Before the City of San Gabriel was founded in 1771, the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians lived in the vicinity in the town of Sibangna, a community of perhaps 150 or more men, women and children. These people were excellent hunters and craftsmen who placed an enormous emphasis on being closely connected to the natural world. Eventually, the Gabrielino-Tongva were incorporated into mission life because of the decline of traditional towns and the loss of hunting and gathering areas. The Gabrielino-Tongva have never left their homeland; they simply acclimated themselves to the changes in lifestyle and culture. Today, Smith Park is dedicated to them and their many descendants living in the San Gabriel Valley.
Spanish settlers were the first European settlers to claim the San Gabriel area because they were concerned about English incursions on the west coast. In 1771, Father Junipero Serra, the first president and founder of the Alta California Missions, founded the Mission San Gabriel Archangel. This mission was the fourth Franciscan establishment and the oldest European settlement north of San Diego and south of San Luis Obispo. The mission’s original site is now marked by a granite tablet (in September of 1775, the fathers moved the mission to its present site for better agricultural facilities). The Mission San Gabriel Archangel was the cultural, agricultural and spiritual center that in time inspired the founding of other communities. The mission provided food and shelter for travelers, and produced food for the presidio in exchange for protection from possible Indian attacks.
The Mission San Gabriel Archangel also contributed to the stability of other missions, especially the Pueblo de Los Angeles and the presidio of San Diego and Santa Barbara. This is why San Gabriel is called the “Birthplace of the Los Angeles Region,” and it is also why the City is considered the heart and soul of the Los Angeles area. In 1776, 200 men, women and children from San Francisco, under the leadership of Captain Don Juan Bautista de Anza, migrated to San Gabriel. San Gabriel was the first community within the Los Angeles area to be populated.
Through much growth and prosperity, San Gabriel survives as a strong, independent city willing to tackle any project or concern. In 1994, the City hosted a major regional festival in order to honor San Gabriel’s place in history with the revitalized San Gabriel Mission District. This multifaceted restoration project restored the historic and cultural core of the community.