Monday, August 5, 2013

California Research Adventure: Day 33

Day 33: Orange County

Dana Point, Orange County

As promised, I decided for my last big trip of this adventure to explore "the OC," otherwise known as Orange County. Trying my best to steer clear of everything I so dislike about the OC—all of which I have deduced, of course, from television and movies—I traveled as far south in the OC as possible, to explore what is perhaps a more quiet and subtle corner of this county that pulses with three million people, many of them white and unusually affluent. I visited, first, San Juan Capistrano, home to the "Jewel of the Missions," and then, Dana Point, named for the great nineteenth-century travel writer Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

San Juan Capistrano

After visiting the San Buenaventura mission last week, I was consequently much more impressed by my visit to San Juan Capistrano. Here there remains a lot more left of what used to be, and the interpretation is also a lot better: San Juan Capistrano has an excellent audio guide that helped me better understand what I was looking at as I moved through the site.

The mission dates back to 1776. Not everything we saw there was from the 1770s, but there certainly were a variety of ruins and other material culture dating back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These are, to date, some of the oldest buildings I have seen in all of California. 

 Inside the mission...

An old doorway / passage into the main courtyard

An old walkway

The exhibits at the mission were not amazing—not as exciting as just walking through the centuries-old spaces and hearing about the history on the audio guide—but there was some useful information to be gleaned from the exhibits.

The mission has done a good job reminding visitors that just about everything we see on the site was built with Indian labor, and a super-majority of the people who lived in San Juan Capistrano in the Spanish and Mexican periods were Native Americans. This is an important corrective to the alternative, which is an interpretation that glorifies the missionaries while ignoring the Indians. The exhibits at the mission also do justice to the site's long history after secularization (in the 1830s). I learned that Abraham Lincoln signed the law that gave the California missions back to the Catholic Church. (I guess they were expropriated during the Mexican-American War?) Anyway, I did not see any references to Hawaiians having lived or worked at the mission in the early nineteenth century, and there is no record of Hawaiians here in the Early California Population Project Database I've been using at the Huntington Library. So perhaps no Hawaiians did cross paths with the San Juan Capistrano mission. But wait... not so fast... there is still something very "Pacific" here...

Reproduction of a mission register. These books are where one might look to find evidence of Hawaiians interacting with the Spanish missions. Thankfully all this data has been digitized in the Early California Population Project Database at the Huntington.

A map showing present-day Orange County, and how the mission lands were secularized and alienated in the Mexican era (1820s-1840s)

An old roof—from the eighteenth century—shows evidence of Indian labor and relatively simple technologies: wooden beams and reeds.

Pacific history is most in evidence in the "industrial" section of the mission. Here is the story of how the missions made their money—largely by raising cattle and selling cattle products—and, in turn, how the missions became interdependent with a transoceanic trade that includes Hawaiian goods and Hawaiian labor.

A cow hide. It would come to be called a "California banknote" in the Mexican period. Many Hawaiian workers carried these on their heads to ships offshore, at least that is according to Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

The "industrial" sector of the mission economy: tallow vats are seen in the foreground for turning cow parts into candles.

Four brick vats for tanning cattle hides...

A ring in the industrial area where hides were staked out to dry...

An eighteenth-century furnace—said to be the oldest furnace in all of California!

Anyway, next time you see an illustration or photograph of early- to mid-nineteenth century New Englanders wearing leather shoes or leather belts, or anything made of leather, there's a chance that cowhide came from this mission, or any of the other mission "industrial" centers running up along the coast of Mexican Alta California.

Another industry at the mission was viniculture: making wine! I was surprised to find out about this.

 A brick pit for making wine

Grapevines in the mission garden

Finally, it's not a visit to a Spanish mission without a visit to the church, of course:
Votive candles in the entryway of the 1770s church at the mission... said to be the oldest church still standing in all of California.

Church interior, built in the late eighteenth century

The altarpiece, which apparently was installed in the twentieth century, but itself dates back to the early seventeenth century. It was made in Spain.

In some ways, I enjoyed the church at the San Buenaventura mission more, perhaps because there were less tourists there and the place was quiet and mystical in a way that the San Juan Capistrano church with all its interpretation and people was not. Neither church matched the splendor of what we saw throughout Peru, but then again, Alta California was about as remote as things got for the Spanish Empire in the Americas. The fact that these churches were even built in the late eighteenth century is an amazing (although perhaps tragic, depending on your interpretation) story of frontier colonization.

But finally, even if you thought that all the above was cool enough—and it is—to make a visit to the mission at San Juan Capistrano worth it, there is yet more. Another church was built at the mission in the early nineteenth century, but it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The ruins have stood at San Juan Capistrano for over two hundred years, and some consider them to be the most sublime ruins in all of the United States. Certainly, for being in what is now U.S. territory, they are pretty damn good ruins, as "ruins" is not something that the United States particularly excels in. (Then again, if we're playing this "whatever-is-in-the-contemporary-United-States-counts" game, I'd argue that the heiau of Hawaiʻi should be near the top of any list of most impressive "ruins," too.)

Ruins of the stone church

Behind the altar of the stone church

Ruins of the stone church

Ruins of the stone church

Ruins of the stone church

Ruins of the stone church

That was it for the mission. I spent about two hours there. Afterwards I wandered onto the street and waited for an OCTA bus. This was problematic, of course, for everyone in the OC has a car (or two, or three), and so it appears to me that the bus system is horrible, not by any fault of its own but because the streets are so clogged with traffic, even on a Saturday morning. There are just too many people with cars, and so the buses are regularly thirty to forty minutes behind schedule. Also, the bus I needed only came around every forty-five minutes to begin with, so I ended up sitting outside in the blazing sun for a good thirty minutes or so waiting for the next bus to come by and take me to Dana Point.

Dana Point

Just some miles downhill from San Juan Capistrano along the coast is the city of Dana Point. I'm not sure it was called anything before the 1830s—before Richard Henry Dana Jr. came here and wrote about this place (in Two Years Before the Mast) and then people started calling it "Dana Point." But anyway, this is famously where Dana and his co-workers (including, not here but at other locations across the coast, Hawaiians) flung cattle hides down off the bluffs above the shore to the ships. These famous bluffs, immortalized in literature...

View of the bluffs above Dana Point harbor

But before exploring the bluffs and the ocean, I needed some lunch. So I went to Stacks. It is ostensibly a pancake house, but in reality they serve "local"-style Hawaiian food: that is, plate lunches, mac-nut pancakes, and the like. Always on the hunt for anything Hawaiian, it was a good choice. I got the salmon teriyaki plate lunch with rice and mac salad, a very "local Hawaiian" meal.

My plate lunch at Stacks Pancake House, Dana Point

After lunch I was extremely full and I needed some exercise to burn off those excess calories! So, I decided I would do some bluff-hiking above Dana Point, searching for the famous statue of a man throwing a cattle hide over the cliff's edge. I never found this statue, but I did get some good exercise going up and down the bluffs looking for it!

View of Dana Point harbor from the bluffs

After all that hiking, my next goal was to visit the Ocean Institute. I thought they might have interesting exhibits about Dana Point and its marine ecology. Well, they didn't really. I mean, it might be a nice place to come with your kids, but there wasn't a lot there for adult learners like me. And after learning about marine ecology at the California Science Center, the Ocean Institute did not appear favorably in comparison. Nevertheless, they do have a replica of the Pilgrim, the ship that Richard Henry Dana, Jr. traveled on in the 1830s!

The Ocean Institute is the complex of buildings at center

Replica of the Pilgrim, circa 1830s

Creatures at the Ocean Institute

Creatures at the Ocean Institute 

Creatures at the Ocean Institute 

Creatures at the Ocean Institute

 After wandering through the Ocean Institute, I then decided to go for a hike along the coastline. It was nice to finally get away from the roads and beaches and bikini-clad bathers for a moment, and reconnect with the coast the way I like it: rocky and sublime, overrun with birds and seaweed. I found a rock near the tide on which to sit and watch the pelicans fly by. I befriended a cormorant. I made good use of my binoculars, which was especially rewarding in watching the pelicans.
My friend the cormorant

My friend the cormorant

After sitting along the shore for about thirty minutes, I decided it was time to head back to San Juan Capistrano. I had taken the Amtrak train in from Los Angeles that morning (an 80-minute ride, or thereabouts), and I needed to catch the train back to L.A. later in the afternoon. So I walked all the way back to the OCTA bus, waited a good forty-five minutes for a bus to come round, then rode back upland to San Juan Capistrano. With an hour left to kill before my train departure, I decided to visit the Los Rios Street Historic District near the San Juan Capistrano train station. There I discovered a 1790s adobe house, apparently one of the oldest adobe houses in all of California. So that was cool! I got an iced tea and a vegan cookie at a nearby coffeehouse and waited for the train...

Montanez Adobe, c. 1790, San Juan Capistrano

 I got back to L.A. around 7pm, and I was back at my hotel in Pasadena by eight. It was a very successful day! My last adventure in this iteration of the California research adventure.

I leave here in four days... so there will be one last installment of this series, probably a week from now when I am ready to look back upon my whole month in southern California and evaluate how it all went.

Thanks for reading!

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