Here’s a relatively easy one, straight out of the LAPL digital archives. Part of the California Historical Society collection, the above image is the earliest known photo of a famous Southland landmark. So can you identify it? Click “Read More” for the answer (as if you don’t already know it).
The Answer: You guessed it! This is the Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles (aka, Plaza) Church as it appeared about 1850. Even though it wasn’t the first thing the pobladores built, I thought this photo was appropriate to mark the city’s 227th birthday.
What? A little tardy you say? L.A.’s birthday was actually three days ago?
Well, yes and no. To quote historian Antonio Rios-Bustamante’s An Illustrated History of Mexican Los Angeles…
As far as can be determined from existing information, the September 4, 1781, foundation date of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was fairly arbitrary. Although it is definitely the establishment date indicated by Governor De Neve in all legal documents and community reports, there is no evidence to suggest that any formal ceremony (secular or religious) took place on September 4th.
Another Myth Bites the Dust
In fact, many contemporary scholars now doubt the popular tale that has the 44 pobladores, accompanied by a four-soldier escort, making a dusty Sept. 4th trek from Mission San Gabriel to what would become the plaza of their new town.
Instead the evidence suggests they trickled in during August through perhaps October, although a good number of the city’s first families did apparently arrive on the official founding date. (The military escort, however plausible, remains a matter of debate.)
Whatever the case, a letter from Gov. De Neve to his superior, Teodoro de la Croix, dated Oct. 29, 1781, reports everyone in place and, “having finished the Zanja Madre [Mother Ditch] are continuing with building their houses and also corrals for their stock.”
The Slow Rise of La Placita
Erecting a church was lower on the priority list. During the earliest days, Mission San Gabriel remained the town’s parish, with the Spanish missionaries visiting a small chapel attached to a garrison that guarded the original plaza.
Just like the plaza itself, the chapel was relocated two, possibly three times, due to flooding. The cornerstone for the present building was laid in 1818 and the structure completed and dedicated Dec. 8, 1822, the year following Mexico’s independence from Spain.
In 1861 the church was remodeled and a Victorian bellfry added. In the early 1900s the tower was given the more fitting Mission Revival treatment seen here.