Spanish control of Alta California began in 1769 when Fr. Junipero Serra (1713-84) and Gaspar de Portola traveled north to San Diego from Mexico. Portola went on to explore territory up to Monterey Bay, becoming the first European to pass through what is now Los Angeles, while Serra stayed behind to establish the first of his nine missions. His second mission, San Carlos de Borromeo, was founded in Monterey the following year. This became Serra's headquarters and burial site. As a step toward sainthood, Serra was beatified during Pope Paul's visit to the mission in 1988.
The memorial to Fr. Serra resulted from an 1864 act of Congress, which allows each state to install statues of two of their distinguished citizens in the National Statuary Hall at the nation's Capitol. In 1927, the State of California established a commission to select the subjects and arrange for the placement of its two monuments. Haig Patigian of San Francisco (who later executed the statuary over the entrance of the old Richfield Building on Flower Street) was commissioned to do Thomas Starr King and Ettore Cadorin of Santa Barbra won the commission for Fr. Serra. Both works were dedicated in Statuary Hall on March 1, 1931. Later that year, the federal government gave permission to the Knights of Columbus to reproduce the statue of Serra for a commemoration of the 150th anniversery of his death.
Portrayed as bringing the spirit of St. Francis from Italy to California, Fr. Serra is draped in priests' robes and gazes at a cross held in his raised right hand while holding a model of Mission San Carlos de Borromeo in his partially extended left hand.
When the replica was dedicated in 1934 at cermonies attended by 4000 people, Mayor Frank L. Shaw accepted the statue for the city by describing it as "a tribute of our esteem for the great father of California, a constant reminder, too, of his faith, vision and courage." The monument, originally located in a traffic island at Sunset and Spring Street, was moved to its present location in Fr. Serra Park in 1955 when changes were made to the intersection.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, March 1999.