Haphazard, running by Universal Studio and South Weddington Park, my eyes caught a mission bell above a cultural heritage sign, the Campo de Cahuenga. Instantaneously, my curiosity rose as I never heard about it before but passed by so many times. It appears that the Campo is a historical treasure. Indeed, the site records important phases of California history: Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American periods. More significantly, the capitulation of Mexico during the Mexican-American war was signed at the Campo de Cahuenga! Incredible!
A pinch of history
- Cahuenga refers to the Native Americans village “Kaweenga”
- …. and also to the low mountains pass called the Cahuenga Pass.
- During the Mexican period, inhabitants called themselves Californios rather than Mexicanos.
- The city of Los Angeles purchased the site in 1923.
The Campo de Cahuenga stretches between Lankershim Boulevard and the parking of the Universal Metro station. It’s composed of a patio, a new building and the remaining of the original adobe foundation. I went twice in a row to El Campo as I discovered during my first visit they were re-enacting, a week later, the signing of the 1847 agreement which ended battles of the Mexican-American war in California (see below the Mexican-American war period).
The new adobe is a recent construction from 1954 hosting an exhibit with lot of artifacts from the Native American period to the American period. Thanks to a paper guided tour, I followed the poppies around and their explanations on the different items. It was fascinating and a volunteer was there to provide some highlights and to respond to any questions. Likewise, I navigated outside thanks to signs featuring the different periods and influences. It’s a quiet and rich place to discover Californian History and Angelinos roots.
Native American: – 2000B.C. to 1769
The Tongva were the Indian group living in the “Kaweenga” village located nearby the current site. Called “Gabrielinos” (in reference of the Mission San Gabriel) by the Spanish, they traded soapstone and shell beads with others tribes and benefited from the rich natural resources of their surroundings.
Legend: Left: Arrowhead discovered during the archeological excavations. Right: grinding stone.
Spanish period: 1769-1821
In 1769, Spanish missions, presidios and pueblos expended as the Crown willed to expand its influence and power in California. The Campo de Cahuenga adobe was built during this period. It probably served as a cattle raising and grain storage for the San Fernando mission.
Adjacent to the patio are the remaining stone foundations of the Casa de Cahuenga. It was discovered during the construction of the Metro line. One part of the casa is now preserve at the Campo de Cahuenga Park, the other part is beneath Lankershim Boulevard.
The mission bells are also a symbol of this Spanish period. They mark the original route of “El Camino Real” (The Royal Road), a road connecting the Spanish missions in California. The original Campo de Cahuenga bell below is stored inside the building in order to preserve it. Replicas are standing in the patio next to the fountain and on the pavement outside the complex.
Mexican period: 1821-1847
As Mexico became independent from the Spanish Crown in 1821, so did California. Until 1847, the Campo was under Mexican influence.
Mexican-American war: 1846-1848
The Mexican-American war started on May 1846 when Mexico refused to sell the Southwest to the United States.
The “Treaty of Cahuenga” which ended the California battles was signed at the Campo. It gathered Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Frémont (American) and General Andrés Pico (Mexican) on January 13, 1847. The “Capitulation of Cahuenga” was an informal agreement between rival military forces.
The Mexican-American war ended officially a year later with the signature of the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo. Signed by Pio Pico, Andres’s brother, this truce also ceded Mexico’s Alta (Upper) California territory to the United States.
Born in San Diego, Andrés Pico was a rancher in El Pueblo de Los Angeles before the Mexican-American War. During the conflict, he commanded the Mexican forces. A US citizen when California became a State in 1850, he embraced a politician career for the California State being Assemblyman first, then Senator.
John Charles Frémont, son of a French immigrant, started his career as a topographer. After the Mexican-America
n war, General Stephen Watts Keany and J.C. Frémont feuded over California governance. Indeed, Kearny arrested Frémont, at the time Governor of California, as soon as his own authority was confirmed. Court-martialed for mutiny and others facts, his sentence was commuted by President James K. Polk. Nevertheless, J.C. Frémont resigned from the army in 1848. He settled next to Yosemite (California) and became multimillionaire when a vein of gold was founded on his land. Finally, as Andrés Pico, he started a politician career serving as a Senator from California and then being the 1st candidate of the Republican Party during the 1856 Presidential election.
Dona Maria Bernarda Ruiz Rodriguez played a major role during the “Capitulation of Cahuenga.” She met Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont in Santa Barbara on Christmas Eve of 1846. Ten minutes audience turned into two hours discussion. A diplomatic woman, Dona Maria appealed to Frémont’s political ambition to negotiate with the Californios. The truce terms she drafted included for instance the respect of property rights, the equal rights for all Californians and Pico’s pardon.
Every year, el Campo celebrate the “Treaty of Cahuenga” with a re-enactment play, fiesta dancers, cannon firing salutes, music and re-enactors camp. It’s a very festive, interactive and fun way to learn about this specific chapter of California history.
American period: 1848 and beyond
The current California State flag is patterned after the Todd Bear Flag. The later was the symbol of the Americanos rebellion against the Mexican authorities during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. The grizzly bear symbolize the “strength and unyielding resistance.”
From 1858 through 1861, the site became a station for the Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company, a stagecoach service carrying mails and passengers.
During civil war it was an encampment for Union soldiers. Later on the compound was one and off occupied. For example it was a pet hospital in 1923. In 2003 it was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Did you get the Gold History fever?
- Location: 3919 Lankershim Blvd., Los Angeles.
- Hours: Open only the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month.
- Every year, they re-enact the capitulation of Mexico with cannon firing, music and fiesta. Check the calendar!
- Cost: Free.
- Duration: I spent 1 hour to discover it.
- Parking: there is a small parking onsite (different than the metro one).
- More information available at: http://www.campodecahuenga.com/