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Throwback Thursday | First Footsteps

Where you come from, where you call home – your roots – are a part of who you are. Welcome to the Live Like a Local series that will explore the roots of our hometown in Southern Orange County. We start with The Story of San Clemente, harking back to the first footsteps that were trod upon the soil of what would later be known as the “Village by the Sea.”

We welcome you to explore with us, as we experience the beautiful histories and homes created in our own backyard. Whether it be San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, or a surrounding coastal community, it is always a great day in Orange County! It’s that time again to throw it back to our beginnings.

A Beautiful Beginning

Our charming hometown was once just a handsome stretch of land. Who recorded it first in the history books? Let’s look back to what inspired the first historical sites and monuments that mark the beginning of San Clemente. It’s time to travel back to the past – to the late 18th century to be exact.

The First Expedition

Two expeditions were united in San Diego under Governor Portola, in what would later be called the Portola Expedition. Just think – this was 7 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. Traveling northwest, a picturesque band of 64 blazed the trail for El Camino Real in the summer of 1769. What they found was a charmed land full of water, native flora and fauna. The romance bloomed early in the lands that became the “Village by the Sea,” where these explorers not only discovered abundant wildflowers, but many roses that fit the Spanish mystique of later San Clemente.

The outskirts of our hometown, before it was San Clemente, were reached on the eighth day – July 22nd, 1969. The first baptism was officiated, an event that is said to formally mark the birth of the Christian faith in California. A famous diary excerpt from Father Crespi records the event:

Saturday, July 22. At about seven o’clock we continued over course towards the west…At about eleven o’clock, having traveled four leagues, more or less, we arrived at a pool of water…Near this pool we camped. Our scouts informed us that yesterday they had found two sick baby girls in the Rancheria. We therefore asked the comandante (Portola) for an escort of soldiers, and then visited them…

My campanion, Fr. Francisco Gomez, baptized the little girl, giving her the name of Maria Magdalena. Later on, we visited the other sick girl, who was badly burnt and seemingly also at death’s door. We baptized her under the name of Margarita…On account of this incident the soldiers called this place Los Cristianitos. I named it San Apolinario, and to others it is known as La Canada de los Bautismos, (Christianitas today).

The Landmark of History

What came next?  This historic event gave birth to La Cristianita historic site, La Cristianita monument and marker, and the christening of Cristianitos Road.  These things enter into our day-to-day lives, embellishing the beautiful picture that paints the humble beginnings of our hometown.  Let’s take a moment to reflect on how San Clemente celebrates the event of our discovery, the birth of Christianity in the region, and the first baptism.  

Here are 10 interesting facts that you may not know about our city:   

  1. In 1929, Father St. John O’Sullivan of the San Juan Capistrano Mission and Thomas F. Murphine, San Clemente’s first mayor, sent a letter to the Orange County Historical Society to erect a shrine to the event.
  2. A monument was erected after a surveying party examined the site and its historical significance shortly thereafter. 
  3. The approximate site where this first christening took place, La Cristianita Historic Site, now lies on the grounds of Camp Pendleton and requires guides from the Marine Base’s Camp Pendleton Historical Society to go see. 
  4. The site can be seen off in the distance from markers on the San Onofre Beach Trail, which lies nearby to the appropriately named Christianitos Road. 
  5. In 1956, the site of the first baptism was declared a historical landmark by the California State Park Commission, and a plaque soon followed in 1957, placed within the city limits of San Clemente and in cooperation with Orange County. 
  6. In November of 2013, the monument was moved from San Clemente City Hall to the Casa Romantica Cultural Center, where it now draws more beauty, attention, and public exposure. 
  7. For years, the people of San Clemente commemorated the historical event with the pageant La Cristianita or Fiesta La Cristianita.  At one point, it was critically acclaimed by Disney, starring famous writers and directors like Norman Wright (25 year resident of San Clemente), who later worked on stories for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Fantasia, and Bambi. 
  8. Back then, a parade down El Camino Real and Del Mar Avenue preceded a two-week festival that took place in Max Berg Plaza Park in North San Clemente.  The site was closer to where the monument previously sat. 
  9. Years later, San Clemente’s premiere event was moved to historic downtown for the ocean views and attention of non-residents.  The one-day block party still lives on today to celebrate our past. 
  10. We now have events like the San Clemente Fiesta Music Festival, in its 66th year, that are reminiscent of this historic celebration of our town’s beginnings.  It’s a time set aside to celebrate our colorful history and evolving culture!

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