Part I – The Historic Significance of Presidio Park
July 1, 1969
…there are on our planet certain special areas where supreme transactions in human history have occurred and that we do well to set these places apart… .”
From an address by James A. Blaisdell, President of Claremont Colleges, at the dedication of Presidio Park and Junipero Sena Museum on July 16, 1929.
The April 1962 San Diego History Center Quarterly magazine was devoted to Presidio Park and Serra Museum. It was a popular issue and the Society’s supply is now exhausted.
Because of the continuing request for in formation on the museum and the park by our members and the hundreds of museum visitors this issue of the Journal of San Diego History contains the revised and updated story of the origin of Presidio Park and Serra Museum.
The April 1962 issue of the quarterly magazine also contained an article reprinted from California Garden magazine. The article was written by Chauncy l. Jerabek and is also included in this issue of the Journal. Corrections and additions have been made by William Evans, Park Supervisor in charge of Presidio Park, under the direction of David Roberts, Assistant Park Superintendent. We are indebted to them for their careful and helpful work.
The issue also contains an article concerning George W. Marston, the founder of Presidio Park and Junipero Serra Museum. Entitled “A Young Man Comes to Town,” the article was written by San Diego History Center member Wilmer Shields. It originally appeared in the January 1957 issue of the Quarterly of San Diego History.
Material used in this Journal and additional material on the museum, the park and George W. Marston is available in Serra museum Research Library.
Presidio Park is situated on a slope where San Diego was begun on July 16, 1769. On this date, over fifteen years before our War of Independence from England commenced, Father Junípero Serra raised the cross and blessed the hillside site he had chosen for the establishment of the first western settlement in Upper California. The mission and the presidio o£ San Diego were erected on this knoll.
For many years the presidio played an important part in the history pf the area, It guarded a district which ran for 125 miles to the north, including four missions and three assistencias. The presidio was a tiny fortified city in which the inhabitants were born and educated, married and passed away. Upwards of 400 people lived within the walls of the settlement. The husbands and fathers, in the main, were soldiers, It was these people and their descendants who later founded the pueblo or town of San Diego which received official status in 1834.
The billowy uprisings of grass on the lower slopes of the park, below the museum, mark the site of the ruins of the Royal Presidio. The excavated area within the fence reveals its chapel, sections of walls, burial sites and other interesting features.
The mission, San Diego de Alcalá, four years after its initial founding by Father Serra, was moved five miles up Mission Valley, but the chapel stayed in use at the presidio for many years
It has been said that history is the story of man’s changing needs. History indicates that little by little the need for the presidio of San Diego lessened. There was not so much fear of Indian attack. The chances of foreign invasion grew smaller. Mexico did not use the presidios for defensive purposes as much as had the Spaniards. The cost of upkeep increased. Towns had been established and the people preferred to live in them
In the 1830’s the fort fell into abandonment and delapidation. Its tiles and adobe bricks were carried away by scavangers seeking materials to be used in building homes and other structures. The prominence and prestige of the hillside citadel passed from the memory of the community which no longer needed its services. Mud, rushing down the hill and dust blown by the sea breezes, covered the remains. Chaparral, sagebrush, buckwheat and tumbleweeds began to pattern the slopes. The hillside was destined to lay in neglect for almost 100 years.
It happened, though, that in 1870, a young man who would change the fate of the promontory, arrived in San Diego. George W. Marston came from the midwest to establish a home in the new community. He became one of the city’s great civic leaders and helped to complete many community projects; however, he considered his finest performance the establishment of Presidio Park and Junípero Serra Museum on the inclination where San Diego’s first European community had been situated. The park and the museum he envisioned as a shrine commemorating the historical significance of the area and donated to the people of the community. Sixty years after his arrival in San Diego and thirty years after he began to take interest in park projects, Mr. Marston dedicated the park and the museum.
Although by no means the city’s largest, the park is unsurpassed for beauty and view. It consists of approximately forty acres of unusual shrubs and trees providing masses of variagated color broken by luxurious stretches of emerald lawn At the time the lawns were planted Mr. Marston insisted on Bermuda grass, which then was not a popular practice, Bermuda grass however, became the most popular grass in California. Bi-forked and jagged succulents, fragile wild flowers and fingers of trailing plants help to cover the ground. Solitary trails twist around the hills.
The park rests on the steep slopes of an angular bluff overlooking San Diego Bay and Mission Bay Acquatic Park, the Pacific Ocean and Mission Valley. Visitors are exhilarated by the magnificent panorama and the sense of height which the setting provides.
It also has functional uses, Soaring trees shade a picnic area and provide homes for doves, quail, numerous other birds, for squirrels and other wildlife.
The park contains many historic sites. These are listed and included with a map on page 20 of this magazine.
Every day new generations discover the delights of Presidio Park. By visiting the unique museum and the historic spots, they learn some of the history of the community. No more worth-while gift has ever been presented to the people of San Diego than George W. Marston’s dream-come-true.