Father John Molyneux of the St. Gabriel Mission.

After a devastating fire, the San Gabriel mission almost resumes

The 251-year-old historic site will temporarily reopen on Saturday, 26 months after arson destroyed the roof and severely damaged St. Gabriel’s Church.

Missionary clergy and staff gave guests their first look inside the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, after the fire, showing repainted and repainted adobe walls, windows reworked with German glass and new mahogany ceilings.

“Since the fires, there have been concerns about what our beloved mission will look like,” said 66-year-old parish priest Father John Molyneux. “I’m happy to say this will be very close to what parishioners had before the fires. experience.”

Father John Molyneux of the St. Gabriel Mission, which has not opened since a fire destroyed the building on July 11, 2020.

(Cristina House/Los Angeles Times)

Mission San Gabriel has not opened since a fire destroyed the building.

Mission San Gabriel, which has not opened since a fire destroyed the building on July 11, 2020, underwent renovations on Thursday.

(Cristina House/Los Angeles Times)

The San Gabriel Mission will host a private, invitation-only Mass on Saturday at 10 a.m. with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.The service will be broadcast live to visitors in the adjacent church and can be viewed online at https://lacatholics.org/jubilee/

The quest will then close again in order to restore the fine religious relics and frescoes behind the altar in a dust-free environment. Restoration specialists are still restoring the altar railings and pulpit.

The goal is to have the mission permanently open by early December, according to Archdiocese spokesman Adrian Marquez Alarcon.

Following the fire, the church and surrounding vineyards, cemeteries, gardens, museums and gift shops were closed. Weddings and fourth grade visits by docents are also discontinued.

“People from so many communities are very excited about returning to their mission,” said Terri Huerta, director of development and communications for the mission. “We just want to encourage visitors to manage their expectations. The mission is back, but it’s a little different.”

Much of what was damaged in the fire was salvaged and refurbished.

The pews move within the San Gabriel Church.

The pews were moved inside St. Gabriel’s Church, which has not been open since a fire broke out on July 11, 2020, as it underwent renovations on Thursday.

(Cristina House/Los Angeles Times)

Severely warped steel retrofit beams installed in the 1990s have been replaced, Huerta said. Restored three main chandeliers and a Wurlitzer organ donated in the 1920s. Some benches were fixed, while others were replaced.

However, the original tiles in the sacristy and baptistery could not be preserved because they were damaged by flooding following firefighting work.

Huerta estimated the total repair cost at $7 million, with insurance covering most of the cost.

The church also raised more than $400,000 to install track lighting and upgrade the sound system.

Mel Green, a structural engineer specializing in historic restoration, oversaw much of the work. Greene has been involved in restoration missions since the 1987 Whittier Strait earthquake damaged much of the church’s walls.

“From a very pure point of view, the building would look very much like the mid-1930s,” Green said. “We have a lot of documents and photos from that era that even match the paint colors used at the time.”

Shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday, July 11, 2020, a fire destroyed the mission, destroying the newly renovated church pews and severely damaging adobe and brick walls.

Workers repair the floor at San Gabriel Church,

Workers were repairing floors at St. Gabriel’s church on Thursday.

(Cristina House/Los Angeles Times)

A nearly year-long investigation has identified local John David Corey as the person responsible for the fire.

Shortly after the fire, churchgoers gathered in the concrete parking lot, where they prayed rosaries, shared stories and mourned the loss.

News of the church’s progress sparked hopes of a full recovery.

“Mission San Gabriel has always been a place of peace and devotion for my family,” said Mary Cammarano, 82, a 58-year-old parishioner and former lecturer. Camarano is scheduled to attend Saturday’s mass despite recent knee surgery that left her with pain and limited mobility.

Mission San Gabriel is often considered the spiritual home of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, as it was the fourth of 21 Spanish missions built in California in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the first in the region group.

It was founded by the controversial San Junipero Serra, whom some see as a colonizer and others as a protector of indigenous peoples. The mission, built by the Spaniards and Kizh Mission Indians of San Gabriel, was originally completed in 1771, just outside what is now Montebello, and moved to San Gabriel four years later.

It predates the founding of America in 1776 and Los Angeles in 1781. On Saturday, the mission will complete a jubilee celebrating 250 years of service.

Lizandro Corleto works with the San Gabriel Mission.

Lizandro Corleto works at the San Gabriel Mission during the renovation.

(Cristina House/Los Angeles Times)

Parishioner Ortencia Ramirez remembers crying as she stood on the church grounds investigating the damage the morning of the fire. That day she turned 68, and the idea of ​​a birthday candle was replaced by a plume of smoke billowing from her “second home.”

Now, more than two years later, Ramirez feels lucky to see the mission resume.

“A few days ago, they removed the scaffolding and the fence and it was beautiful,” said Ramirez, whose two children were baptized in the parish. “It felt like a family member came back to us.”

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