San Gabriel Arcangel Mission was the fourth California mission. It was founded on September 8, 1771 near the present city of Montebello. Five years later it was moved to an even better site five miles closer to the mountains. San Gabriel became the wealthiest of all the missions. Construction of the buildings seen today began in 1796. Many local Native Americans worked in the Mission and converted to Christianity.
San Gabriel had many problems because of greedy politicians who wanted to steal the land and the valuables inside the Mission. In 1834 Mission San Gabriel was turned over to a civil administrator. Within ten years everything of any value had been removed. A local political figure, Pio Pico tried to sell the mission property to a friend but was stopped by the arrival of U. S. troops.
The church at old Mission San Gabriel was heavily damaged by the Whittier earthquake. Now the damage has been repaired and the entire structure strengthened. Other areas are continually being restored. The church is open to the public and has many features that would be of interest. It has an ancient cemetery, in which the bodies of many of the early fathers are buried. There is also the cactus garden. You can also see the original way that the Mission was part of the local economy. There are soap making vats, wine making equipment, and a place where cow hides were made into valuable leather goods. There is also a very old collection of furniture, priestly garments and old bibles.