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The padres blessed the site, and with the aid of their military escort fashioned temporary shelters out of tree limbs or driven stakes, roofed with thatch or reeds (cañas).
It was these simple huts that ultimately gave way to the stone and adobe buildings that exist to the present.
They have become a symbol of California, appearing in many movies and television shows, and are an inspiration for Mission Revival architecture.
Once empowered to erect a mission in a given area, the men assigned to it chose a specific site that featured a good water supply, plenty of wood for fires and building materials, and ample fields for grazing herds and raising crops.
Each frontier station was forced to be self-supporting, as existing means of supply were inadequate to maintain a colony of any size.
California was months away from the nearest base in colonized Mexico, and the cargo ships of the day were too small to carry more than a few months’ rations in their holds.
The cuadrángulo was rarely a perfect square because the missionaries had no surveying instruments at their disposal and simply measured off all dimensions by foot.
Some fanciful accounts regarding the construction of the missions claimed that underground tunnels were incorporated in the design, to be used as a means of emergency egress in the event of attack; however, no historical evidence (written or physical) has ever been uncovered to support these assertions.
At the peak of its development in 1832, the coastal mission system controlled an area equal to approximately one-sixth of Alta California.