by Margarete Minar
Recently, the Heritage Park Museum received quite a weighty donation: An original El Camino Real bell. About 450 of these bells, were once placed along the historic El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma. They were cast in 1906 with the first bell being placed on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.
The El Camino Real was a trail blazed by early Spanish soldiers and missionaries in the 1700s, connecting the 21 California missions. By the 1850s, much of the El Camino Real had become overgrown and the missions were falling into decay. Around 1900, two women’s groups, the Native Daughters of the Golden West and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs joined forces to preserve the California missions and mark the historic El Camino Real. Mrs. Armitage Suton Carion Forbes (she preferred using her husband’s name) helped design the bells. The 11-ft high shepherd’s crook that holds the bell is a reminder of the walking stick used by Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions. Mrs. Forbes and her husband bought a foundry to cast them and formed the California Bell Company. (Source: Gloria Lenhart, SF City Guides)
This bell was very likely placed in Sunnyvale but no one knows for sure. For the past 50 years it has been in the patio at Pezzella’s Villa Napoli restaurant in Sunnyvale, on El Camino Real near S Mary Avenue. The bell had been given to Vince Pezzella by a friend of one of his sons because it was known Vince collected bells. It’s a mystery how someone could have come into possession of an 85-pound bell, but by the mid 1900s, many of the bells had fallen into disrepair and some were even stolen as pranks.
The third generation of the Pezzella family still runs the restaurant and they decided that now was the right time to donate the bell to the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum. As its final location, it will be reinstalled at the new entrance of the museum next summer.