In the yard of a Coronado home you may have noticed something unusual, both unsuspecting but completely obvious once you have seen it. A large bell that rises up out of the front lawn is similar to ones along the coast of California, in other places around San Diego, another even in Coronado. The bell is part of Caltrans’ Mission Bell Marker system.
The owners of the bell, Debbie and her husband Craig, both CHS graduates, did not come about the bell by accident. Debbie majored in history in college and has a historical preservation background. She had seen the bells while driving down the 101 and then, coincidentally, learned more about them on a KPBS program shortly thereafter. The Coronado street where Debbie lives is pretty dark at night and she wondered if it was possible to electrify a mission bell for light. Thus began her deep dive into locating the manufacturer and bringing a bell to her own home.
The implementation of mission bell markers began in 1906, spanning California from San Diego to San Francisco. Unfortunately, the bells were not maintained and many were vandalized, stolen, or in a state of disrepair. According to Debbie, the KPBS story tells that the manufacturer, Mrs. Forbes, stopped making the bells and anticipated closing down her factory in its entirety. When John Kolstad offered to buy just the bell portion, Mrs. Forbes declined and stated that he would need to buy the entire factory. Turns out John was a bell lover and so he took the deal and bought the entire factory to bring the bells back to life.
The bell outside Debbie’s home looks a bit different than the ones that first inspired her. While the originals used green, Debbie preferred hers to be all cast iron. You can see one of the green mission bell markers in the triangle at the intersection of RH Dana Place and Churchill Place across from the Hotel Del. The Coronado Woman’s Club is to thank for that bell being installed in 2008. The bell in Debbie’s yard is also from the 1960 design (an earlier design was in 1902), but Debbie’s bell stands much taller than the green one near The Del.
Debbie contacted California Bell and was able to purchase her electrified bell straight from their factory. Along with the addition of the bell to brighten her yard on the dark street, Debbie added a drought tolerant garden gathering inspiration from the English cottage gardens she saw when living with her husband in London. Many of the plants that occupy her garden are from Australia and South Africa. While the front yard had a serious face lift, Debbie also took the time to restore the house itself, finishing the process in 2004/2005.
California Bell is now working with cities to reinstall the original bells in the remaining areas of the original route. They suggest you call your local city manager for information on their installation progress. Find the California Bell website here.