Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
El Presidio Real
de San Diego
San Diego, the oldest
Spanish settlement in Alta California, was probably first visited
by a European in 1539 when Father Marcoos de Niza, with an overland
expedition,.was searching for the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola.
Cabrillo, on September
28, 1542, made the first visit by sea after sighting Point Loma
his landing was probably near Ballast Point on the east side
of Point Loma In 1602 Sebasian Vizcano gave the name of San Diego
Bay to its sheltered harbor. The friars in his party very probably
celebrated California's first holy mass at Ballast Point near
which the Spaniards later built Castillo de Guijarros. Settlement, however, did not
materialize until 1769, when Jose
de Galvez ordered
colonization there. Two ships arrived in April, followed boy
two overland expeditions, the first under Fernando de Rivera arriving at San Diego on May 15, and the second
under Governor Gaspar de Portola, with Father Junipero Serra,
arriving there on July 1, both expeditions driving herds of cattle.
Father Serra said mass at the site on the same day before a gathering
of 126 persons, Survivors of 310 who had originally set out from
Baja California by land and sea too occupy Alta California. After
the le deum, Governor Portola ceremoniously took possession
of California for Spain
Today's s Presidio of San Diego commemorates the beginning of
mission endeavor and European settlement in California. During
the century that followed, the Presidio, its mission (completely
restored in the early 1930's), and fortifications underwent a
number of name changes as control of San Diego passed from Spain
to Mexico and ultimately to the United States. The religious
ceremony of July 1, 1769, was followed by the formal founding
of El Presidio Real (a fort until it was legally established
as a Presidio in 1774, now located in San Diego's "Old Town;"
surrounded by a modern American city) on July 16, adjoining the
first mission in Alta California, San Diego de Alcala. After
a destructive Indian attack in August, the Spaniards erected
a crude stockade on Presidio Hill to protect both the mission
and the tiny colony. By the end of March 1770, the colonists
had completed the stockade, mounted two bronze cannon, and built
wooden houses with tule roofs.
The commandant's residence was situated in the center of the
Presidio. On the east side of the square were a chapel, storehouses,
and the cemetery; on the south side were the gate and guardhouse;
and around the other sides were the soldiers' barracks. To remove
his converted Indians from the destructive influence of the presidial
garrison, Father Francisco Palou in 1774 moved the mission to
a new site, six miles to the northeast, the present site of San
Diego Mission. In 1778 the Presidio's original wooden walls and
buildings began to be replaced with adobe structures. From 1795
to 1796 an esplanade, powder magazine, flagpole, and additional
barracks were added to the Presidio, and Castillo de Guijarros-the
harbors first fortification-was erected on the east side of Point
Loma It in cluded a battery designed to mount ten cannon, an
adobe built powder magazine, and barracks.
As the Spanish period drew to a close, the garrison of the Presidio
increased, with 50
in 1819 to the force of about 100 soldiers. The total Spanish
population of San Diego and its near environs in that year was
about 450, in addition to about 6,800 Indian neophytes. Under
Mexican control, however, the size of the garrison and the condition
of the Presidio declined rapidly after 1830. In 1831 the Mexican
government withdrew the rest of the troops. In 1836 the Presidio
was dilapidated and Castillo de Guijarros in ruins.
In 1838, because of minor
uprisings and general disturbances, an earthwork was built oil
Presidio hill to protect the town.
By 1839 the Presidio was a complete ruin, with much of its stone
and adobe removed to erect houses in the new pueblo of San Diego,
founded in 1835.
When the United States occupied San Diego in 1846, neither the
Presidio nor Castillo de Guijarros had any military value. But
the 1838 built earthwork on Presidio Hill was incorporated in
what was called Fort
DuPont (for the
captain of the sloop-ofwar Cyane) and later variously known as
Garrison at San Diego, Fort San Diego, or Fort Stockton (after Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who occupied
the site later in the same year). In 1847, when tile Mormon Battalion
and its commander, General Philip St. George, were stationed
at San Diego, they found that the Mission San Diego de Alcala had been abandoned for at least
a dozen years. Cooke settled his troops on open ground near the
chapel. later, a regular Army garrison used the chapel as a barracks,
calling it Post
at Mission San Diego.
Prior to the Civil War, San Diego became of military significance
for a number of reasons, among them the disruptions caused by
tile Mexican war, the discovery of gold, and Indian depredations.
Several new military posts in southern California were established.
San Diego's chief contribution was as a depot from which supplies
were distributed to Camp
(later Fort) Yuma,
225 miles distant, and other posts in the southern department.
In 1858-59, when Colonel Joseph K. F. Mansfield inspected the
Department of the Pacific's military posts for the second time,
he found the San Diego Depot unoccupied. Reoccupied in 1860,
it was first called the Post
of New San Diego
and, later, San
remaining continuously active until 1920.
The site of the Presidio of San Diego was rescued from complete
oblivion in 1929 by the donation of a 37 acre parcel to tile
city of San Diego, to be used for park purposes. Presidio Park,
formally landscaped, includes the Serra Museum as its principal
architectural feature. Built in 1929, the museum houses a large
collection of archaeological and historical memorabilia related
to Spanish colonization and early California history. The museum's
library contains both original and published records of the history
of the city and the region. Most of the former site of the Presidio
lies in front of the museum. Construction of the San Diego River
dike and the Mission Valley Road had destroyed part of the site,
and another small section of the site lies beneath a park road.
In the center of the site stands the Junipero Serra Cross, erected
in 1913, built from the many pieces of brick and floor tile found
on the site. A number of fort plans relating to California's
four presidios were discovered in 1982 in the Bancroft library
at Berkeley. The most valuable in the collection is the 1820
plan of San Diego Presidio (See below). Archaeologists have been
working on that site for more than 20 years without the guidance
of a plan. its availability should be of material assistance
to the San Diego archeological program.