By Bruce Coons
Save Our Heritage Organization
SAN DIEGO—When I was young it was a
well-known fact that San Diego contained some of the most important historic
sites on the West Coast of the United States within its Historic Old Town
Area. Arguably the most important site on the West Coast, our version of
“Plymouth Rock” if you will.
Today, few San Diegans, let alone visitors to Old Town know that the first
permanent European settlement on the West Coast of the United States founded
in 1769 was right here, on the hill overlooking the state park and the site of
the Native American village of Cosoy, which preceded the Spanish Presidio. Few
people have any knowledge of why Old Town is where it is and why settlement
started here and not somewhere else.
Today, Presidio Park is one of the least visited parks in San Diego, yet it is
directly next to the most visited State park in California, Old Town San Diego
State Historic Park.
Nowhere to be seen are signs of the Indian village, or the many other historic
sites here: Ruiz’s pear orchard, which was the scene of one of the most
famous love stories in California history (Fitch/Carrillo);
the earliest section of California’s first road, El Camino Real; the site of
the first local encampment of the American Army, several early adobes, nor
a corral and stable owned by Prussian-born partners Joseph
S. Mannasse and Marcus
Schiller, two of our earliest 19th century Jewish entrepreneurs.
These sites all lie beneath the pitch and putt golf course. Recently part of
ruthlessly bulldozed by
the new city-selected operator of the golf course. The city did not take
proper steps to prevent this destruction and also failed to do adequate
archeology to salvage what was left.
What little excavation work that was done revealed artifacts dating from
prehistoric times, remains of adobe structures,
Mexican and early China
trade ceramics and buttons from the first American Army occupation. A metal
button with a simple Star of David design was among the artifacts recovered.
Was it lost by Mannasse or Schiller?
further excavation we may never know.
The city then allowed
the operator to alter the historic landform by adding 5 feet of soil to the
site and put in a new putting green where none existed before. And as if this
is not outrageous enough, the oldest house in San Diego, the 1810’s
Ruiz/Carrillo adobe, is being used for a pro shop selling potato chips
and t-shirts, alongside the golf equipment, as well as for
How many other
towns in America that were founded in the 1700’s do you know that treat
their “oldest house” so disrespectfully? The same lessee that ruined the
archeological sites is required by his lease to repair the adobe. This should
be of great concern to all, as it at takes special expertise to deal properly
with our early adobes and the city should not allow it to be undertaken
without close supervision.
This house needs to be restored and opened to the public as a museum, along
with its gardens. It needs to be honored and respected as the first house to
be built outside the presidio.
Today, because of arbitrary separation and physical obstruction of the
historic connections you cannot walk directly from Old Town to the Presidio.
Visitors and every child in the fourth grade program in San Diego’s public
schools, over 14,000 children, must walk an extremely dangerous path alongside
and at many sections actually in the busy streets surrounding the golf course
and then up a slippery tortuous hillside over gullies where the path has
eroded away. It is only a matter of time until there are serious injuries and
possible fatalities arising from this situation. Take a walk yourself and you
will be absolutely shocked. Instead of a safe and meaningful experience where
they could walk the path on level ground along the original El Camino Real,
instead our children are at great risk. We don’t need to be as concerned
about tourists and locals as they simply avoid Presidio Park altogether.
The river and its riverbank that gave life to all the cultures from
pre-history through recent times and the site of the first American store in
Mexican California and undoubtedly a portion of the Cosoy village is hidden
under the old Caltrans building at the corner of Juan and Taylor Streets. This
site was promised to the State Park as mitigation for the extreme impacts that
the new Caltrans project across Taylor Street brought with it, which included
the demolition of two 1930’s-era Spanish revival buildings. However,
in a major breach of trust to the community, Caltrans has put the site up for
sale to private interests.
From the 1880’s when the book Ramona was published until at least the
1969 California Bicentennial, we Californians celebrated our Native American
and even more so our Hispanic heritage in every way possible, through
literature, dance, song, architecture, and by promotion and preservation of
our historic sites. Since then we have lost our connections and links with our
most important and colorful past.
What can be done now? For the first time in at least 40 years, we have an
unprecedented opportunity before us to regain a meaningful part of what has
been lost and to have San Diego resume its prominent place in the history and
development of our country.
Assemblyman Juan Vargas, working with former state Senator James Mills (who is
responsible for creating Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and the Mills
Act) and the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) introduced AB2081
into the State legislature. The bill would procure the old Caltrans site as
promised for state parks, which is at the natural front entrance to this most
historic of historic landscapes. This site is essential in telling the story
of San Diego, the origins of California and the West.
Acquiring this site would make meaningful interpretation possible for the
first time. We would be able to show our connection to the life-giving river
with the recreation of the riverbank and bottom with its native vegetation.
California’s first store could be rebuilt that stood on the edge of that
river and a representation of the village of Cosoy that existed along its
banks. Nowhere in San Diego can you find this important early native history
represented properly in its historic setting. After all, the proximity of the
river is why everything came to be located where it was. Water is the
foundation of all civilization and nowhere was this more important than in the
arid West. This project can and should be connected to the efforts being
coordinated by San Diego River Park Foundation.
If this bill is not passed now we will have a new office development on this
most historic of all sites and this opportunity will be lost forever.
It is essential that you contact the seven representatives listed below and
ask that they make sure AB2081 include the acquisition of the old Caltrans
site and complete funding for the interpretation of the site is passed.
Assemblywoman Lori Saldana
1557 Columbia Street,_San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 645-3090
Fax: (619) 645-3094
678 3rd Avenue, Suite 105, Chula Vista CA 91910-5844
Phone: (619) 409-7979
Fax: (619) 409-9270
Councilmember Kevin Faulconer
202 C Street, MS #10A, San Diego CA 92101
Telephone: (619) 236-6622
Fax: (619) 236-6996
Senator Christine Kehoe
Senate District 39
2445 5th Avenue, Suite 200,_San Diego CA 92101
Phone: (619) 645-3133
Fax: (619) 645-3144
Senator Denise Ducheny
Senate District 40
637 3rd Avenue, Suite C,_Chula Vista CA 91910
Phone: (619) 409-7690
Fax: (619) 409-7688
Supervisor Ron Roberts
County of San Diego Administration Center_
1600 Pacific Hwy, Rm. 335,_San Diego CA 92101
Phone: (619) 531-5544
Fax: (619) 531-6262
Mayor Jerry Sanders
City Administration Building
11th Floor, 202 C Street, San Diego CA 92101
Phone: (619) 236-6330
Fax: (619) 236-7228
There is another part of the story: the golf course parcel was originally a
part of the bill. Its acquisition by the State Historic Park has been a part
of the Community Plan for the City and the Master Plan for the State for
Yet when this unprecedented opportunity to right the wrongs of past leaders
and citizens finally looked like it would become a reality it was derailed by
the spreading of blatant lies via email to some residents in nearby Mission
Hills claiming that if the State were to get this site that their plan was to
close the golf course, pave it as a parking lot, and put in t-shirt shops.
In fact the golf course may be historic in its own right. The agendas of those
opposing this crucial park planning need to be examined closely. In our years
of experience dealing with such situations, we have found that unscrupulous
developers often hide their schemes behind protests by well meaning but
uninformed citizen groups. These citizens allowed untruths to compel them to
write to Assemblyman Vargas and other representatives to kill this bill.
On one positive note, this controversy has resulted in getting people to talk
about these issues and to bring them to the forefront once again. Councilman
Kevin Faulconer has committed to work to accomplish these long sought goals
for the connection of the Presidio to Old Town and proper presentation of the
Carrillo adobe. He also supports inclusion of the Caltrans site into the
State Historic Park.
It is up to each of us to write our representatives and convince them of the
necessity of allowing San Diego to once again regain its most historic past.
Please help, this is one of the most important preservation issues we will
ever have a chance to deal with.