The Journal of San Diego History
October 1965, Volume 11, Number 4
Ray Brandes, Managing Editor

Photographs from this article

THIRTY-SIX YEARS AGO, in an intense heat, ten thousand people faced the west terrace of the new Junípero Serra Museum, and listened to formal addresses of dedication being made on the celebration of the 160th birthday of the city of San Diego. On this occasion George White Marston would give some wonderful birthday presents to his beloved city.

Everyone who knew him was aware of his faith in the future of the city: a love for the heritage, and for the use of natural settings in the development of the city. This would be a day long-remembered by San Diegans when they shared with George Marston another of his hopes come true. He made formal presentation of California’s birthplace — Presidio Hill — to the people of San Diego, and then gave to the San Diego History Center a museum dedicated to the Franciscan founder of California’s mission Chain Junípero Serra.

What an introduction to the heritage of San Diego this was-a present surely to benefit generations to come! One hundred and sixty years before, Father Serra had been the central figure of a much smaller assemblage on that same Presidio Hill. Soldiers, sailors, and Indians from Baja, or Lower California had gathered about the Franciscan as he planted a rude wooden cross, said Mass, and blessed the site forever. That day had been warm, but a cool ocean breeze brought a rustle to the embroidered flags at the very moment European civilization was being introduced to Alta, or Upper California. Quickly under Serra’s direction, construction would begin on the first church, and on the Royal Presidio of San Diego.

Representatives of the San Diego History Center had begun to make plans for the ceremony in January 1929, although the museum had been under construction for some two years. As early as 1907, Marston thought of the idea of dedicating this historic birthplace park and museum purposes to the city. A great many individuals would now work to insure that the day would be worthy. It was a fine tribute, for officials of foreign nations including Spain and Mexico, and many dignitaries of this country came to San Diego for the celebration.

Ample parking was provided at the base of the hill, and in Old San Diego. Busses made their way through the park on the dirt road to let the public passengers on the grounds, and only a Fox Movietone news truck parked near the museum. Umbrellas could be seen among the throng as some attempted to ward off the heat in this way. U. S. Marines directed the onlookers who came up the hill in increasing numbers.

The day’s program began at 9:00 A.M, with a Franciscan Solemn High Mass, led by the Reverend Novatus Benzing, O.F.M., provincial head of the Franciscan order in the Western division of the United States. Through the courtesy of Rear Admiral Ashley H. Robertson, Commandant 11th Naval District, Band Concerts were provided by the Marine Base and Naval Training Center bands between 12:00 noon and 2:00 P. M.

Promptly at 2:30 the Historical Prelude took place. Arranged, written, and directed by Havrah Hubbard and staged by Sidney Frantz, the five scenes from the earliest history of San Diego showed the village life of the Diegueño Indians before the arrival of the Europeans; discovery of the San Diego River by members of the part aboard the San Antonio, on April 11, 1769, and the coming of Governor Portola, Father Serra and the second land expedition July 1, 1769; Portola’s departure for Monterey July 14, 1769, and consecration of the cross and founding of the first mission on Presidio Hill, July 16, 1769. Since more than 200 performers were involved, the costuming alone proved to be a tremendous task.

The natural stage was set with tule wickiups, forming a village of the Dieguñno Indians. Other performers playing semi-hostile natives haunted the tules along the river, while the Franciscan Serra gathered his band and ascended the hill. Mass was chanted, a rough cross erected, and the founder of the California mission chain consecrated the ground. Among the many actors in the drama were:

Don Pedro Fages, Lt. of The Leather Jackets — D. R. Cooper

Father Fernando Parron — Wilfred Kurt

Father Juan Vizcaino — Jack Hunter

Don Gaspar de Portolá, Governor of California — Allan Klauber

Don Fernando Rivera, Capt. of the Leather Jackets — C. E. Brittain

Don Jose de Ortega — W. F. Copeland

Don Miguel Costansó — Stearns Cook

Fr. Junípero Serra — Russell Lembke

Fr. Juan Crespi — Spencer Rogers

Fr. Francisco Gomez — G. J. Champlin

Fr. Juan Vizcaino — Jack Hunter

The names of many other well known San Diegans are sprinkled within the program roster as Indians, soldiers and participants.

Leroy A. Wright, first vice-president of the Historical Society acted as Chairman for the dedication program. As crowds continued to walk up the drive into the park, the Franciscan Choir of Santa Barbara Mission sang a hymn “Father Junípero Serra,” written and composed for the occasion. Father Augustine, Pastor of Santa Barbara Mission gave the invocation. The Dedication Chorus then sang several numbers under the direction of Wallace Moody. The Chorus had been assembled from the membership of the San Diego Oratorio Society, the Marston Choral Society, the Morning Choral Club, and the Cadman Club, with the addition of some prominent singers who had volunteered their services for the occasion.

“This is a historic occasion,” declared California Governor C. C. Young in his brief opening address. “There is no spot in the state where such a celebration is so appropriate. Here the Pacific coast was discovered … here were the beginnings…” San Diego’s Mayor Harry C. Clark read a message from President Herbert Hoover, in which the Chief Executive said he shared in spirit with the citizens of San Diego and California their appreciation of the day’s significance.

Then to a thundering standing ovation, George White Marston, who must also be remembered as President of the San Diego History Center was brought to the platform where he declared, I believe this museum and park should only be a beginning…”

Señor Don Alejandro Padilla y Bell, Ambassador to the United States from Spain, brought greetings from King Alfonso, and told of that ruler’s hope for perpetuation of his country’s traditions in the New World: “…

the King of Spain is naturally very proud not only of keeping the traditions of all the Spanish civilization extended through the world, but by seeing that these traditions are respected, recognized and remembered by other countries. This is why he did not hesitate for a moment to honor me with his representation here…”

James A. Blaisdell, President of Claremont College, Claremont, California, made the concluding address of the day appropriately noting that “Standing here today as we do, common inheritors of the spirit and passion of the pioneers, we commend ourselves to the new adventure which is ours together… the happiness and prosperity of the generation which shall follow… ”

As the throng edged down the hill to the parking areas, Sergeant William Howell and Lieutenant William L. Van Dusen, reserve army pilots, twice curved down from the sky and dropped thousands of roses upon the crowd and upon a permanent memorial to San Diego’s wonderfully rich Spanish and Mexican heritage.