San Gabriel Mission burns

By Glenn Barnett

Firefighters arriving on scene found the attic timbers and the roof fully engulfed in flames.

In the early morning of July 11, a fire alarm rang in the historic San Gabriel Mission. The San Gabriel Fire Department rapidly responded. Neighboring departments also answered the alarm, including Monterey Park, Arcadia, Pasadena, South Pasadena, and an engine company from Alhambra Fire Station #71.

Firefighters arriving on scene found the attic timbers and the roof fully engulfed in flames. Like the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the Mission church was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire. The Mission was planning for the celebrations of its 250th anniversary and like the famous French Cathedral, it was the dry wooden beams of the ceiling that burned.

Fortunately, many of the most valuable and sacred adornments had been removed during the renovations, including wall hangings made by pious Gabrielino people that are over 200 years old. The original church altar survived the fire and the collapse of the burning ceiling. The adobe walls of the mission withstood the flames much better than the stone walls of Notre Dame. With a wary eye on the collapsing ceiling, Alhambra firefighters assisted their San Gabriel counterparts in removing the sacred objects that were still inside the building.

The Mission, founded in 1771, and built on the current site in 1776, is the oldest building in continual use in the greater Los Angeles area. In L.A.’s Catholic community it is known as “the Mother Church.” For generations of families in the San Gabriel-Alhambra area, the Mission has served as the site of worship, weddings, baptisms, funerals, school, and as a social center. For local school children, it is the site of field trips and for visits by tourists from around the world.

The recent fire is not the first event to cause damage to the Mission. Earthquakes in 1804, 1812, and more recently a major earthquake in 1987 brought the community together to rebuild and reinforce the Mission church. Like Notre Dame, the response to the current disaster is being met by community commitment to once again rebuild and restore this most historic of local buildings.

Information about contributing to the Mission’s rebuilding fund can be found at the San Gabriel Mission website or https://parish.sangabrielmissionchurch.org/apps/news/article/1255205.


San Gabriel Missionfirefirefightersattic timbersrenovationsrebuild

Nov 2021


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