San Luis Rey Mission was founded in 1798 and is a National Historic Landmark located in Oceanside, California. It is a few blocks off the San Luis Rey bike path so we headed out for a family ride (30km round trip) to check it out… The history of the San Luis Rey area reflects five periods of occupation: Luiseño Indian, Spanish Mission, Mexican Secularization, American Military, and Twentieth Century Restoration.
The mission was established by Spain as a way to ward of the threat of Russian expansion. Spain had learned that land could be claimed inexpensively by establishing a mission and sending dedicated padres, a handful of soldiers and a few supplies.
With a shortage of Spaniards in the New World, Spain decided to colonize with the indigenous people. The Franciscans were chosen not only to preach to the Indians, but to teach them new skills so they could become productive citizens for Spain. Between 1798 and 1832 the mission became home to approximately three thousand Indians. In their name and as a result of their labor, the mission cared for over 50,000 head of livestock. Large sections of the mission’s lands were brought under cultivation. Grapes, oranges, olives, wheat, and corn were some of the crops produced. Fields were irrigated by water channeled from the river just north of the mission. The mission was self-sustaining; its buildings were constructed of local materials, such as adobe, fired clay bricks, and wooden timbers. By 1830, the mission was the largest building in California.
After Mexico won the war with Spain in 1821 each mission was given 10 years to fully educate the indians and turn over the missions and land to them. This did not end up happening at San Luis Rey and by 1833 the administrators had actually gathered more land.
From 1847-1857 the mission was used as an operational base by US military. In 1850 California became part of the United States and the Catholic Bishop in California petitioned for the return of the mission. Unfortunately after it became vacated by the military it sat vacant until 1892.
In 1892 a group of Franciscans from Mexico sought refuge in California and asked the Bishop for a site to move their noviate. They were assigned to San Luis Rey under the guidance of Friar O’Keefe. From 1892-1912, Fr. O’Keefe repaired the church and rebuilt the permanent living quarters on the foundations of the old mission (where the museum sits today). Restoration has continued throughout the years since Fr. O’Keefe’s death. Included in this has been the partial rebuilding of the quadrangle in 1949 for a Franciscan college which serves today as a Retreat Center. During the 1950’s and 60’s the Friars uncovered the soldier’s barracks and the lavanderia from layers of dirt accumulated over the years. In 1984 a restoration effort to stabilize and preserve the exterior of the church building was completed. Conservation of painting and sculptures in the museum collection is an ongoing process, and archaeological investigations continue to unearth the past.