Part III – The Origin of Presidio Park and Junípero Serra Museum
July 1, 1969
Where did George Marston get the ideas for his complex park-museum project? What motivating forces would cause a man to undertake such a task?
A review of the time in which he accomplished his numerous civic projects shows where Ms ideas originated and some of the pressures which led to the transformation of those ideas into reality.
A brilliant but unheralded leader in San Diego’s cultural development of the Marston period was Julius Wangenheim, of the Klauber Wangenheim Co.
Mr. Wangenheim was a quiet modest man, a thinker and a planner, who guided the civic efforts of many people with whom he was associated over the 45 years he lived in San Diego and who influenced the course of city planning. His autobiography, available in Junípero Serra Museum Research Library, reveals the closeness of his relationship with George Marston, who was fifteen years his senior. Quotations used and amplification of events may be found in the autobiography beginning on page 345, the section dealing with his life in San Diego.
Wangenheim was born in San Francisco on April 21, 1866,. and there had as one of his closest boyhood friends, Melville Klauber, the son of Abraham Klauber, who came to San Diego in 1869 to establish a business. Klauber later resumed residence in San Francisco for a short period of time.
In 1892 Julius Wangenheim married Laura Klauber, Melville’s sister, in the Abraham Klauber residence which still is situated at 30th and E Streets in San Diego.
The young couple lived for several years in northern California, but in 1896, responding to a proposal from Melville, they moved to San Diego and Julius bought into the Klauber and Levi family grocery business. In 1897 the firm’s name was changed to Klauber Wangenheim.
George Marston entered Mr. Wangenheim’s life almost as soon as he came to San Diego. In 1896 Julius joined…”A club which also had an influence on my life. This was the Tuesday Club. Among the members were…George Marston….” (The Tuesday Club was formed in 1896 and consisted of four each of lawyers, doctors, ministers and business men and two educators. It was a cultural organization with an excellent reputation.)
Wangenheim’s first “real work (civic) was in connection with the city library…it started me off…” on a career of community work. Here, briefly, he again encountered George Marston. They discovered another mutual interest – parks.
This was in 1902 and occurred when Wangenheim became dismayed upon hearing a visiting Englishman express surprise over “the fact that with such lovely scenic and horticultural opportunities, the city’s lack of development of Balboa Park.”
(The “visiting Englishman” was George Chaffey, who was a visionary in many fields himself. He founded the model city of Ontario, California, pioneered irrigation in Imperial Valley and its development into productively unparalleled agricultural area, conceived the mutual water district concept of one share per acre, and founded the First National Bank of Imperial, now part of the United California Bank.)
Wangenheim reviewed the criticism and resolved in his mind that the visitor was Correct. “. . .we had done nothing in the way of pork development.”
He evolved a plan “and I went to a meeting of the chamber of commerce directors, of which I was a member and laid my plan before them. Immediately a park improvement committee was formed, consisting of myself as chairman, George Marston, U.S. Grant, Jr., D.F. Garretson and William Clayton. We started to raise funds and succeeded in having over $11,000 subscribed – a large sum in those days. My idea of procedure was what l’d seen in Golden Gate Park, namely to start work in one corner and then, during successive years, to spread out the development, eventually covering the whole area. I made plans for intensive work on the southwest corner – around Date Street and the higher ground directly to the north of it. We started to plant this section with trees, when Mr. Marston generously donated $11,000 for roads through the park. This changed the idea of development to a more grandiose plan and Mr. Marston again stepped in and at his own expense hired o nationally known landscape architect named Samuel Parsons, Jr., to outline a comprehensive program for the entire pork.”
It was here, as Mary Marston indicated in her biography of her father, that his active work f or City Park – now Balboa Park, commenced. It spearheaded both forty years of “efforts to improve the physical aspects of San Diego” and a deep interest in parks.
(Mary Marston’s quotations are from Volume II, Chapter XXXIII of her book, George White Marston – A Family Chronicle.)
For Wangenheim it also was a “first” “This,” he says, “was my first really close association with George Marston. We had often met before, casually, as businessmen do in a small city. I had known him particularly as an ardent V.M.C.A. member who had solicited contributions from me; and I had come to admire him in our meetings of the Tuesday Club. But it was not until our close cooperation in park work, and subsequently in all public matters, that I came fully to appreciate him, and to be proud of our growing friendship. . . .”
Subsequently Wangenheim left the city for San Francisco, and when “on my earlier return from San Francisco in 1903 I renewed my interest in civic work, the mayor said he would be glad to appoint me to either the park or the library board, as I had wished. I chose the latter, as it promised more activity. The mayor then appointed George Marston to the park commission, and it was fitting that he would be its first president. .. .”
Hamilton Marston, grandson of the founder of Presidio Park, speaking on Founder’s Day in 1963, touched on one of the motivating forces behind George Marston’s desire to create Presidio Park, as he remarked on his grand-father’s “love of nature and the outdoors that probably came from his boyhood in the beautiful Wisconsin countryside and was to show itself in his interest in walking and camping and mountain climbing with the Sierra Club and his fondness for John Muir’s books, his favorite, ‘The Mountains of California.’ To it he also brought his familiarity with many parks, for he had always enjoyed parks and knew Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Central Park in New York and the Common and Public Gardens in Boston. . . .”
George Marston began civic work at one of the most opportune times in his adopted city’s history. It was at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, that in this country there occurred a nation-wide movement toward civic improvement which developed the concept of city and regional planning programs. Another great impetus came after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when an entire city needed to be rebuilt.
Marston threw his strength behind the forces for community planning and the town still was small enough that the effect of one man alone was great. A few years later this could not have happened “Personal influence declines,” says Wagenheim, “when a town gets beyond o certain size. . .capable and independent businessmen are fewer…”
John Nolen, the landscape artist and city planner who was brought to San Diego partially due to Mr. Marston’s efforts, wrote to him in 1908, urging his continued activity in the field of City planning, for “You are peculiarly qualified to do some good work in this field.”
The idea of making Presidio Hill a public memorial came from another of San Diego’ s leaders – Charles Kelly, a member of one of San Diego’s pioneer ranching families.
In 1907 Kelly was chairman of a committee formed for the study of roads and boulevards in San Diego. Mr. Marston served on this committee, which eventually led into a county road commission,, In his report Mr. Kelly recommended that the area of Presidio Hill be set aside as a park. He made this suggestion to four prominent men; A. J. Spalding, John D. Spreckels, E. W. Scripps and George Marston.
Acting in the expectation that the city would take over the property and improve it these four purchased the land which surrounds the present cross on Presidio Hill -the spot known as the birthplace of western civilization on the Pacific Coast, This was about three and one half city blocks.
“As the historic importance and the landscaping possibilities of the site grew in father’s mind,” says Mary Marston, “he began to buy adjoining property. At an early date he purchased Mr. Kelly’s share. After five years had passed without any inclination on the part of the city to undertake the project he bought out his three other partners. He saw that the only way in which a worthy memorial could be achieved was for one man to toke the responsibility.”
The project continued to grow more complex as he also realized that the significance of the area required more than the little bit of land around the site of the cross. He began to buy additional property until he had acquired over twenty acres; however his goal was 40 acres.
“The deeds,” says Mary, “placed in the Union Title and Trust Company he considered as held in trust for the city.”
Marston wanted his park to be functional, beautiful and of historic value. In order to accomplish this he started studying kinds of parks, landscape gardening and city planning.
“When he went to Europe for the first time in 1909, he was especially interested in such things as. . ,parks in London and Paris, parks you could walk in and feel at home in . . .”, Hamilton Marston reminisced. “By observation, study and association with experts in their fields, he became something of an expert himself in landscape gardening and city planning.”
In 1915 the first historical landmark was placed within the area» This was the Serra Cross, dedicated on September 28, 1913. The erection of the cross was due to the increase in interest in local history which was generated by the preparations for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. With Mr. Marston’ s approval the Order of Panama had the cross constructed from tiles excavated from the hill and placed at the approximate spot where Father Serra had erected his cross and blessed the ground on July 16, 1769.
Another problem became apparent – the right type of environment surrounding the park. It sent George Marston into another new field – that of subdivisions, In order to control the appearance of the area he brought about a new subdivision which he named “Presidio Hills.”
“I am getting on well with Presidio Hills development,” he wrote in 1924. “This will make a fine addition to the city residence section and will also open the way for me to dedicate my land near Old Town as an historical park..”
The city council was interested and cooperative, ordering streets vacated and adding ten acres of nearby property to his original twenty acres, making a total of thirty acres which he began to lay out.
In designing the park Mr. Marston was assisted by Nolen, and Roland S. Hoyt, another landscape architect.
By December 1927 all preliminary planning was completed and Mr. Marston began the development of the park. His first task was to build a new main thoroughfare. Next, minor roads were laid out, water pipes were laid and a reservoir was removed from the property. Planting was begun in early 1929 and by mid July over twenty thousand plants had been placed throughout the new park. These came from all parts of the world.
One thing became clear as grading for the park continued. Although the work revealed the outline of the abandoned old Spanish garrison it also made it apparent that restoration or rebuilding would tae a great enterprise and one that seemed impractical. Preservation of the ruins became the rule. Boundaries of the old fort were marked by an adobe wall while ruins were kept intact beneath mounds of earth covered by lawn.
Before the park was completed and dedicated two more projects had to be undertaken. They were the incorporation of the San Diego History Center and the building of Junípero Serra Museum.