THE SAN DIEGO HISTORY CENTER
The San Diego History Center tells the diverse story of our region – past, present and future – educates and enriches our community, preserves our history, and fosters civic pride.
One of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the West Coast, the San Diego History Center is one of the only institutions dedicated to the heritage of a major American metropolitan region. The History Center was established in 1928 by noted philanthropist, businessman and civic leader George W. Marston, who built the Junípero Serra Museum to house the new institution on Presidio Hill, site of the founding of San Diego and California. Marston gifted the Serra Museum and the adjacent land to the City of San Diego in 1929. For over sixty years, the Serra was the site of the Historical Society and Research Archives. In 1982, the Historical Society moved its collections and museum to Balboa Park, maintaining the Serra as an auxiliary museum and educational center. In 2010, San Diego History Center was formally adopted as the institution’s name.
The History Center is the steward of our heritage and the principal resource for San Diego history – collecting, preserving and displaying unparalleled collections of regional history. No other institution is solely devoted to preserving San Diego’s collective history and enhancing community identity. A unique civic resource committed to public engagement and collaboration, the History Center partners with other museums, San Diego and regional school districts, other historical organizations, media, businesses and corporations to deliver programs to the broadest audience.
The History Center presents dynamic, engaging exhibitions highlighting what makes San Diego unique and the region’s emerging role in the 21st century. We serve as a lifelong learning center for all members of our community, providing outstanding educational programs for school children and popular programs for families and adults. The Research Archives serves residents, scholars, students and researchers onsite and online. With its rich historical content, archived material and online photo gallery, our website is visited by more than 1,500 distinct visitors daily. Since 1955, in cooperation with the University of San Diego, the History Center has published the prestigious Journal of San Diego History, one of the only scholarly publications dedicated to a major American metropolitan region. Since 2013, the History Center has been a Smithsonian Affiliate.
The History Center operates facilities in two National Historic Districts: the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park; the Research Archives also in Balboa Park; and the Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park. The History Center has 40 full and part-time staff and contractors, and more than 100 volunteers assist with research, archiving, collections, education, exhibitions, membership and events. The History Center is governed by a 23-member Board of Trustees and a 19-member Advisory Board. We serve a membership of 1,700 and over 150,000 visitors annually at both museums. The San Diego History Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose operations are supported by earned income from admissions, memberships, store and photo sales and facility rentals. Our primary source of support is contributions and grants from individuals, foundations and corporations, as well as county, state and federal grants and annual operating support from the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. The FY16 operating budget is $3.5 million. For more information: Financials (pdf)
Our vast regionally and even nationally significant collections encompass 45 million documents – business, public and architectural records, maps, diaries and manuscripts; 2.5 million historic photographs, one of the most important collections in the western U.S.; 1,700 oral histories, the largest collection in California; 1,500 films, some rare and historic; 15,000 historic objects, including artifacts dating back to the Kumeyaay; 7,000 items of historic clothing, one of the finest collections in the U.S.; and a significant collection of San Diego artwork.
The History Center was the primary museum celebrating the Balboa Park 2015 Centennial. The History Center is enhancing access to both museums and to our research collections, incorporating new technologies to enhance the visitor experience and expanding school programs and educational outreach. We are reinvigorating the Serra Museum, transforming it into a heritage tourist destination through a comprehensive interpretive and exhibition master plan.