Replicas of 1906 bell
mark El Camino Real
by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News
Camino Real, also known as the Kings Highway,
was a footpath worn by the Franciscan fathers as
they traveled up and down California in 1769
between the 21 missions they built. Eventually
the trail became wide enough to accommodate
horses and wagons, but it was not considered a
route until the last mission was completed in
Sonoma in 1823.
The 700 miles of El Camino Real joined the
Franciscan missions, the pueblos and presidios
in the early days of California. Now it is
incorporated into California Highway 101 and
passes through Tustin as it makes its way
between San Diego and Sonoma and is known for
its El Camino Real Bells.
With the support of the Native Sons and
Daughters of the Golden West and the General
Federation of Women's Clubs, the El Camino Real
bell was hung from a standard shaped like a
shepherd's crook in front of the Inglesia de
Nuestra Senora Reina (Plaza church) in Los
Angeles in 1906 in tribute to the work of the
Franciscan fathers and their leader Father
Designed by Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes, the 85-pound
cast iron bell was inscribed El Camino Real
1769-1906. The plan was to place duplicate bells
along the El Camino Real Highway, in front of
each mission and selected historical landmarks,
approximately one bell for every mile.
By 1913, 425 bells were in place including two
in Tustin. One was planted in the sidewalk a few
feet north of the corner entrance to the First
National Bank of Tustin at Main and D (El Camino
Real) and the other along Laguna Road which was
part of the 101 Highway south of Tustin High
School. Tustin's bells remained in place until
after World War II when D Street was widened as
part of a Highway 101 improvement project.
Removed while the work was being done, they were
not to be found when the job was completed.
Missing bells were not unusual. Despite
supervision by the Automobile Club of Southern
California and the California State Automobile
Association of San Francisco from 1921 to 1933
and by the California Division of Highways after
that, many bells were stolen or disappeared
during road work.
Los Angeles County could account for only 17 of
its 110 original bells in 1959. Two hundred of
the bells missing throughout the state were
recovered by 1963, but unfortunately Tustin's
bells were not included in this number.
The city had no bells when D Street was renamed
El Camino Real in 1968 to celebrate the 100th
anniversary of its founding. But the City of
Tustin remedied this with the cooperation of
various civic organizations by installing 12
duplicate bells along El Camino Real between
First Street and Newport Road in 1972.
Two bells stand on each block. A plaque on each
brick base identifies the civic group donating
it. The most recent addition to Tustin's bells
was dedicated near Camino Real Park in 1998. The
Tustin Area Woman's Club raised $500 to pay for
it with the Automobile Club of Southern
California providing a matching sum.
Working with the California Bell Co. which cast
the original bell, Caltrans has installed 555
original El Camino Real bells on Caltrans
property along Highway 101 between Los Angeles
and San Francisco.
© Tustin Area Historical
Society; 395 El Camino Real; Tustin, CA 92780
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