The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1969, Volume 15, Number 3
Rita Larkin, Editor
The San Diego History Center’s dedication ceremonies for
Presidio Park and Junípero Serra Museum were set for July 16, 1929, the 160th
anniversary of the founding of the first mission in Upper California,
George White Marston was 79 years of age. He had spent 59
years in the community of San Diego and nearly thirty years in the consummation
of what some people had termed a fantasy. The Marston Department Store closed at
12:30 p.m. that day in honor of the event.
San Diegans who were present at the dedication recall that
the day was warm. The weather reports confirm this for they predicted that San
Diego was in the midst of a summer heat wave and that the temperature would go
at least to 83 degrees – which it did.
Success seemed to beam on San Diego that day – for that
matter on the nation, which was enjoying unbelievable prosperity. The country
was at peace – a fact noted by the new president, Herbert Clark Hoover, in his
inaugural address earlier that year. He promised more prosperity and a
strengthening of the nation’s economic system and of its international position.
If a person had a mind to worry, though, or wanted something
to discuss, there was some material with which he could work. Newspaper
headlines of the morning read, "Russia Hurls War Threat at China Along Railroad
Lines in Manchuria."
The Japanese and Chinese had been clashing at Shantung and in
Germany the National Socialist Party was developing,, Its first leader was to be
a man named Adolph Hitler. Benito Mussolini was ruling Italy and rallying to his
side states which would support him in a struggle against France and the Little
Entente. England was making adjustments to the new free
state of Ireland
In the financial sections of the news-papers one could read
articles which warned of the spiraling economy’ s basic weaknesses and of its
ultimate fate – depression- a prophecy which did come true later that same year,
in the stock market crash of October 1929.
Over 4,000 people were present at the dedication ceremonies.
The roads were crowded with cars, affording an example of the affluence of the
era. Popular makes were the Essex Coupe, costing $628, Pontiac sedan, $745, a
Chrysler Imperial, $1145, and a Nash four-door sedan, $1795.
The program was a long one, beginning at noon with a concert
by the Marine Band. Guests assembled on the slope directly in front of the
museum. Parasols and umbrellas afforded splashes of color as the ladies sought
refuge from the sun.
Following the concerts a prologue was presented. It depicted
the life of the Indians previous to the coming of the Spaniards, and followed
their history forward until the day of the blessing of the cross and the
consecrating of the site for the first mission in Upper California.
Leroy A. Wright, the first vice-president of the San Diego
Historical Society, was chairman of the dedication ceremony. The Franciscan Choir, of Santa Barbara Mission,
sang and the Invocation was delivered by Father Augustine, of Santa Barbara
Mission. A Dedication Chorus also performed.
There were messages from important people – some given in
person, others read for them. A personal message came from the President of the
United States and was read by San Diego’s mayor, the Hon. Harry C. Clark. A
message from His Majesty, King Alphonso, of Spain, was read by the Ambassador of
Spain to the United States, Don Alejandro Padilla y Bell. One who spoke in
person was the Hon. C0 C. Young, Governor of California.
Mr. Marston’s words were concerned with the future.
"I think," he said, "that this. . .is only the beginning of
what ought to be done. At the foot of this hill there are a score of
historic houses and places. The shores of the bay along Point Loma are rich in
traditions of discovery and adventures. Just north of us the beautiful Mission
Bay awaits its transformation into an aquatic park. . . ."
Principal speaker was James A. Blaisdell, President of Claremont Colleges
who pinpointed the essence of Mr. Marston’s dream.
"We are gathered here this afternoon in obedience to a
profound conviction, universally characteristic of mankind, which declares to
us that 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
into public possession and to devote them to the permanent offices of memory and
As the program ended an aeroplane, like a busy bee, twice
droned around the hill, showering rose petals over the park and all the people
assembled there. Lt. William L. Van Dusen, Reserve Army Pilot, thus dedicated
the site from the air, while Mr. Blaisdell’ s concluding remarks still sounded.
". . .On these heights brave souls have held counsel in the face of common
danger and common hope through all the years. Here, with
unlowered standards may such spirits continue to have perpetual rendezvous in
times of public peril and common opportunity. Gentlemen, we salute you all; and
to all enlisted souls of all time, we dedicate this spot."
On July 22, 1929 the city council of San Diego formally
accepted Presidio Park and dedicated the park by resolution, Mary Marston says
in her biography of her father. It was understood that Mr. Marston would
continue to maintain the park for two years and that the San Diego Historical
Society would occupy the museum as its headquarters.
As it turned out the city did not accept complete care and financial
responsibility for the park until 1940. George Marston,
for twelve more years after the dedication ceremonies, continued to develope the park and
to provide financial assistance. He was an accustomed sight at the park for he
went there every week day to discuss the work being done and on Sundays to walk
around by himself and think and plan future developments.
Mr. Marston’s last big venture was his purchase of Palm
Canyon, ten acres, and its development. This is the valley and hill section east
of the museum. The property was acquired and the landscaping completed between
1937 and 1940. In that year Marston, in addition to giving to the city another
ten acres of park land, which brought it to 40 acres, ceased supervising the
park and discontinued financial support.
The park now is administered by the Park Division of the
Department of Public Works of the City of San Diego. Seven full time city
gardeners are employed in maintenance.
The responsibility and the expense of the museum are shared
by the city and county of San Diego together with the San Diego Historical
Society. The Society operates the museum under a contract with the city. The
amount of revenue obtained from the city is deter-mined by a matching
fund program which the city maintains with its museums.
No one knows how many thousands of visitors have come to Presidio Park and Serra Museum since
1929. Mr. Blaisdell’s times Of "common danger and common hope. . .times
of public peril and common opportunity…." have materialized. The park and the museum,
through three periods of warfare, one severe depression and amazing
achievements in space, have offered solace, strength, education and relaxation
to all who came.
For one single group, however, the area seems to be
especially designed. Every day, eager, enthusiastic and energetic elementary
school children of the city and the county pour out of the school buses which
are driven up to the foot of the hill. There museum staff members meet them and
give them tours of the park and the museum. These are arranged between the
school systems and the museum. Afterward they picnic at the tables under the
soaring pine trees, roll over and over down the grassy inclines and hike along the little trails.
A few days later notes of thanks arrive at the museum.
Samples of the children’s comments are reprinted as written. Many of them are
accompanied by drawings.
"We thank you very much. . .The lady who give us the tor was nice. She told
us oll abot’ father sarra. Did she no father sarra? "
"We were loking at father sarra. they buit mud houses when
they buit mud houses they had a lot of rain the mud houses got washed down. then
the men dog up o church they call it a dig and some bons I wod not want my bons
dog up. .. I will come see you agin sometime ok? "
"Som of the Indians were not very nice but they did not no
any beter. It is lik som pepul today, I think. I hope you lik me."
The story of a man who met some of history’s changing needs
and whose achievements were derived from the dreams and plans of many
men, was ended on May 31, 1946, when George W. Marston passed away. He was 95
years old. Perhaps one of the reasons why children are so much at home in
Presidio Park is that its founder, until the day he died, displayed
the effervescence, idealism and enthusiasm of childhood.
He recognized these qualities in himself on the occasion of
his last public speaking engagement. This was before the Wednesday Club of San
Diego on October 29, 1942, when he was 91. While citing his philosophy he quoted
from a sonnet by Van Dyke, called "Life."
"So let the way wind up the hill or down
O’er rough or smooth, the journey
will be joy:
Still seeking what I sought when but a boy,
New friendship, high
adventure, and a crown…."
"Every private and public injustice he feels strongly,"
Julius Wagenheim once remarked about his friend. "He is the only person I have
ever known who hasn’t remotely been spoiled by the accumulotion of money; the
latter he regards as a public trust."
At the funeral service for Mr. Marston, his good friend, Dr.
James Blaisdell, who had spoken at the dedication of Presidio Park and Serra
Museum, dismissed the necessity of memorials and tributes.
"In what he was and what he wrought he speaks for himself."