Elisha Babcock, c. 1890
  • Elisha Babcock, c. 1890
  • San Diego Historical Society photo
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it
  • “The ‘Island’ or Peninsula of San Diego, 1846-1890”

In 1835, as he sailed up and down the Alta California coast on the Pilgrim, 19-year-old Richard Henry Dana, Jr., described the peninsula-island, on the western shore of San Diego Bay, as “low, green, but without trees.”

It’s not clear how Don Pedro C. Cariilo got the land. When he married Josefa Bandini, either her father, Juan, gave it to them as a gift, or Don Pio Pico, Constitutional Governor of the Department of California, made the donation. In any event, Carillo received a deed for the peninsula on May 15, 1846.

One morning, he rode his horse south, from the shanty “pueblo” of San Diego — one-story adobe buildings with whitewashed walls—around the southern shore of the bay. “The beach bordering the Pacific Ocean offered him a smooth path northward,” and he rode along a “crescent-shaped peninsula.”

The Don stopped his horse at a ridge, “about 50 feet above tidewater.” He surveyed his property and the territory beyond: high hills behind the town of San Diego, and, to the west, the steep headland called, in those days, Punto Loma.

To proclaim ownership of his two square leagues, Don Pedro performed symbolic gestures: “He pulled up the grass and broke the branches of shrubs on his property. After he had destroyed a small patch of vegetation, Don Pedro turned and threw a stone in each of the four cardinal directions. His act indicated that for the first time this land was separate from the public domain.”

Two months later — July 9, 1846 — Americans raised their flag at Yerba Buena (present-day San Francisco). Although Alta California citizens urged him to keep the land, in spite of the change, Carrillo talked with wife Josefa about selling, moving to Los Angeles, and pursuing a career in law. On October 20, 1846, Carrillo transferred all the land that forms the port of San Diego, to where it joins the land of Santiago Emigdes Arguello. “He evidently did not think too highly of the property.”

In 1885, members of a “peninsula syndicate,” hoping San Diego would become the terminus of a transcontinental railroad, envisioned the island-peninsula as a tourist haven, including:

  1. “A steam ferry between San Diego and that limb of the Peninsula opposite the town — a distance of about 1500 yards.
  2. “A tramway direct from the landing place across the Peninsula to the ocean


  1. At the time of Don Pedro and Josefa’s wedding gift, Leo Carillo’s father, Juan, son of Pedro and Josefa, was four years old. Leo Carillo, who played Pancho on the TV series The Cisco Kid, claimed that Coronado Island was rightfully his, thanks to the land grant his grandfather received from Pico in 1846.
  2. When Don Carillo claimed the land, “thousands of black brant or geese recently departed their winter gathering spot, and now curlews, willets, dowitchers, and snipe waded along the shoreline. Sandy soil nearby gave rise to a dense growth of Spanish Bayonet — a stiff, short-trunked plant with rigid, spine-tipped leaves — and lemonade berry, an evergreen shrub or small tree with white or pink flowers. Tough sumac brush and cactus also grew abundantly on the ‘island.’ ”
  3. Almost one-third of the Mexican grants had passed into the hands of Americans before March
  4. The original grantees found state and federal taxes in Southern California high for the benefits of mail service and police protection received; the relatively inflexible land taxes were especially disadvantageous to large Southern California landholders.
  5. Coronado is the past participle of the verb coronar, to crown. The Spanish word for beach, la playa, is feminine in gender, and the owners changed the Spanish modifier coronada to fit with the English word ‘beach.’
  6. There may have been an ancient Spanish coin called a coronada. The coin supposedly had a crown engraved on it and was worth about one-seventh of a silver real
  7. In 1887, San Diego attempted to tax Coronado, a community worth over $1,000,000. “Island residents, who numbered about 1000, won segregation from San Diego and, in 1890, voted to incorporate.
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Get $5 off any Reader event

Sign up for our email list to get your promo code