The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa
Founded September 1, 1772

Founding of the mission

Mission San Luis Obispo was founded on September 1, 1772 by Father Junipero Serra, Presidente of the California Missions Chain. It was the 5th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse. It is the only mission with an L-shaped church. The mission site was selected as it is midway between San Diego and Monterey. Father Serra left one priest to begin the buildings, Father Jose Cavalier.

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Local Indians

When Father Serra left the mission, there was little in the way of food. There were however, many bear. The Indians were grateful for the Spaniards guns that killed the bear as they were giving the Indians a terrible time. The Indians brought food to the soldiers who were helping out with the bear problem. In 1776, a group of hostile Indians attacked the mission with flaming arrows which set the tule roof on fire. The priests knew that a safer roof was needed thus the invention of the clay tile roofs which became standard in all of the missions. The Indians near the mission were from the Chumash tribe.

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Economy of the mission

The economy at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was similar to the other missions in that they planted crops of wheat and corn. They also planted vineyards, and raised cattle and sheep. The agriculture was needed not only to maintain the mission community and the nearby Indians, but was used for trade and served to visitors to the mission. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa supplied many of the other missions with bear meat which was very plentiful.

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The community
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Quadrangle

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa has always been the center of the community. The entire city of San Luis Obispo and even the county was built up around the mission. The mission has been the center and focal point of the city since the very beginning.

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After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it found that it could no longer afford to keep the missions running as Spain had done. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell all of the lands. They offered the lands to the Indians who did not want the lands or could not come up with the purchase price. The lands were divided into smaller Ranchos and sold to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. In 1845, Governor Pio Pico declares Mission buildings for sale and he sold everything except the church for a total of $510. After nearly 30 years, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church. Although some of the missions had already been returned to the church, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church and have remained so since that time.

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The mission fell into ruins during the period of secularization and the priest that were left would rent out rooms to help support the mission. The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa became the first courthouse and jail in the San Luis Obispo County. In 1872, during the 100th anniversary of the mission that improvements began. It wasn't until Father John Harnett came to the mission in 1933 that real restoration began. Harry Downie was in charge of the restoration and it was he who created the L-shaped church to accommodate more people at services.

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Current use
Click here to see a video of the Mission in the downtown setting.

The San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission is still the center of the busy downtown area. The creek by the mission which once supplied water to mission still runs by the main streets in the town and children can be seen playing in the water. The Mission functions as a parish church for the city of San Luis Obispo and although many changes have come to the mission, it remains the center of town.

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Graphic tour
See inside the L-Shaped Church
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Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

1. Who was the founder of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa?

Juan Bautista de Anza
Gaspar de Portola
Junipero Serra
Father Palou

2. Mission San San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded....?

September 1, 1772
September 21, 1769
May 5, 1783
June 14, 1804

3. Who was the Mission named after?

an explorer
St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse
a Franciscan priest
Fr. Junipero Serra

4. Why was the location of the Mission important?

It was near water
It was midway between San Diego and Monterey
The Indians requested the site
There were no enemies nearby

5. Who did the actual building of the missions?

construction companies
the priests
the soldiers
the local Indians

6. What happened to the missions in 1834?

They opened
The Indians took over

7. Who was in charge of the restoration of the Mission?

Father John Harnett
Father Martinez
Sir Harry Downie
Franciscan Priests

8. Who was left in charge of the original building of the Mission?

Don Francisco Reyes
Pio Pico
Father Jose Cavalier
Father Serra

9. What happened in 1845?

An earthquake
The Mission was burned to the ground
The Mission was sold for $510.00

10. What did Abraham Lincoln agree to in 1863?

Formally return the Mission lands to the Church
Run for President of the United States
Visit the San Antonio de Padua Mission
force the Indians to leave the Mission

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The Mission Page | The Assessment Page |Main Page

Other San Luis Obispo sites:

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions Interactive Homepage

California Missions

California Mission - History and Facts

California Missions

This project written by Rob Garretson in partial fulfilment of the Master's of Arts Degree from Cal Poly Pomona

Please send questions and/or comments to Mr. Garretson

This page last updated on February 28, 2015