The Journal of San Diego History
October 1966, Volume 12, Number 4
Elvira L. Wittenberg, Editor
Barbara Lamb, Assistant Editor
Tim MacNeil, Assistant Editor

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The reason may be the gathering momentum behind plans for the 200th anniversary celebration in 1969 — or it may be a natural growth of interest in local history as a result of the efforts and activities of the San Diego History Center — or it may be a combination of these and other forces as yet unidentified. Whatever the reason, Junipero Serra Museum these days is an “in” place.

The ferment of activity might not be observed by the casual visitor, but to staff members and regular users of the Museum’s facilities the undercurrent of excitement is obvious, and the tempo of “happenings” is unmistakably increasing.

This is as it should be. History is a living, vibrant thing — not a random collection of idle reminiscences, certainly — and more, much more, than a mere record of man’s responses to his environment or his actions as a part of the cosmos.

History is today, this minute. Everyman’s thoughts and actions of the moment, influenced and shaped by all their antecedents, in turn become antecedents of new thoughts and actions. We live our lives poised between yesterday and tomorrow; we seek to influence the one by understanding and evaluating the other. This is the essence of “today,” and the stuff of which history is made.

It is a mark of maturity in an individual, a community, a nation, or a civilization, to cherish its beginnings and to esteem its heritage. The purpose of the San Diego History Center and of Junipero Serra Museum is to gather and preserve for the educational and cultural enrichment of the community and its citizens, scholars, and visitors, a growing depository of San Diego city and county history.

As the birthplace of California and of Spanish North America, San Diego occupies a unique place in history. Proliferating efforts to broaden and invigorate an awareness of this historical distinction have brought about many changes and the excitement of new activities and expanding programs which make Serra Museum the “swinging” place it is today.


This unique educational activity, formerly known as the Junior Historians, embraces a multitude of interesting programs for students at various grade levels. Outstanding projects scheduled for the coming months include the following:


A workshop at the Museum will provide space for groups of younger students (grades 6-12) who wish to team up in the construction of historical dioramas, under the supervision of college seniors majoring in History. These exhibits are made available to schools throughout the county on a rotational basis, providing an interesting third-dimensional supplement to the teaching of regional history.

Calendar Club:

A Calendar Club is being organized to plan for the observance of dates of historical importance to the area. Typical activities will include sack-lunch tours to actual sites of events being celebrated. An historian will relate the event in detail while the young members absorb the knowledge in a “you are there” atmosphere.


Participation in parades, either by marching or by constructing floats and other units, is expected to be very popular with the younger members. Organizing parades which have not been previously scheduled will give youngsters an opportunity to exercise their creative originality.

These and other activities planned or in progress will generate interest in San Diego’s history; this interest in turn will stimulate the creation and arrangement of new and special Museum exhibits, the result of research into particular areas of San Diego history and lore.


The Serra Museum staff is conducting a survey of local authors in preparation for a daytime series of author teas. Many members have requested such a daytime activity, and the teas are expected to be highly popular.

Each session will be built around a review of the author’s book, followed by an open question-and-answer period and refreshments. Members will be encouraged to bring their personal copies of the books to be autographed.


Interest is growing among archaeological circles, in the excavations now underway at the ruins of the Royal Presidio of San Diego, a major project of the Historical Society. What were grass-covered mounds not far from the Museum are yielding new insights into the religious, cultural and domestic life of the birthplace of California. The site, chosen by the Spaniards in 1769, has remained virtually untouched since its abandonment in 1839.

San Diego State College has established an archaeological field school for its students with activity centered primarily upon the Presidio site. Dr. Paul Ezell directs the school; junior members of the Historical Society help with the project during the summer months.

A dramatic find in the ruins is believed to be the remains of the first chapel built in Alta California, circa 1769. Portions of the mud walls and their cobblestone buttressing were discovered first. In the long nave, diggers uncovered adobe floor tiles and red ceiling tiles, supports for arches, lime plastered walls (including traces of decoration), and the altar platform.

The location of the front door was determined. To the left of this door are the remains of what was probably the bell tower. An alcove at the north side of the nave contains a painted platform probably used in funerals.

At the southwest comer a door opening leads to a room which apparently was the sacristy. Nearby, a trash area yields fragments of pottery, metal, shell and glass. Identification of these and other objects indicates that widespread trade existed with faraway countries.

Remnants of the original wall have been found, revealing that the Royal Presidio was actually much larger than had been assumed.

All findings and artifacts from the ruins are being collated with documents from various archival sources including some in Mexico and Spain.


The Serra Museum library collection, already noted for its scope and quality, is undergoing a period of exciting growth and development. Books, documents, and manuscripts are being painstakingly classified and catalogued for faster, easier access.

Precautionary measures have been taken to keep books and documents dry and in good shape. Steel shelving, donated by the late Dr. Ralph Roberts, and improved lighting provided by the City of San Diego, have added new convenience and comfort to the library facility.

The demand for documents, pictures, journals, unpublished reminiscences, transcribed interviews, newspapers, and other items becomes more and more intense with the approaching 200th anniversary.

These materials are available for use in the library, five days a week. By order of the Board of Directors, loan of materials for use outside the library is not permitted except for short term special exhibits.

The Society appreciates all gifts to the library.


About four thousand photographs on early San Diego history were discovered in the Museum tower last spring during inventory. These photos date back as far as 1850, and reflect the homes, the dress, the way of life, and the culture of the early San Diegans.

Last year the Museum also acquired the outstanding photograph collection of Mr. Harry Bishop, former official photographer for the Union-Tribune Publishing Company. The collection consists of over three thousand glass negatives and innumerable color slides.

Since none of this material had been catalogued or identified, and because the material is so valuable to researchers, the Historical Society is beginning a photocataloguing project. The pictures will be dry-mounted, captioned in complete detail, and filed for ready availability. This cataloguing project promises to provide many hours of fascinating interest for all participants. The Young Historians will be invited to assist with the project during the summer months.

The discovery and acquisition of this rich lode of pictorial material is particularly timely because of the demand for authentic information in connection with the restoration of Old Town and the approaching bi-centennial celebration.


“Remembrance of things past,” so much of which is in the minds of elder citizens. might go undocumented and thus be lost forever, but for this unusual approach to extracting historical information.

The accumulating of reminiscences through personal interviews with “pioneer citizens” has been a project of the Historical Society since 1952. New impetus will be realized in this important activity through use of the Society’s newly purchased high fidelity tape recorder, together with a plan to establish a course for adults in the techniques of interviewing and recording. After completion of the course, each individual will be assigned one interview per week. An announcement in the Society’s newsletter will be accompanied by a return card for use by persons wishing to recommend a “pioneer citizen” to be interviewed.

Material gained through this program is of inestimable value to research scholars seeking to fill in the existing history gaps. In addition, the interviewees provide excellent sources for the solicitation of manuscripts, pictures, and other documents and memorabilia for the Museum and Library.


An inventory of the Museum’s contents was completed on April 9, 1966. The weeklong project was conducted by anthropology and history students from San Diego State College.

Materials inventoried were catalogued in four general divisions: historical, aboriginal, library holdings, and retail merchandise.

Every historical and aboriginal item acquired by the Museum up to the date of the inventory was accessioned. All hanging garments were rearranged and placed in protective bags. All retail merchandise (book and gift shop) was inventoried. Approximately 75% of the items in the library were inventoried.

The Artifacts Room (tower, level two) was completely rearranged; all weapons were sorted and grouped in one area; all pottery was sorted and appropriately stored. All stone items were gathered together and assigned separate shelf space. All basket work was sorted and moved to level three. All tower rooms were cleared of accumulated debris, and objects of no historical interest were removed to storage in another building.

The information from approximately one-third of all accession sheets was typed in triplicate on 4×6 index cards for the catalog files.

The total cost of the inventory was $1,189.24, including labor and materials.

The inventory project achieved the goal of establishing the Society’s holdings’ created reliable cross-reference files, and gave the Museum a much-needed “Spring house cleaning.”



The exterior floodlighting system is only the beginning of the “new look” at Serra Museum. Significant improvements have also been made inside, with streamlining for convenience the keynote.

The book shop and information center have been combined to provide visitors a central source for information about the Presidio and the Museum. The book store has been fitted with new shelves for better book displays. Books on local history are featured.

A picture album containing views of the Museum and the Presidio will soon be available in the store, as will camera film and other items for visitor convenience.

The Museum Director’s office has been moved to the balcony, where plate glass panels, including a louvered section, have been installed overlooking the main floor exhibit area. Ornamental Spanish grillwork is planned as a future addition to these windows, further enhancing the Museum’s interior decor.

The library, which formerly occupied the balcony, has been moved to more commodious quarters in the Pioneer Room in accord with original plans.

The storeroom adjoining the new office has been specially waterproofed, to safeguard valuable documents, rare books, and “pioneer citizen” interview files stored there.

During the past year the Acquisitions Committee, with the hearty cooperation of the Museum staff, has enjoyed remarkable success in its project of collecting and accessioning material. The awakening interest in the San Diego History Center and in Serra Museum has brought in a wealth of historical material from all over San Diego County.

Death records of Mission de San Francisco de Borja, Baia California, were recently uncovered in the Museum archives. These records date from February, 1768 to January, 1822. Duplicate copies of the records will be made and presented to the Mission.

Another discovery of major significance was an original signature of Father Junipero Serra, dated April 23, 1769. It was discovered in the baptismal record of Mission Santa Gertrudis, Baja California.

It has been proposed that enclosures be built to provide proper security for outdoor exhibition of the La Jolla Fire Engine No. 1, the El Cajon and Lakeside stagecoach, and other items from San Diego’s more “recent” history. This would provide more space inside for exhibits emphasizing San Diego’s Spanish era, particularly the original pieces of Spanish furniture.

Thus on Presidio Hill, even as with history itself, today’s interest and activity in pursuit of knowledge and understanding of our yesterdays, builds toward prouder and more exciting tomorrows.