San Gabriel

‘It's Heartbreaking': Historic 249-Year-Old San Gabriel Mission Damaged in Fire

Extensive damage was reported to the roof and inside the building, a significant part of Southern California's history

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An early morning fire caused extensive damage Saturday to the nearly 250-year-old San Gabriel Mission, a landmark in the history of Southern California that contains artifacts dating to the late 1700s.

Details about the cause of the fire at the historic mission at 428 South Mission Drive in San Gabriel were not immediately available. 

No injuries were reported. The San Gabriel Fire Department said there was no evidence of arson.

"It's heartbreaking," Capt. Antonio Negrete, public information officer for the San Gabriel Fire Department, told the LA Times.

The fire was reported at about 4:30 a.m. Firefighters arrived to find flames inside the church building.

Negrete told the Times that the roof of the Mission is completely gone. The interior up to the altar is destroyed, he said.

The altar is the original, which was handcrafted in Mexico City and brought to the Mission in the 1790s. The interior is filled with items of historic importance, including handcarved statues brought to Southern California from Spain in the 1790s.

The front of the San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel is pictured on Sept. 23, 2015.

The building's floors, walls and domed ceiling are original.

"Friends, I was deeply troubled to learn that the historic San Gabriel Mission church in Los Angeles was seriously damaged by a fire early this morning," Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, tweeted.

Archbishop José H. Gómez was at the scene of the devastating fire Saturday morning. He tweeted photos of the damage, including one that showed the devastation inside the building.

"Pray for this land that you helped to found," Archbishop Gomez tweeted.

It's a tragic loss for our city. It's our city identifier. We're trying to cope with it.

Capt. Antonio Negrete, public information officer for the San Gabriel Fire Department

"During the course of the fire, portions of the roof fell upon the firefighters,'' Negrete told the Times. "They were evacuated and initiated a defensive
fire attack."

The fire was knocked down at about 6:50 a.m.

"It's a tragic loss for our city. It's our city identifier,'' he said. "We're trying to cope with it."

The church's interior wall had just been redone about a week ago and pews were installed as part of a renovation to mark the 1771 founding, said Terri Huerta, a spokeswoman for the Mission. She called it a "little bit of a miracle" that firefighters prevented flames from reaching the altar.

The church was scheduled to reopen next weekend after a four-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mission was founded on Sept. 8, 1771 and became a site of significant historic importance in Southern California. Built with stone, brick and mortar, it's considered one of the best preserved Missions in California.

It was damaged in an 1804 earthquake, forcing its arches to be taken down so a new roof could be installed. Another earthquake damaged the building in 1812, destroying the bell tower. The 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake also caused damage, as did the 1994 Northridge quake.

The church was the fourth mission established throughout California by Franciscan priest Junipero Serra, the Roman Catholic priest criticized for his mistreatment of Native Americans. Statues of him have been defaced in protest for years, and statues in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento were among those toppled during recent protests for social justice.

The San Gabriel Mission moved its bronze statue of Serra from the front of the church to a location out of public view.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez announced plans for an
11 a.m. Mass at the Mission Sunday and said a fundraising campaign is
already underway to rebuild as the church's 250-year anniversary approaches.

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