Mt. Soledad cross in La Jolla, California.

Crosses Didn’t Burn in Southern California Wildfires?

Southern California is dotted with large crosses displayed publicly atop hills, and photographs of those religious symbols continuing to stand while everything around them burned in California wildfires have regularly gone viral.

After wildfires tore through California in late 2017, for example, reports surfaced that the Serra Cross honoring Father Junipero Serra at Ventura’s Grant Park was “standing tall” despite the surrounding area being totally destroyed by wildfire. The cross was originally placed in 1782. The most recent cross was erected there in 1941:

Serra Cross honoring Father Junipero Serra at Ventura’s Grant Park survived Southern California wildfires in 2017.

During the fire, the station reported rumors of the cross burning down, saying: “It was easy to believe since everything around the cross at Grant Park, including power lines, was destroyed.” However, the following morning the Serra Cross was discovered untouched. Some described it as “a standing miracle,” but it was more likely the stone surrounding the monument and the base upon which the cross sits:

Shortly after the Mission’s founding, a large wooden cross was planted on top of a hill overlooking the Mission church. This highly visible cross served as a road sign for travelers in search of the Mission. The original cross was eventually lost to the elements and replaced in the 1860s. After the second cross blew down in a storm on November 5, 1875, it was not replaced for almost 40 years. Then, on Admissions Day, September 9, in 1912, members of the E.C.O. Club, a ladies service organization, erected a new wooden cross in the current location. The E.C.O. Club was dedicated to bringing culture and a historical perspective to the frontier.

The land on which the cross was erected did not become a city park until 1918 when Kenneth and Tonie Grant donated 107 hillside acres to the City of San Buenaventura. Over the years, there have been a number of improvements to the property surrounding the cross. The first roads leading up to the cross were built around 1920. As part of the festivities for the 150th anniversary mass on the site on March 31, 1932, the circular stone pedestal around the cross was built, as well as a concrete pathway up to the pedestal. Much of this is in place today with minor adjustments. In 1941, the city replaced the 1912 cross with the one that stands here today. The current park landscaping was installed by the Downtown Lions Club in the mid 1960s.

Similar Accounts of Crosses Not Burning in California Wildfires

And if a cross not burning in California wildfires sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is familiar. There were similar reports of iconic crosses defying the odds in wildfires there in 2014 and 2009.

In 2014, freelance photographer Ryland Talamo captured an iconic image of twelve-foot cross perched atop the Azusa mountains overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. The cross survived wildfires that destroyed the nearby mountains. “It’s almost shining through the smoke because the sun reflects off the white paint, thus increasing visibility even with all the smoke and ash in the air,” Talamo told Charisma News.

The cross did survive the fire, but was not quite miraculous enough to withstand time and vandalism. It held out until 2016:

The cross at the top of the Garcia Trail, which has withstood mother nature’s best the last few years, has fallen.

A couple of people who have been up there in the last few days have different theories on what happened. Some say vandalism and others say it appears the wood rotted out and the cross gave way.

And in 2009, Los Angeles Daily News photographer Gene Blevin captured a photo of a cross that survived wildfires on a hillside in Big Tujunga Canyon. The cross survived unscathed, even though onlookers said it appeared to be engulfed in flames the day before, according to a 2009 article in the National Catholic Register:

A cross survived California wildfires in Big Tujunga Canyon in 2009.

Considering that it is made from poured reinforced concrete (albeit not very well maintained), it is no surprise that it did not burn. We can confirm plenty of credible reports about crosses surviving California wildfires. However, each of them is either made of or surrounded by fire-resistant materials, and their enduring presence has little to do with miracles.

Most of them were put up to remind Jewish people (and other non-Christians) that they were not welcome in that particular neighborhood, such as the infamous Mt. Soledad cross in La Jolla, California:

Real estate agents from the time admit – with a hearty disgust borne from years of keeping a dirty secret – there was a widespread policy of discriminating against Jews searching for houses in La Jolla. Some of the first Jewish settlers in La Jolla remember the distrust they faced and the difficulties they had to overcome in finding an agent who would rent or sell them a house.

Judy Keelin has been an agent with the Willis Allen Co., one of La Jolla’s first real estate companies, since the early-1960s. The longtime La Jolla resident remembers the actions she and her colleagues were informed to take against Jews.

Keelin said that, while she was ashamed of the policy she was asked to enforce, she knew she had to toe the line.

“I hate to even say it, because I never agreed with it,” said Keelin. “It was against the Jewish people. We were told that if somebody came into our office and he looked like a Jew or had a name like a Jew, and he wanted to look at property, we were to tell him that we didn’t have anything for sale.”

The discriminatory practices have mostly been ended throughout southern California — but the crosses were built to last.