California History:  Missions and Temples

What's on this Web page:  18th- and 19th-century Spanish missions and mission outposts, 19th-century Chinese temples, and 19th-century Jewish synagogues.

Faith Building

What's one of the first structures erected by early settlers?  A place of worship, of course.  While the British and other Europeans built churches on the East Coast starting in 1607, the Spanish and the Chinese constructed missions and temples, respectively, in California during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Spain's Catholic missionaries were intent on converting the local Indians.

Spain established its first colony in Mexico in 1519.  By the end of the 16th century, there were Spanish settlements in Florida and New Mexico.  California was officially claimed by Spain in 1602 but never colonized until 1769, when a party from Baja California arrived at San Diego (England had claimed California as well in 1579).  The Spanish named the new acquisition Alta California or Upper California, an extension of Mexico's Baja California or Lower California.

The expedition followed the same modus operandi employed by Spain and other European powers:  a combination of military and missionaries--Franciscan fathers in this case, replacing the Jesuits who had founded similar missions in Baja California.  By the early 1820s, Spain had lost its hold on New World colonies; Mexico and other Latin American territories proclaimed independence from the crumbling Spanish Empire.

While the Spanish were the first Europeans to settle in California, the Chinese were the first Asians to settle in the Golden State and the U.S. in general.  By 1790, Sino-American trade had brought many Chinese sailors to the U.S. (direct trade established since 1784).  Earliest government records show the first immigrants from China entering the country in the 1820s.  The first documented Chinese in Spanish California dates back to 1815.

As a result of the Gold Rush (1848-1850), thousands of gold seekers arrived from the East Coast, the Midwest, Europe, China, and South America as California was ceded by Mexico, which had gained independence just 26 years earlier.  By 1870, Chinese Americans had worked and lived in all 58 counties of Gold Mountain, their name for California.  Except for American Indians and maybe Irish Americans, we know of no other group of people who managed to leave their footprints across 19th-century California in the space of a generation.

California Missions (founded 1769-1823), 21 total in series (California Mission Studies Association) (California Missions:  A Virtual Tour) (California Department of Parks & Recreation:  California State Parks) (New Advent:  click on F, then Franciscan Order) (The National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order - USA)


No. Name Location in California Landmark Status
1 Mission San Diego de Alcala (1769, rebuilt in 1931,, one of two mission basilicas San Diego, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 242, NRHP
2 Mission San Carlos Borromeo (El Carmelo) (1770, and gardens, Father Junipero Serra's (1713-1784) resting place Carmel, Monterey Co. CHL 135, NRHP
3 Mission San Antonio de Padua (1771, rebuilt after 1906, in Fort Hunter Liggett (, one of four missions in the hands of founding order Jolon, Monterey Co. CHL 232, NRHP
4 Mission San Gabriel Arcangel (1771, rebuilt in 1791, San Gabriel, Los Angeles Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 158, 161, NRHP
5 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772, and gardens, "Prince of the Missions" San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 325
6 Mission San Francisco de Asis (Dolores) (1776,, basilica next door San Francisco, San Francisco Co.* CHL 327, 327-1, NRHP
7 Mission San Juan Capistrano (1776, and gardens San Juan Capistrano, Orange Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 200, NRHP
8 Mission Santa Clara de Asis (1777, rebuilt in 1825, and gardens, site of the state’s first American school in 1847 and only mission associated with a school today Santa Clara, Santa Clara Co.* CHL 250, 338
9 Mission San Buenaventura (1782, rebuilt after 1793, Ventura, Ventura Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 310, NRHP
10 Mission Santa Barbara (1786, rebuilt in 1820,, "Queen of the Missions" and one of four missions in the hands of founding order Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 309, NRHP
11 Mission la Purisima Concepcion (1787, rebuilt in 1930s) in La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, one of two state-owned missions Lompoc, Santa Barbara Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 340, 928, NRHP
12 Mission Santa Cruz (1791-1857); half-scale replica at Holy Cross Church (1889) Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Co. CHL 342
13 Mission Nuestra Senora Dolorosisima de la Soledad (1791, rebuilt in 1954) Soledad, Monterey Co. CHL 233
14 Mission San Jose (1797, rebuilt after 1868) Fremont, Alameda Co.* CHL 334, NRHP
15 Mission San Juan Bautista (1797), one of two mission basilicas and largest of the missions San Juan Bautista, San Benito Co. CHL 195, NRHP (as part of Historic District)
16 Mission San Miguel Arcangel (1797, rebuilt in 1816,, one of four missions in the hands of founding order San Miguel, San Luis Obispo Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 326, NRHP
17 Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana (1797, rebuilt after 1971?) and gardens (now Brand Park [CHL 150,]) Mission Hills, Los Angeles Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 157, NRHP
18 Mission San Luis Rey de Francia (1798, and gardens, one of four missions in the hands of founding order Oceanside, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 239, NRHP
19 Mission Santa Ines (1804, rebuilt in 1817, Solvang, Santa Barbara Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 305, NRHP
20 Mission San Rafael Arcangel (1817, rebuilt in 1949) San Rafael, Marin Co.* CHL 220
21 Mission San Francisco Solano (1823, rebuilt in 1830s) in Sonoma State Historic Park, one of two state-owned missions Sonoma, Sonoma Co.* CHL 3, NRHP (as part of Historic District)



California Mission Outposts (1769-1830) (MissionTour:  A Personal Journey) (California Mission Studies Association)


Name (in chronological order) Location in California Landmark Status
Asistencia Santa Paula (1769 or 1782), now site of recreation center Santa Paula, Ventura Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 727
Santa Margarita Asistencia (c1787-1xxx), now site of private property Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 364
Asistencia de San Antonio (1816, Pala, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 243
Chapel of Santa Ysabel (1822, rebuilt in 1924) Santa Ysabel, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 369
Las Flores Asistencia (1823-1840s) San Clemente, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 616
San Bernardino Asistencia (c1830) Redlands, San Bernardino Co. (So. Calif.) CHL 42


Note that Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph is California's first non-mission church (CHL 910, founded in 1803 in San Jose (Santa Clara County*).  The first Protestant church in California (CHL 175) was established in Benicia (Solano County*) in 1849 by a Presbyterian missionary from New York; the marker is in City Park (

The first African American Methodist Episcopal church on the West Coast (CHL 1013, was founded in 1851 in Sacramento (Sacramento County,,,

California Temples (1840s-1900), 60+ total (U.S. Department of the Interior:  National Park Service—Links to the Past…select Cultural Groups under A Cultural Resource Subject, then click on Five Views:  An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California) (Web Pages of Kevin Baugh) (The Library of Congress:  American Memory—click on Immigration, American Expansion, then The Chinese in California) (Taoism Directory) (Taoist Restoration Society) (Buddha Dharma Education Association)


Name (in chronological order) Location in California Landmark Status
Temple (1849-1856) in Bidwell's Bar area (CHL 330) Oroville, Butte Co. ?
Tin How Taoist Temple (1852?, rebuilt after 1906); contains image of goddess, part of altar, and bell from original temple San Francisco, San Francisco Co.* ?
Kong Chow Temple (1853, moved in 1879, rebuilt after 1906 and again in 1960s?); contains main statue from original temple San Francisco, San Francisco Co.* ?
Weaverville Joss House State Historical Monument or Won Lim Temple (1853, rebuilt in 1874, | California's Golden Parks [] | Road Trip [] Weaverville, Trinity Co. CHL 709, NRHP (as part of Historic District)
Bok Kai Temple (1854, rebuilt in 1879,,,, | California's Gold [] Marysville, Yuba Co. CHL 889, NRHP
Temple (c1854-1859), now site of Shasta State Historic Park ( Shasta, Shasta Co. ?
Auburn Joss House (1855, rebuilt around 1860) Museum and Chinese History Center (,, Auburn, Placer Co. ?
Jackson Joss House (1850s?-1878, 1890-1912), now site of parking lot Jackson, Amador Co. ?
Temple (185x-1858?) Oroville, Butte Co. ?
Heungshan Joss Temple or Taoist Temple (18xx-1862, 1882-1960s); artifacts at 134 1/2 E. Washington St. (still?) Stockton, San Joaquin Co. ?
Joss House (1855?-1920s?, Silver Creek (near Quincy), Plumas Co. ?
Joss House (18xx-1880?), now site of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (,,; photograph in museum Coloma, El Dorado Co. ?
Temple (18xx-18xx) Sacramento, Sacramento Co. ?
Temple (18xx-1907) Oroville, Butte Co. ?
Chinese Taoist Temple (1860-1939); altar in Chico Museum ( Chico, Butte Co. ?
Chinese Temple (1862-1880s?,; altar in Nevada County Historical Society/Firehouse No. 1 Museum in Nevada City Grass Valley, Nevada Co. ?
Oroville Chinese Temple and Garden or Liet Sheng Temple (1863, new addition in 1968,,, [click on Community, then Sightseeing, then Chinese Temple]) Oroville, Butte Co. CHL 770, NRHP
Let Sing Temple (1860s, rebuilt after 1952) Bakersfield, Kern Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Joss House (1860s-1906?) Virginiatown (near Newcastle), Placer Co. ?
Joss House (1860s?-1929?); altar in collection of Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco ( Napa, Napa Co.* ?
Sam Yup Association Temple (1870s) Bakersfield, Kern Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Temple (18xx-1887) in San Jose's first Chinatown (now site of downtown) San Jose, Santa Clara Co.* ?
Cambria Buddhist Temple and Taoist Temple (1870s-1910s,, [click on Historic Tour, then The "Red House"]); temples became the living room and the kitchen in Warren family "Red House" until 1970 (closed to public) Cambria, San Luis Obispo Co. (So. Calif.) ?
San Bernardino Temple (1870s-1941) San Bernardino, San Bernardo Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Temple (18xx-1887, c1894-1xxx) in Old Chinatown (now site of Union Terminal?) Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Lewiston Taoist Temple (18xx-1xxx) Lewiston, Trinity Co. ?
Kong Chow Temple (c1880-1xxx), now site of public parking lot; marker on G St. between Kern St. and Tulare St. Fresno, Fresno Co. ?
Temple of Kwan Tai (or Kuan Ti or Kuan Kung or Wu Ti or Mo Dai) (1882 or as early as 1852, Mendocino, Mendocino Co. CHL 927, NRHP (as part of Historic District)
Joss House (1882-1885?); replica in Kern County Museum ( Bakersfield, Kern Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Taoist Temple (1885-1960s); altar room replica in Merced County Museum Merced, Merced Co. ?
Temple (1880s-1940s, [click on Specials Area, then Vacaville: The Past Century]) Vacaville, Solano Co.* ?
Santa Barbara Joss House (1880s?-1920s/30s); shrine in Santa Barbara Historical Museum ( Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Taoist Temple (1883-1911), replaced by new building that now houses senior center (Chinese Senior Citizen Center?) San Diego, San Diego Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Temple (1880s-1xxx, [search for "Chinese Remembered"]) San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Joss House (1880s?-1890s?) Susanville, Lassen Co. ?
Ng Shing Temple (1888-1949,,; replica with original altar in Kelley Park ( San Jose, Santa Clara Co.* ?
Joss House (18xx-1xxx) Mokelumne Hill, Calaveras Co. ?
Kong Chow Temple (1891-1948, rebuilt in 1960) Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Hanford Taoist Temple (1893, and Museum of China Alley | Road Trip [] Hanford, Kings Co. NRHP
Temple (18xx-1xxx), now site of Bodie State Historical Park ( Bodie, Mono Co. ?
Temple (18xx-1906) Pacific Grove, Monterey Co. ?
Joss House (18xx-1908) Tehama, Tehama Co. ?
Joss House (18xx-19xx) Downieville, Sierra Co. ?
Taoist Temple (18xx-1906?, [click on Historical Ventura], [click on Downtown Tour]) Ventura, Ventura Co. (So. Calif.) ?
Temple (1xxx-1xxx); photographs in the files of the State Historical Commission (?) Newcastle, Placer Co. ?
Chee Kung Tong Temple (1900-1920) Riverside, Riverside Co. (So. Calif.) ?
? (18xx-1xxx) Richmond, Contra Costa Co.* ?


Note that San Francisco Chinatown alone had about a dozen defunct temples from the 19th century.  Historical records show there was one more temple in Weaverville, Grass Valley, and Los Angeles, and Merced had two other temples at some point.  We are skipping these temples and others for now for lack of details.  Because historians believe there have been at least 210 Chinese American communities in California, the total number of 19th-century temples could be much higher than 60.

California Synagogues (1852-1861), 3+ total (The Judah L. Magnes Museum) (International Survey of Jewish Monuments)


Name (in chronological order) Location in California Landmark Status
B’nai Israel (1852, relocated to current site in 1954,; marker in sidewalk on Seventh St. between Capitol St. and L St. Sacramento, Sacramento Co. CHL 654
B’nai Israel (1857-1869); marker next to elementary school Jackson, Amador Co. CHL 865
B’nai B’rith (1861-1903, rebuilt in 1878) Placerville, El Dorado Co. ?


An asterisk indicates San Francisco Bay Area destination.  CHL means California Historical Landmark and NRHP denotes National Register of Historic Places.

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