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California Historical Landmarks of San Diego – Presidio Hill of San Diego

Presidio Hill is located next to Old Town San Diego and was the original site of the presidio (or fort) of the Spanish military to claim the territory and protect their settlements - the first European settlement on the Pacific coast, in 1769. Prior to the Spanish settlements on the hill and down below, part of the slope formed the native village of Quesoy. Mission San Diego (see my visit there) was originally also built on the hill, but moved after only a few years to its present site further east in Mission Valley. Eventually the wooden stockades were replaced by adobe buildings, and when Mexico gained independence, the presidio switched hands. By the 1830s, the fort was abandoned as it was no longer needed, while the pueblo of San Diego grew at the base of the hill. During the Mexican-American war, American troops built Fort Stockton at the top of the hill.

Today, Presidio Hill is part of a park that covers the steep hill and neigboring canyon and hill, and is the connection between Old Town and the neighborhood of Mission Hills. On Presidio Hill, you'll find the Junipero Serra Museum, built in the 1929, and several grassy areas and trails – and a handful of California Historical Landmark markers. The park is popular with picnickers and is often used as a picturesque setting for family and wedding photos. The steep grassy slopes also had a reputation for attracting ice-blockers back when I was in high school.

You can park on the hill at the mid-level lot, just below the Serra Museum, or along the roadway up at the top (near the picnic areas), or park in Old Town somewhere and just wander over. There are also a few parking areas for the canyon east of the hill and a more isolated parking lot on the adjacent hill, connecting to the trails. (Like many San Diego parks with open space and canyons, there may be occasional homeless persons staying in the park in less frequented areas).


I came up here in early February with my mom and we went for a hike, coming up from Old Town. The Old Presidio Historic Trail (about a mile long) is marked with a series of 13 signs from Old Town to the Serra museum. The signs, made by the San Diego Historical Society describe some of the history of the hill site. We tried to follow it, but went off track after hitting the main steep slopes going up the hill. We did find the last few signs of it as we returned down the hill from the Serra Museum. The first marker of the Old Presidio Historic Trail is at the intersection of Mason St. and Juan St. next to Old Town State Park (and the Presidio Hills golf course)

Markers on the hill:

At the top of the hill, and signed from the main road, is a circle of markers for the site of Fort Stockton. All facing a central flagpole, there is the California historical landmark plaque for the fort and the mounting for a cannon, facing Old Town. Dwarfing the fort markers are a set of much larger monuments commemorating the endpoint for the Mormon Battalion March of the same era. There is a statue, a mural with plaque, and then a secondary marker to honor the women (and children) who accompanied the Mormon Battalion on their march from Illinois to San Diego.

California Historical Landmark No. 54 - Plaque text:
FORT STOCKTON
Fortified briefly by Carlos Carrillo in 1838, this site became Fort Dupont (July – November 1846) after American forces took Old Town during the Mexican War. Retaken and held briefly by the Californios, it fell once more to the Americans, who renamed it Fort Stockton and used it as campaign headquarters for ending the Californio revolt in early 1847. The Mormon Battalion stayed here later that year. The post was abandoned on September 25, 1848.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 54

First registered December 6, 1932. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the San Diego City Department of Parks and Recreation and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, August 3, 1991.


Partway down the hill, at one end of the parking lot for the Junipero Serra Museum is the marker for the San Diego Presidio Site. The perimeter of the site itself is partially marked with a yellow wall just downhill of the parking lot, and can be entered from a few spots. Most of the site is grass covered, though some mounds form the outline of a building site within the fort site. At the back end of the parking lot is a small pentagonal building that forms a corner of the perimeter wall. It probably stores park maintenance supplies, but has a small staircase leading up to a roof overlook spot, and has a marker on the wall memorializing Sylvester Pattie the first American buried here (part of a exploration expedition, who was imprisoned).

Following the main roadway downhill, there are also a few other markers and statues: one grove has a statue entitled Padre, a time capsule and the Serra Cross, made out of tiles and bricks pulled from the ruins of the Presidio, and built in 1913. Across the roadway is a larger statue entitled The Indian, by the same artist, Arthur Putnam, around a buried archaeological site that was once the village of Cosoy. Near this statue is an restroom with a rooftop overlook spot for Old Town and Mission Bay. Both statues were originally placed elsewhere but later moved to the park in 1933.

California Historical Landmark No. 59 - Plaque text:
SAN DIEGO PRESIDIO SITE
Soldiers, sailors, Indians, and Franciscan missionaries from New Spain occupied the land at Presidio Hill on May 17, 1769 as a military outpost. Two months later, Fr. Junipero Serra established the first San Diego mission on Presidio Hill. Officially proclaimed a Spanish presidio on January 1, 1774, the fortress was later occupied by a succession of Mexican forces. The presidio was abandoned in 1837 after San Diego became a pueblo.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 59

First registered Dec. 6, 1932. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, August 8, 1992.



At the base of the hill, near the corner of Presidio Drive and Taylor Street, are a set of historical markers, including two California historical landmarks. At the entrance to Presidio Park, you find a landmark plaque located between two palm trees.

California Historical Landmark No. 67 - Plaque Text
SERRA PALM
Traditionally the earliest planted tree in California. Directly in the rear, beneath the brow of the hill, lie the dead of the sacred expedition of 1769. Burial place of our first unknown soldiers.

STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 67

Marker placed by California Centennials Commission in cooperation with San Diego County Historical Markers Committee.
Dedicated September 2, 1950.


As you can see, this is a much older plaque than the Fort Stockton and San Diego Presidio landmark plaques. The Serra palm was a palm tree believed to have been planted by Fr. Serra on this spot. Historical photographs show it to be a towering palm tree, though today the palms on either side of the marker are rather small. Right behind the Serra Palm plaque is a worn down stone with historical information painted on it - calling the tree "California's Oldest Palm Tree" (though perhaps after the discovery of native palms in the desert canyons, this title may be disputed).

Immediately to the east of the Serra palm site is a marker for the La Playa Trail, which connected the Mission to the settlement at the presidio and onto the Spanish landing point (La Playa) at San Diego Bay. I talked a bit about the La Playa Trail in my entry on Mission San Diego. Here's the text on this La Playa Trail stone:
La Playa Trail
JEDIDIAH STRONG SMITH
Pathfinder of the Sierras
Here completed the first trail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Jan. 1827
Erected by
San Diego [?????] 1937



And just east of the La Playa Trail marker is the Landmark for the Derby Dike:
California Historical Landmark No. 244 - Plaque Text:
DERBY DIKE
Until 1853 the erratic San Diego River dumped tons of debris into the harbor or poured into False Bay, now Mission Bay. At times it threatened to destroy Old Town San Diego. Lieutenant George Horatio Derby, U.S. Topographical Corps, built a dike that diverted the waters into False Bay. This was the first effort to tame the river, and one of the first U.S. government projects in California. The river was not fully harnessed until the 1950s.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 244

First Registered June 10, 1936. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, August 4, 1990.

Before the Derby Dike was built, the San Diego River would flow west through Mission Valley, then turn south at Old Town and enter San Diego Bay, though periodically it could jam up, and flow into False Bay. (See the map in the background of this page for how it hooked around Old Town.) When it jammed up, Old Town would get flooded. Since this made life crappy for the people living in Old Town, this project seemed to make some sense. However, according to this great article on the San Diego River's history Journal of San Diego History, Derby's dike didn't exactly work out - it failed in 1855, with the river pushing back to San Diego Bay. Today, the San Diego River has been forced into a channel that flows (or maybe just seeps into the sand) straight west, without pushing silt into either San Diego Bay or Mission Bay.



P1170240 Casa De Carrillo by jawajames
P1170240 Casa De Carrillo, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.
Not part of the Presidio Hill exactly, and closer to the rest of Old Town, Casa de Carrillo is an easy hop, skip, and jump away from the start of the Old Presidio Historic Trail at Mason & Juan St. The oldest surviving building in San Diego that's not part of the Mission complex, the Casa de Carrillo is now the pro shop / snack bar building for the Presidio Hills Golf Course, which is a tiny golf course sandwiched between Old Town State park and Presidio Hill. I think there's some miniature golf courses that are larger than this small golf course. The original adobe building was built around 1817 and what's left of it is the HQ for the golf course. The historical marker is located adjacent to the building, and there's an additional plaque on the building, as well as a history of the golf course sign.


P1170236 by jawajames
P1170236, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.
California Historical Landmark No. 74 - Plaque Text:
CASA DE CARRILLO
Presidio Comandante Francisco Maria Ruiz built this house next to his 1808 pear garden late in 1821 for his close relative and fellow soldier, Joaquin Carrillo, and his large family. From this adobe dwelling, in April 1829, daughter Josefa Carrillo eloped to Chile with Henry Delano Fitch. When Ruiz died in 1839 and Joaquin soon afterwards, son Ramon Carrillo sold this property to Lorenzo Soto. It was transferred several times before 1932, deteriorating gradually until George Marston and associates restored the house and grounds and deeded them to the city of San Diego as a golf course.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 74

First Registered Dec. 6, 1932. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the San Diego City Department of Parks and Recreation and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, August 6, 1994.




Resources:


See all the photos on my
flickr album of Presidio Hill
Tags: california, landmarks
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