These distinctive Mission Bells, hung on supports in the form of an 11-foot (3.4 m) high shepherd's crook, also described as "a Franciscan walking stick, are placed along Alta California's El Camino Real route. El Camino Real (The Royal Road, also known as The King's Highway) refers to the 600-mile California Mission Trail, connecting the former Alta California's 21 missions, 4 presidios, and several pueblos, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego in the south to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in the north.
Anna Pitcher first initiated an effort to preserve the as-yet uncommemorated route in 1892. Her effort was adopted by the California Federation of Women's Clubs in 1902 and the first of 450 bells was unveiled on August 15, 1906. The original organization which installed the bells fragmented, and the Automobile Club of Southern California and associated groups cared for the bells from the mid-1920s through 1931. The State took over bell maintenance in 1933. Most of the bells eventually disappeared due to vandalism, theft or simple loss due to the relocation or rerouting of highways and roads. Once the number of bells hit around 150, the State began replacing them, at first with concrete, and later with iron. A design first produced in 1960 by Justin Kramer of Los Angeles was the standard until the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began a restoration effort in 1996.
Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect at Caltrans developed an El Camino Real restoration program which resulted in the installation of 555 El Camino Real Bell Markers in 2005. The Bell Marker consists of a 460 mm diameter cast metal bell set atop a 75 mm diameter Schedule 40 pipe column that is attached to a concrete foundation using anchor rods. The original 1906 bell molds were used to fabricate the replacement bells. The replacement and original bells were produced by the California Bell Company, are dated 1769 to 1906, and include a designer's copyright notice.
Mission Dolores Basilica, at 3221 16th Street, was built adjacent to the Mission San Francisco de Asís from 1913 to 1918, replacing a brick parish church built following the Gold Rush and destroyed in the Earthquake of 1906. The church was remodeled in 1926 with churrigueresque ornamentation inspired by the Panama-California Exposition. In 1952, San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty, announced that Pope Pius XII had elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. It was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States.