By Jan Siegel
The year 2020 was certainly the year everyone would like to forget. Because of the pandemic, the city was in a lockdown, was open, was closed, was open, was closed. The city had very little control over what could and could not take place. The governor selected the businesses that could be open or be closed. Of course, one of the biggest events that could not take place last year was the Swallows Day Parade. And here we are in 2021. It is March. And again, there is no Swallows Day Parade. What makes it so sad is that this is the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of San Juan Capistrano as a city. It should be a year of celebration.
In the Swallows Day edition of the Coastline Dispatch in 1986, Ed Chermak, one of the city’s first councilmen, recalled the early days of the Mission church, when there was no regular priest. The trappings used during the Mass were kept at the Rios home. Visiting priests would go to the home to put on the vestments and then walk to Serra’s Chapel. “One Swallows Day in about 1952, we wanted to rejuvenate that procession. So, we saddled up two horses and reenacted the march with a banner. The second year, we had about eight horses and 40 people. At the time, the Businessman’s Association had the role of a Chamber of Commerce, and started setting up booths on Swallows Day to go along with the procession, and the whole event evolved into today’s non-motorized Swallows Day Parade.”
Father St. John O’Sullivan gave the story national recognition in his book Capistrano Nights. Then, in 1936, the first radio broadcast from the Mission awaited the arrival of the swallows, and it was announced to the world “that the skies were blackened with swallows.” According to Pam Gibson, in Two Hundred Years in San Juan Capistrano, “The swallows would have more impact on San Juan Capistrano than any other single event in the twentieth century.”
There had been talk of incorporation of the city since 1933, but nothing ever came of it. What really got the ire of the citizens of San Juan Capistrano was the building of a new high school in San Clemente and the tearing down of the high school in our town. A committee was formed to inform the voters of San Juan Capistrano with the facts about the issues of incorporation. The purposes of incorporation were as follows: 1. To confirm and establish the historic name of San Juan Capistrano; 2. To prevent undesirable encroachment or annexation by other cities or other areas; 3. To place future growth of the community squarely in the control of the inhabitants of San Juan Capistrano; and 4. To receive more direct benefits from tax dollars generated within this community. Also on the ballot was the election of five city councilmen, if incorporation passed. The election was held on April 11, 1961. The State of California certified the election on April 19, which is the date that the city declared incorporation. The five elected to the first city council were Carl Buchheim, William Bathgate, Don Dumford, Antonio Olivares, and Edward Chermak. The city’s population was 1,200. The vote was 358 in support of incorporation, 88 against.
This is definitely a time to spend a “Moment In Time” and reflect upon our past, our history, and our culture and how we can move forward in the next decade.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.