In the 1700's, the Spanish Empire stretched around the globe. Managing all theholdings was difficult, and when England and Russia became interested in the resources of Upper California, The Spanish government sought a way to establish itself more firmly in this faraway land.
The mission system was the answer to establishing outposts without great expense. It had been used in other Spanish territories, including Mexico and Lower California. The Franciscans, under the enthusiastic leadership of Junipero Serra, set out to begin a chain of Missions along the Californian Coast.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded by Father Serra on September 1,1772, and named for Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France.
With the aid of local Chumash Indians, tree boughs and pole were set up to make temporary buildings. As thecommunity grew, permanent structures were built: workshops, soldiers' barracks, and an infirmary.
Then from 1810-1822 Mexico revolted against Spanish rule. This time the mission received little aid from outside sources and had to fend for itself.
In 1822 Mexico won independence and California came under Mexican rule. The new government had many problems, and dealing with mission outposts was not a primary concern.
The original goals of the mission system were to turn Indians into citizens of the Spanish Empire and mission communities into self-governing towns. This was to be completed in 10 years. These goals were not fulfilled in California.
Indians had been decimated by disease and the mission communities had weakened. The Mexican government, not willing to spend more time and money on the failing missions, passed a decree of secularization.
By secularization the mission, the government was free to sell the lands. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was sold for about $500. Various rooms functioned as a jail and a courthouse.
In 1848, California became part of the United States. Archbishop Alemany petitioned the U.S. government for return of mission land; much was returned in the 1850's.
Since then, this Mission has functioned as a parish church for the city of San Luis Obispo that has gradually grown up around it. It has changed greatly; gone through architectural modifications even been made to look like a New England style church, complete with a steeple. In the 1930's, the Mission was restored to early mission style. As it appears today, the Mission reminds us of it origins and history.