Makeover restores appeal of El Camino Real bell


Previously a kaleidoscope of colors, the El Camino Real bell in front of Brett’s BBQ in Encinitas now sports the classic Dunn Edwards “Real Glory” turquoise befitting the historical landmark.

The original El Camino Real, or “the King’s Highway,” was a footpath traveled by the original “Padres,” linking missions, Spanish forts and towns, 700 miles from the Presidio in San Diego north to Sonoma. With the advent of the automobile, the route was gradually replaced with highways, including US 101.

A movement to mark the historical Spanish path with mission bells on shepherds’ staffs began in the 1890s as the Camino was becoming lost to development.

The first El Camino Real bell was placed in 1906 in front of the downtown Los Angeles Old Plaza Church, followed soon after by installation of 450 cast iron bells by 1915. As these fell into disrepair, the California State Automobile Association assumed responsibility for maintenance. By 1960, only 75 bells were still standing because of theft, highway construction and development.

The state legislature appointed Caltrans in 1974 to repair and replace the bells, and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Adopt-a-Bell program further spurred progress with the bells. A federal grant in 2000 allowed Caltrans to restore and install new bells from Orange County north to San Francisco — 568 in all — but San Diego county was not included in the project, as most bells in this area were on local streets outside state jurisdiction.

As part of a De Anza Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution historic preservation project, 24 El Camino Real bells in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Del Mar and Leucadia were located and photographed. Many area bells were installed in conjunction with the 2006 centennial of the 1906 bell. However, nearly all are faded, rusted, or corroded and in need of restoration.

The El Camino Real bell at Brett’s BBQ at one time was painted red and yellow to match Pat and Oscar’s restaurant, and later black to fit the color scheme of Brett’s BBQ. Time and coastal weather took its toll until the bell became a mixture of red, yellow and faded black.

With donated services by Manny Sinatra of Sinatra Painting, De Anza Chapter DAR funded restoration of Brett’s BBQ bell to the classic mission bell color. Sinatra, a fourth-generation painter and Encinitas business owner since 1976, has a special interest in the preservation of the Encinitas bells and also refurbished six bells along Coast Highway 101.

Bruce Weisman, owner of Brett’s BBQ, was unaware of the bell’s significance in California’s Spanish heritage, but now smiles with pride at the beautifully restored marker.

Daughters of the American Revolution is a nonprofit, nonpolitical volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to preserving American history, promoting patriotism and securing America’s future through better education.

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