The origins of the El Camino Real bells date back to 1906 when it became the ideal of a group of enthusiast to install commemorative bells along the entire length of the historic El Camino Real route.  Now a highway, originally the route was a footpath used by Native peoples for trade, and was utilized by the Franciscan monks on their northern expeditions to establish missions in California.  It is for this reason that these bells are often located near or on mission grounds. 

Today the bells continue to line much of the El Camino Real route; however, the purpose of the bells has expanded to encompass marking culturally significant places throughout California.  

El Camino Real Bell

Pictured in the photo on the left, is an El Camino Real bell located outside the El Adobe restaurant, a California State Historical Landmark, in San Juan Capistrano dating back to 1797.

The purpose of the restoration treatment was to clean and repaint the bells.  Another focus was to reposition the sunken bases and elevate the bell poles out of the soil where they would remain dry and corrosion free.  It appears that over the years, the concrete bases had sunk and subsequent gardening activities had buried several inches of each pole in moist soil.  Iron under these conditions will corrode aggressively and over time, the structural integrity will be compromised.

Before treatment photography shows the condition of both bells.  Besides common conditional issues of dirt accretions, faded paint, and corrosion, both bells had specific conditional issues.

Welcome Center Bell

The conditional photo to the left shows the bell located near the Welcome Center.  The photo shows active peeling of the non-original paint coating and the base largely obscured by plantings.

Portola Riders Bell

Seen in the photo to the left, the bell that accompanies the Portola Riders’ Memorial was found to have losses in the paint and much discoloration from lichen growth.  Removal of soils around its base exposed corrosion along the buried section of the post. 


Detailed photography below of each bell further illustrates the conditional issues mentioned above. 

El Camino Bell Before

MSJC Bell Before

Before Before

Facilities supported the project by providing the resources to elevate each bell.  Fortunately, little excavation was needed for both, as much of the soil that was removed was mulch and the portions of the bases that required access were not too deeply embedded in the soil. 

Bell Repositioning

Here Rafael Gutierrez and James Vaca repositioned the Portola Riders’ bell with backfill. 

Portola Rider’s Bell during repositioning  

New Base

As the base for the bell near the Welcome Center proved to be too deeply set into the ground, the new base was poured around the mild steel post.  Later an iron pipe extension was added to elevate the bell above the surrounding garden plants. 

The newly poured base for the bell located near the WelcomeCenter.


The cleaning portion of the treatment involved aqueous washing to remove dirt and debris, paint removal, solvent cleaning to remove paint stripper residues and a final aqueous cleaning.  After drying, each bell was further cleaned with solvents to remove any oily residues.   

Initial Wash

Here the Portola Riders’ Bell is rinsed after an initial wash with water delivered under medium pressure from a power washer.



Priming Portola Bell

In the foreground, a proprietary paint stripper is applied to assist with the removal of poorly adhered paint.  In the background, the fully cleaned Portola Riders’ bell is awaiting priming. 



Primer Application

The Portola Riders’ bell after primer paint application. 



Final Paint Application

The Welcome Center bell and post receive a second and final paint application.



After treatment, photography shows completed bells and the new, more formal, concrete bases.  The height and grading of these should ensure that no soils or water will collect around the poles to promote corrosion in the future.  The Gardening Angels also cut back or relocated excess foliage from around the Welcome Center bell making it more visible.

El Camino Real Bell After Treatment

Portola Bell After Treatment

The above photo shows the El Camino Real bell near the
Center after treatment.

The above photo shows the El Camino Real bell for the Portola Riders’ after treatment.

Welcome Center Bell After

Portola After

Close-up of the bell near the WelcomeCenter after treatment

Close-up of the Portola Riders’ bell after treatment