-pound iron bells mounted on staff-shaped steel standards 11 feet high once lined El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma. The first was installed with great ceremony in the Los Angeles Plaza on Aug. 15, 1906. Spaced approximately a mile apart along the El Camino Real, the bells each had a sign showing the direction and distance to the nearest mission.

But through the years things have happened. Workers widening the highway have pulled out the bells and forgotten to replace them. Rerouting of the highways in some places has left the bells standing lonely in a field and seen only by puzzled cows. Some of the bells have been stolen, leaving the crooked staff standing bare. A farmer is using one for a mailbox post. At another spot a service station has painted one silver and attached an air hose to it.

The original bells were made and installed through the zeal of Mrs. Armitage S. C. Forbes, who enjoyed the distinction of being the only bellcaster in the country. They were presented to the cities and counties in which they were placed with the understanding that those local governments would oversee their preservation. But local politics being what it is care of the bells eventually was forgotten in most localities.

Now the County Board of Supervisors, and even the State Legislature, has been aroused to realize the historic value of the bells as markers for El Camino Real and there’s action brewing for their restoration. …

This image also appeared in the Aug. 16, 2006 Los Angeles Times. The accompanying story by staff writer Bob Pool is online: Saga of the Bells Comes Full Circle.

Two photos of the El Camino Real Bell located at the Old Plaza Church in Los Angeles. Maria Louz Ramirez, left, on May 26, 1959, with the El Camino Real Bell. On right is a Jan. 22, 1949 image of Esther Tarin with the bell. Credit: Frank Q. Brown, lett image, and Jack Carrick/Los Angeles Times.

Two photos of the El Camino Real bell located at the Old Plaza Church in Los Angeles. Maria Luz Ramirez, left, on May 26, 1959, with the El Camino Real bell. On right is a Jan. 22, 1949 image of Esther Tarin with the bell. Credit: Frank Q. Brown / Los Angeles Times, left image, and Jack Carrick / Los Angeles Times.

BELLS FOR EL CAMINO REAL-California's historical highway, El Camino Real, will be marked soon by cast iron bells symbolizing the trail followed by the padres. Preparing some of the 104 bells are Julius Bognar, left, Ralph Buffon, manager of the California Mission Trails Assn., center, and Justin Kramer. January 17, 1963

January 1963: California’s historical highway, El Camino Real, will be marked soon by new cast iron bells symbolizing the trail followed by the padres. Preparing some of the 104 bells are Julius Bognar, left, Ralph Buffon, manager of the California Mission Trails Assn.,  and Justin Kramer. Credit: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA.

Sep. 25, 2016: El Camino Real Bell at the Gaviota Rest Stop on the northbound on 101 in Santa Barbara County.

Sept. 25, 2016: El Camino Real bell at the Gaviota rest stop along the northbound 101 in Santa Barbara County. Credit: Scott Harrison / Los Angeles Times.

1 Comment

  1. November 17, 2016, 12:35 am

    Scott's commentary are (is) so important to LAT archives. I hope he doesn't stop writing for Framworks.

    By: westcoastbob

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