The Journal of San Diego History
July 1956, Volume 2, Number 3
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By James Mills

On Wednesday, July 11, 1956, while excavating to provide a suitable base for a parking lot for visitors to the Serra Museum and Presidio Park, workmen encountered a line of stones about two feet below the surface of the lawn, situated just over thirty feet out from, and parallel to, the wall built in the thirties by the W. P.A., which was intended to represent the eastern wall of the Presidio on its proper site. The range of breadth is from two to four feet in one place; its depth varied a little more, from two to close to five feet. The length, from the southern edge of the parking lot northward, is about eighty-two feet. As no sign of a turn could be found at its northerly end, it may well recede to lower levels and continue on, as it unquestionably does beyond the southern edge of the parking lot. There has been enough in the way of earth moving in the past in the area nearer Presidio Drive to warrant such a supposition.

The stones are all quite round and must have been brought up from the bed of the San Diego River. They are of varied sizes, though none are large enough to tax the ability of a single man to carry them. They had apparently been laid dry in a trench, for the dike is wider at the top than at the bottom. That fact definitely establishes it as a foundation rather than a wall. Which wall it was is not hard to determine, for although foundations for the walls of the Presidio Church were ninety feet long, they would have been, according to descriptions, farther north, approximately opposite the commandant’s house, where the Serra Cross now stands. The foundation discovered must be of the cast wall of the Presidio, near the bastion at the southeast corner, and may include remains of that structure as well. (This bastion was the prison immortalized by James Ohio Pattie and a few others.)

The wall exposed was not San Diego’s first. The earliest was a system of rude earthworks which were started early in July of 1769, after Governor Gaspar de Portola had arrived, and two days later his main party, including Father Serra, to confirm the choice of a site for the settlement at San Diego made by Captain Francisco Rivera y Moncado, commander of the advance party. In March of the following year a temporary stockade was erected. This, when two small brass cannon had been mounted, was thought to be sufficient protection until 1778, when Lieutenant Jose Francisco Ortega, then commandant here, commenced the gathering of stones for a foundation for a new adobe wall to replace the inflammable wooden pale. The population of the Presidio was then about 125, and the construction was carried right through to completion. This is the work whose remains were uncovered in the parking lot.

The discovery of July 11, 1956, is one of the most interesting and valuable ones in the field of local history in quite a few years. Knowledge of just where the east wall was improves our understanding of the layout of the entire settlement, causing facts and accounts to fall into place in a more accurate pattern. The foundation may be used in time as a reference point for further excavation, should circumstances permit.

A question of no small significance is settled.