Our museums and archives are temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Forward

MALLORCAN BEGINNINGS
TRAVELS IN MEXICO
OCCUPATION OF SAN DIEGO
PLANTING THE CROSS
SERRA AS FATHER-PRESIDENT
MOVING THE MISSION
INDIAN REVOLT
CONFIRMATION
SERRA’S FINAL DAYS
THE YEARS FOLLOWING
THE SERRA MUSEUM TODAY
 

The Serra Museum Today

On November 23, 1913, San Diego celebrated the bicentennial of Father Serra’s birth by erecting, out of remaining presidio tiles, the giant cross now on Presidio Hill. At the ceremony, which marked closely the place where Upper California began, Father Theophilus Reichardt commented that “the time of vandalism that unroofed the missions and carried away doors and tiles, and exposed the walls to wind and weather, rain and ruin, is gone forever. A fond reverence for the historic past … has taken root in our people.”

One of the persons then deeply affected by California’s past was George White Marston, a prominent businessman who had arrived in San Diego in 1870. Always a promoter of park development, Marston had been working toward preservation of the site since 1907. With others he had made an original purchase of fourteen lots and continued to acquire land in the area until he personally owned twenty acres. In 1925 he hired John Nolen, a city planner and landscape architect from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to commemorate the first Spanish settlement by developing Presidio Park. Nolen’s associate, Hale J. Walker, drew a sketch of a structure with a tower, but William Templeton Johnson actually designed the building envisioned by Marston as a museum. Well respected in San Diego for his architectural expertise, Johnson favored Spanish colonial and mission styles. Plans for the park and museum were ready in the fall of 1928.

The building was completed on July 16, 1929, the 160th anniversary of Father Serra’s dedication of Mission San Diego de Alcala at the site. A magnificent ceremony was held before an admiring crowd of twelve thousand people. The effect was exactly what Marston and Johnson had envisioned. Historian Gregg Hennessey has observed that the Junipero Serra Museum represents “the finest example of Mission style architecture in San Diego. A truly beautiful structure with an appealing simplicity of design and resolute character, it reflects the strong cultural sense of Spanish colonials who had a firm understanding of their place in the world and their duty in life.”

To complement the mission style, Marston furnished the museum with authentic fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth century Spanish pieces. Separate items of furniture were purchased in Seville, Granada, Madrid, Burgos and Catalonia. Some of the outstanding pieces include a ten-foot long seventeenth century walnut table, a decorative cabinet and writing desk called a vargueno, and a large armario with lattice work doors and carved drawers. Marston’s collection today is one of the finest of its kind in the west and, along with several recent additions from Mallorca, provides an important link with Serra’s homeland.

The grounds around the museum were originally landscaped under Marston’s supervision. The park’s expansive lawns are enhanced by numerous plants and trees representing a variety of native and imported species. These include several kinds of eucalyptus trees from Australia; the Peruvian pepper tree; pine trees from southern Europe, the Canary Islands, and Monterey, California; the lemonade berry; and the Catalina ironwood from California’s Channel Islands.