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The Presidio: Old Town national landmark

Explore San Diego's origins on the grounds of this 1700s Spanish fort.

This bronze Mexican vaquero statue commemorates the Presidio's 200th anniversary in 1969.
This bronze Mexican vaquero statue commemorates the Presidio's 200th anniversary in 1969.

Set above Old Town, San Diego’s forty-acre Presidio Park is a National Historic Landmark preserving the first permanent European settlement on the West Coast and the site from which exploratory missions embarked into California's interior.

The Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

Twenty-one missions would be built throughout the territory in order to convert the local population, and a zealot, Friar Junípero Serra, was chosen to manage the Franciscans who would run them. The Junípero Serra Museum, housed in a Spanish mission-style structure that sits on the top of the hill, however, isn’t one of them.

Although I'd been to Old Town numerous times, I hadn't yet made it up the hill to Presidio Park. When I finally did venture up there to walk the trails, I learned a lot. For starters, I learned that Father Serra did plant a cross on the hill, and said mass there after he landed in 1769. He and his military entourage proceeded to build a settlement that included the presidio (fort), a small chapel and homes where a sizable Kumeyaay village had previously been.

Serra’s first true mission would be the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, located on San Diego Mission Road five miles north of the presidio. The Kumeyaay, though receptive somewhat to the padres, were a tad discomforted by the conquistadors, and in time revolted only to be subdued.

Two hundred years after Spain claimed the area for her own she had a stronghold in colonial America and from the presidio spurred the growth of Alta California. Alas, her reign would be short-lived; by 1822 the throne had abandoned the territory. When the Mexican government secularized the great missions, rich rancheros came north to claim the spoils, virtually enslaving the Kumeyaay. Old Town developed as Mexico encouraged foreign trade.

Sadly, the natives didn’t fare much better under Commodore Robert Stockton’s rule ten years later when he arrived and assumed the hill and fort for his garrison. You can learn more about the city’s first settlers through the Museum of Man’s Kumeyaay exhibit. Better yet, make the drive to Lakeside to visit the tribe’s Barona Cultural Center and Museum.

The Indian at Presidio Park.

Trails through Presidio Park take you past the ruins, Padre Cross, a bronzed statue of the padre himself, past the Indian – an expressive statue of a Kumeyaay brave with his conquered catamount – up to Inspiration Point, the Arbor, and crests at the Mormon Battalion Monument.

The Mormon Battalion Monument in Presidio Park.

This monument honors the Mormon men and women who volunteered to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War, effectively opening stage routes west and securing those Mexican territories for the States. Brigham Young was looking for help with his westward migration plans and enlisting his followers in the army paid for wagons, horses, and other necessities for his grand exodus. Thirty-three women, many serving as laundresses, and fifty-one children accompanied the Battalion (~550 men earning the church a total of $30,000 in donated salaries), the only religiously based unit ever established in the country’s military history.

If you go

Presidio Park is on Jackson St. and is open daily 6:00am to 10:00pm. The Museum, operated by the San Diego History Center, is open Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. September 7, 2015 - June 2, 2016, with hours expanding to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. thereafter. The Mormon Battalion Historic Site on Juan St. on Old Town offers tours daily from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

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This bronze Mexican vaquero statue commemorates the Presidio's 200th anniversary in 1969.
This bronze Mexican vaquero statue commemorates the Presidio's 200th anniversary in 1969.

Set above Old Town, San Diego’s forty-acre Presidio Park is a National Historic Landmark preserving the first permanent European settlement on the West Coast and the site from which exploratory missions embarked into California's interior.

The Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

Twenty-one missions would be built throughout the territory in order to convert the local population, and a zealot, Friar Junípero Serra, was chosen to manage the Franciscans who would run them. The Junípero Serra Museum, housed in a Spanish mission-style structure that sits on the top of the hill, however, isn’t one of them.

Although I'd been to Old Town numerous times, I hadn't yet made it up the hill to Presidio Park. When I finally did venture up there to walk the trails, I learned a lot. For starters, I learned that Father Serra did plant a cross on the hill, and said mass there after he landed in 1769. He and his military entourage proceeded to build a settlement that included the presidio (fort), a small chapel and homes where a sizable Kumeyaay village had previously been.

Serra’s first true mission would be the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, located on San Diego Mission Road five miles north of the presidio. The Kumeyaay, though receptive somewhat to the padres, were a tad discomforted by the conquistadors, and in time revolted only to be subdued.

Two hundred years after Spain claimed the area for her own she had a stronghold in colonial America and from the presidio spurred the growth of Alta California. Alas, her reign would be short-lived; by 1822 the throne had abandoned the territory. When the Mexican government secularized the great missions, rich rancheros came north to claim the spoils, virtually enslaving the Kumeyaay. Old Town developed as Mexico encouraged foreign trade.

Sadly, the natives didn’t fare much better under Commodore Robert Stockton’s rule ten years later when he arrived and assumed the hill and fort for his garrison. You can learn more about the city’s first settlers through the Museum of Man’s Kumeyaay exhibit. Better yet, make the drive to Lakeside to visit the tribe’s Barona Cultural Center and Museum.

The Indian at Presidio Park.

Trails through Presidio Park take you past the ruins, Padre Cross, a bronzed statue of the padre himself, past the Indian – an expressive statue of a Kumeyaay brave with his conquered catamount – up to Inspiration Point, the Arbor, and crests at the Mormon Battalion Monument.

The Mormon Battalion Monument in Presidio Park.

This monument honors the Mormon men and women who volunteered to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War, effectively opening stage routes west and securing those Mexican territories for the States. Brigham Young was looking for help with his westward migration plans and enlisting his followers in the army paid for wagons, horses, and other necessities for his grand exodus. Thirty-three women, many serving as laundresses, and fifty-one children accompanied the Battalion (~550 men earning the church a total of $30,000 in donated salaries), the only religiously based unit ever established in the country’s military history.

If you go

Presidio Park is on Jackson St. and is open daily 6:00am to 10:00pm. The Museum, operated by the San Diego History Center, is open Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. September 7, 2015 - June 2, 2016, with hours expanding to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. thereafter. The Mormon Battalion Historic Site on Juan St. on Old Town offers tours daily from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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