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In 2016, let an array of tours and knowledgeable guides to lead you through San Juan’s vibrant past

Moments in Time By Jan Siegel
Moments in Time By Jan Siegel

By Jan Siegel

One hundred years ago, in 1916, Charles Francis Saunders wrote a book to encourage train travel to California on behalf of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads. In it, he described San Juan Capistrano.

“Two hours run by Santa Fe train carries you from Los Angeles to a flowery old-fashioned village mothered by the most poetic of all the Mission ruins, that of San Juan Capistrano. A portion of the vast establishment—in its prime, perhaps the finest link of the Mission chain—has been carefully restored, but most of the place is still a ruin, time stained and crumbling, well beloved of artists and poets. One of the rooms is used as a chapel, where religious services are regularly held—a resident priest occupying another part of the building as his living quarters.  Visitors are made welcome, and a guide who knows his business shows them about the lovely, broken corridors ivy-clad and rose-entwined, opens up musty old rooms with charming bits of hand-wrought decoration, and before the desolated altar piece of the roofless church, tells the story of the great catastrophe that brought ruin to the Mission on the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1812.”

This is the same author who years later would return to the Mission, meet Fr. St. John O’Sullivan and record the stories of our community in the book, “Capistrano Nights.” Saunders starts out in that book stating, “some years before I had been there (San Juan Capistrano) and fallen under its spell.”

Montanez Adobe. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Montanez Adobe. Photo: Allison Jarrell

We are fortunate to still have that “spell”—the historic charm of San Juan Capistrano. As the new year begins, this is a good time to remember our history by visiting the Mission and taking the Architectural Walking Tour and Adobe Walking Tour.

The Mission is open daily and still has “guides who know their business” to retell the tale of this landmark.

The Architectural Walking Tour, sponsored by the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library, is given on Saturdays and entails a two-hour walk around historic downtown San Juan Capistrano. Two hundred years of architecture is featured downtown—Spanish, Mission, Italianate, Monterey, Streamline Moderne and Renaissance styles are part of our history.

The Adobe Walking Tour, sponsored by the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society, is given every Sunday and involves a one-hour walk explaining the structures that still stand and those that are no longer around in this historic area. Family histories on these buildings are also included in the discussions.

For more information on all of these activities, visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano website,; the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society website,; and the city of San Juan Capistrano website at

Make your New Year’s resolution this year to spend a “Moment In Time” and reflect upon our local history.

Author’s Note: Let me start the New Year with a correction from the last article. The dates in the second and third paragraphs were 100 years off. They should have read: “The current church was built in 1778. On Oct. 23, 1778, Fr. Serra celebrated Mass, baptized and administered confirmation. By 1782, a permanent church was constructed on the site. Knowing that his health was failing, in 1783 Fr. Serra did a farewell tour of the nine Missions he founded.”

Jan Siegel is a 27-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 17 years. 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.

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