San Juan Capistrano (/sæn
San Juan Capistrano is the site of a Catholic mission for which it is named, Mission San Juan Capistrano. When the Mission was founded in 1776, the region was populated by the Acjachemen band of Native Americans, called Juaneños by the Spanish. The mission was named after Giovanni da Capistrano (1386–1456), the Franciscan saint from Capestrano, in the Italian region of Abruzzo.
Giovanni da Capistrano, although raised to the sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church is documented by historical research by the Oxford University historian Norman Davies to have burnt to death more than 50 Jews in May 1453 in the Polish city of Wroclaw.
The city is the site of California’s oldest residential neighborhood, Los Rios. It is also the home of the oldest in use building in California, the Serra Chapel in the Mission. The area was the site of both the first vineyard and first winery in California .
In the 1830s, Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of the classic Two Years Before the Mast visited the area as a sailor engaged in the hide trade on board the ship Pilgrim. Describing the locale, which then included what is now the neighboring city of Dana Point, he gushed, “San Juan is the only romantic spot in California.” The area was also the locale of Johnston McCulley’s first Zorro novella, The Curse of Capistrano, published in 1919 (later renamed The Mark of Zorro after the success of the film of the same name).
The city is featured in a map entitled “Inferno” in Valve’s Counter-Strike series.
The city’s first mayor was Carl Buchheim.
The Cliff Swallows of Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is also known for its cliff swallows. The protected birds return during migration, which originates in the town of Goya, Argentina, around St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) each year. The day is celebrated by the city’s annual Swallows’ Day Parade and other festive events. The swallows leave around October 23, the former feast day of St. John of Capistrano. The 1940 hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”, written by Leon René, is a love song inspired by this annual event.
From 2009 to 2017, the famous swallows did not return to San Juan Capistrano. They instead begun migrating to and nesting in the Chino Hills of Southern California, north of San Juan Capistrano. They built their mud nests in the eaves of the Vellano Country Club, situated around a golf course in the Chino Hills just north of the Chino Hills State Park. Mission San Juan Capistrano officials stated that the swallows changed their route because the mission is no longer the tallest building in the area due to urban sprawl, and thus stopped attracting the swallows for nesting.
Realizing the city’s famous birds were no longer returning home, members of the Mission San Juan Capistrano enlisted the help of Dr. Charles R. Brown, a cliff swallows specialist from the University of Tulsa. In 2012 the first phase of a two step process began, where the sounds and calls of the cliff swallows were played throughout the mission to lure the birds back home. In 2015, the project continued with the second phase where a replica wall of a man-made colonies was built to give the birds a nest to return to. The nests were built to be very similar to the original nests made in the mission, prior to the early 1900’s re-stabilization. As of summer of 2017, the cliff swallows have happily returned home to Mission San Juan Capistrano and are still celebrated each year at the town’s annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair.
In 2018, the town celebrated its 80th annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair put on by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association. The parade is the end celebration of a three month Fiesta de las Golondrinas where the town puts on events to commemorate the migration home of the songbirds. The parade shuts down a portion of the downtown area to make way for floats, horses, and people walking in the parade. The event holds the title of being the longest running, and largest non-motorized parade west of the Mississippi.