Historic bells to line El Camino Real
12 replicas will mark route used by Spanish missionaries to connect California’s missions
By Stephen Keller
ENCINITAS – The Encinitas City Council unanimously approved a plan Nov.
10 to install a dozen donated historic bells along Highway 101 and El Camino
The bells are part of a statewide movement to mark the route of the road that connected the California missions, said Peder Norby, director of the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association.
The plan was approved at the City Council’s meeting after being proposed by the city’s Cultural Tourism Committee. The plan calls for the city to allocate $20,000 to pay for the installation. The bells will be donated by local groups.
“People are seeing the value of preserving what they have rather than tearing it down and building more of the same,” Norby said.
The movement to mark the original path with bells in California began in 1906, but was a “hodgepodge, mish-mash” effort throughout the 20th century, Norby said.
City Councilman Dan Dalager said he remembered the old bells in Encinitas from when he was a kid.
Dalager served on the Cultural Tourism subcommittee that recommended the project.
During the last few decades, the bells fell into disrepair and disappeared.
The recent revival in Encinitas dates to 1998, Norby said, when the city began a joint project with Oceanside to maintain and improve the “rich history” of Highway 101. The state has declared the highway a historic route and Norby said the city is working on getting national designation as well.
“It’s the road that opened up the West Coast,” Norby said. Before Interstate 5 was built, 101 was the road people took up the coast, from San Diego to San Francisco.
Arlene Betti, former president of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, began pushing for the project in 2000. She came up with the idea while researching the history of El Camino Real, trying to find a way to spotlight the businesses on the street.
“We were originally going to put in six to eight bells, no more,” Betti said.
Since her presidency ended in 2001, the project has grown beyond that.
The installation of the bells next year, on both El Camino Real and Highway 101, has been the result of a collaboration between DEMA, the Chamber of Commerce and the city.
The Rotary Club has tentatively pledged to donate six bells and with other donations, about 10 bells have been paid for already, Norby said.
Caltrans has installed several hundred of the bells throughout the state, north of Hollywood where Highway 101 is maintained by the state. South of that area, 101 is maintained by local governments.
The bells will be designed to look like the originals and to match the others installed by Caltrans throughout the state.
The city will be buying the bells from the same company that created the originals in the early 1900s, California Bell Company
“It’s the exact same foundry, the exact same casting,” Dalager said.
“We’re hoping to have one or two of the original bells,” Dalager said, though they are currently held by private owners.
He said that “teenage preservationists,” or what others might call vandals, had taken at least one bell years ago.
The historic El Camino Real was a road built by Spanish missionaries to connect the missions throughout the state.
The California government has declared various highways throughout the state to be designated as El Camino Real, though these highways do not often match the original road.
“There is uncertainty of where they were located,” said Richard Phillips, an assistant to the Encinitas city manager. Documenting the exact route “would be the basis for a master’s thesis,” he said.
“We want to keep it as authentic as possible,” Norby said, but he also indicated that the project was more about capturing the spirit of the street than its exact markings.
City planners estimate the installation cost will be $1,000 to $1,500 per bell. Installation may begin as early as January 2005.
For more information about the El Camino Real Bells and Caltrans mission
contact the California Bell Company at (408) 741-1549 or visit them on
the web at www.californiabell.com