Sunday, February 15, 2009
On Foot in San Diego: Presidio Hill
My eyes perked up reading the paper this week. Three important San Diego historical sites were closing to the public this weekend. Villa Montezuma, an 1887 Victorian home, had already closed in 2006 when the Historical Society couldn't afford the repairs. This weekend the Marston House, a 1906 Craftsman home, and the Serra Museum on Presidio Hill were closing - no money to maintain the sites so they are being handed over to the city who also has no money.
I set off to see all three on Saturday, and the rest of San Diego had the same idea. People were being turned away in droves from the Marston House which could be seen inside only with a guide. It was like the people had come out to mourn the loss of their history. I didn't get in. I had better luck at the Serra on Presidio Hill.
Southern California's first little European settlement was on Presidio Hill. The Kumayaay Indians had already been a lively society around the hill for going on 600 years.
Back in Kentucky, we would have called this hump a hillock, but it had the advantage for defense looking out over San Diego Bay for those darn English should they come spying around. The English and Russians had already been nosing around in northern California when the Spanish crown sent Father Junipero Serra to establish a settlement in San Diego. He climbed up Presidio Hill on 7/16/69 with a few soldiers, planted a cross and thus started the first mission in California. Yeah, 1769. Those 13 upstart colonies in the east, including South Carolina, were already warming up for a nice revolution.
The missionaries moved off the hill within a few years to a location upriver. I understand they grew tired of lugging water up the hill and some time later a defense fort, Fort Stockton, was built on the hill.
Not an insignificant little hill, but I'd bet my house 90% of San Diegans don't know exactly why it's significant.
The wooden mission and fort had been long gone and the hill just a bit of neglected scrub land in 1929 when a rich San Diegan, George Marston - yes, the same of the Marston House - acquired the land and built a beautiful mission style building at the top of the hill to house the Historical Society. Much of the hill was retained as a public park, but no longer with the native scrub of San Diego. A picture of the just-built building in 1929 shows it still surrounded by scrub. Mr. Marston hired landscapers to plant the hill European style, Well, it is still beautiful and what a view!
As I walked up to the museum, I could picture Zorro leaping off the red and green tiled roof onto his horse. What was his horse's name? Phantom? Readers, a must book is Isabel Allende's Zorro to read about the transformation of Diego de la Vega into Zorro.
The door sign, however, was sobering and a reminder that this is 2009.
As I asked the receptionist for both my senior discount and the half-price February Museum Month discount, making my ticket only $2.00, the irony of Mr. Marston's building this fabulous building in the year of the '29 crash and its closing in the 2009 depression wasn't lost on me.
While the building was architecturally stunning, the museum was a disappointment. Where was that 15th to 17th century Spanish furniture? There was a neat collection of 1929 pictures of San Diego like it was though. I particularly liked this one.
I could relate to this little girl, but not the smile on her face. I could recall a permanent at the beauty shop in 1949, when I was about the age of this little girl. It burned my scalp.
Next posting, the Marston House. Well, at least from the outside.