Archive | March 2013

California Historical Landmark No. 242: Mission San Diego de Alcala & No. 784: El Camino Real

At the beginning of February, we spent a day to find a few more California Historical Landmarks, all connected to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Here’s the two that are at the Mission site – both are found on the exterior wall of the Mission courtyard, accessible to the public at all times.

No. 242 Mission San Diego de Alcala

First stop was the mission itself. The mission, which was founded in 1769 by Fr. Junipero Serra at the Presidio Hill, but relocated from there to its current location further up Mission Valley in 1774 by Fr. Luis Jayme to have better access to water for irrigation, to be closer to the Native Americans, and further away from the Spanish military garrison at the Presidio.

Plaque text:

    On Sunday, July 16, 1769 Fathers Junipero Serra, Juan Vizcaino, and Fernando Parron raised and blessed a cross to establish Alta California's 1st mission. Relocated from Presidio Hill to this site in August 1774 the mission was the mother of those founded by the Franciscan order. The present buildings, first completed in 1813, were rebuilt in stages from 1915 to 1931 after many years of deterioration. They have been in use as a parish church since February 1941.

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 242

    Originally registered June 10, 1936. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Diocese of San Diego and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, Sunday July 16, 1989.

This points out the basic history of the mission, though there’s more to it. The mission remained active from the Spanish colonial period (even building a dam and flume to supply water to the mission and its crops) through Mexico’s independence in 1821, but eventually the mission system was dissolved and the lands redistributed through the 1834 Decree of Secularization. In the 1850s, with California now a state in the United States, the mission was used as a military outpost, with the soldiers building a second floor within the chapel: the upper floor was a barracks while the main floor was the stable. In the late 1800s, the mission was used as an Indian children’s school. By the early twentieth century, the building complex was falling into ruin, and efforts to restore it as a historical site. Read more about the history at the Mission’s website or at the National Park Service’s site for American Latino Heritage.

After being rebuilt (though the campanario, or bell wall, were rebuilt with no photographs of how they were originally structured), the church was re-opened as a parish in San Diego in 1941 (though perhaps at that time, Mission Valley was still rather sparsely settled.) In 1976, the mission was named a minor basilica of the Church.

The plaque is located along the main front wall, to the right of the entrance passage to the gift shop.

The mission today houses:

  • the main church (still active as a parish) – a two-story rectangular building built as wide as the longest beams would allow.
  • a smaller chapel (for daily services)
  • some museum displays – a recreation of what the priests’ main residential room, and a room of artifacts and displays of the history of the mission, from its use as a mission, to the Mexican secular period, to its use as a military barracks, to its abandonment and restoration.
  • gift shop, where you can enter the grounds to explore the mission (donation is suggested, and they have a handy guide map and pamphlet of a walk around the grounds)
  • a garden courtyard behind the campanario with trees, fountains, statues, and devotional spots
  • a central courtyard / church parking area with a display of a traditional Kumeyaay house, a central fountain, and a Pieta statue.
  • archaeological dig site of the cloister building that went along the front wall. Parts of the adobe walls are visible as the site is closed off for future discovery.
  • some additional buildings – perhaps related to the school and education center.

A good time to visit the Mission might be during the annual Festival of the Bells, which celebrates the anniversary of the mission in July.

No. 784: El Camino Real (As Father Serra Knew It and Helped Blaze It)

Further to the left of the gift shop entrance, as you get closer to the chapel facade, there’s another California Historical Landmark plaque in the wall:

Plaque text:

    This plaque is placed on the 250th anniversary of the birth of California's apostle, Padre Junipero Serra, O.F.M., to mark the southern terminus of El Camino Real as Padre Serra knew it and helped to blaze it.

    1713 - November 24 - 1963

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 784

    Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with the Committee for El Camino Real. December 29, 1963

About El Camino Real:
El Camino Real (or Royal Highway) was the network of roads that connected the 21 missions of California. There is a matching plaque at the Mission San Francisco de Asis as the northern terminus of Father Serra’s El Camino Real (the Mission Trail itself extends further north from San Francisco to the mission in Sonoma, which was built in 1823.

Mission Bells and La Playa Trail:

Also at the mission site, are several Mission Bells from the El Camino Real marker bells from the early 1900s. Donated by the Pacific Beach Women’s Club, they likely were relocated during the development of PB to the mission, where they now line the driveway from Mission Center Road up the hill to the church. And in the lower parking lot, there is one more marker of note:

La Playa Trail Marker – The La Playa Trail is considered the oldest commercial trail in the western United States/oldest European trail along the Pacific Coast. Starting off as a Native American route, it entered commercial service as the route that connected the Presidio to La Playa (where the ships landed in San Diego Bay, along the bayside of Point Loma) and then later expanded east when the Mission moved further east. The La Playa Trail Association’s website has more history about the trail and its original six commemorative markers placed in 1934.

Mission San Diego is located in the eastern portion of Mission Valley, just off of Interstate 8 and Interstate 15 in San Diego.

    Mission San Diego
    10818 San Diego Mission Road
    San Diego, CA 92108

Both California Historical Landmark plaques are located along the front wall of the courtyard, facing the outside, along with several other historical marker plaques and alcoves containing statuary representing the namesakes of the missions in the Franciscan mission system.

The plaque for No. 784 (El Camino Real) is located closest to the chapel, while the plaque for No. 242 is located to the right of the entryway to the gift shop/visitor entrance.

View all the photos from my visit to Mission San Diego de Alcala in my flickr album.

Five new National Monuments established!

Just announced today: Five new national monuments have been established, including Delaware’s first National Park Service unit (making them the last state to have a NPS unit)

Read more about the five new national monuments:

  • Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio
  • First State National Monument in Delaware, (three sites)
  • Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland
  • Río Grande del Norte National Monument, northwest of Taos, New Mexico
  • San Juan Islands National Monument, Washington
  • While this blog is primarily about California Historical Landmarks, these new National Monuments are something to celebrate for helping connect us with history and nature.

California Historical Landmark No. 1023: National City Depot Transcontinental Railroad

I visited four different landmarks in the southwest part of San Diego County last weekend, and was going to wait until I migrated my older visits from livejournal to this blog before posting about the new landmarks I visited, but why not strike while the iron is hot.

No. 1023: National City Depot Transcontinental Railroad

The only California Historical Landmark in National City (a small city immediately south of downtown San Diego) is its historic rail depot, which served as the southwestern terminus of the transcontinental railroad operated by Santa Fe. The California Southern line, split off from the main line at Barstow, headed south to Temecula, then cut through Fallbrook to Oceanside. After the railroad passed through Santa Fe Depot (in downtown San Diego), it continued south along San Diego Bay to reach National City.

Originally built in 1882 in the Italianate architectural style (of which it is one of the few remaining buildings in the South Bay), the station continued as the West Coast office for Santa Fe until 1889, when Santa Fe moved its operations to San Bernardino, while the station continued to receive passenger service until 1930. At some point afterward, the two-story structure became a restaurant. The City of National City restored the building in 1998. It is currently a museum operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Association, which has a collection of electric rail (trolley) cars from around the world on the property, and is open Thursday – Sunday.

Plaque text:

    This National City California Southern Railroad Depot, built in 1882, served as the first Pacific Coast terminus station of the Santa Fe Railway System's transcontinental railroad. The station was the West Coast general office and figured prominently in Santa Fe's effort to break the economic and transportation monopoly of California held by the Central/Southern Pacific Railroad. The first transcontinental trains arrived in November 1885, resulting in one of the largest land booms in the history of California. Of the original five transcontinental railroad terminus stations, this unique Italianate designed station is the lone survivor.


    Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the City of National City and the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, Squibob Chapter, November 15, 1997.

Atop the stone monument are three railroad spikes inset into the marker. The landmark was officially registered on March 3, 1997.


The stone marker displaying the plaque is located next to the northeast corner of the depot building. (or to the right of the building as you face the entrance from 23rd Street). National City Depot is located at:

    900 West 23rd Street
    National City
    (San Diego County)

Directions: From Interstate 5, take the Bay Marina Drive / Mile of Cars Way exit, and head west one block. Turn right (north) on Cleveland Ave, then turn left (west) onto West 23rd Street, and the parking lot will be ahead on the left. The marker is within the fenced property, so be sure to check the museum’s business hours to make sure the lot will be open.

P1170743 These two electric railcars are Vienna N1 cars from the 1950s


Visit my geotagged album of photos of the plaque, depot building, and electric railway cars on flickr.

Other resources:

Date of visit: Sunday, March 10, 2013.

California Historical Landmark No. 764: Kate Sessions’ Nursery Site

The first California Historical Landmark I visited in 2013 was also the closest one to my house:

No. 764: Kate Olivia Sessions’ Nursery Site

Kate Sessions is a key figure in San Diego history, having left her mark on the city as a horticulturalist who both beautified San Diego (she is referred to as the “Mother of Balboa Park” for her numerous tree plantings there) and introduced both native Southern California plants to the landscaping scene, and from her expeditions, introduced and popularized various plants and trees to San Diego, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She had nurseries in Mission Hills, Coronado, and Pacific Beach, and leased space in Balboa Park for growing fields.

While she is most closely associated with Balboa Park (there is a statue of her on the west side of the park at Sefton Plaza), Pacific Beach has an elementary school and a park (on the south side of Mount Soledad) named for her, as they are located close to the site of her PB nursery, started in 1928 at Pico & Balboa. Today, while her Pacific Beach nursery is long gone, the landmark marker is located as you drive into the community, and is next to a Tipuana tipu (Rosewood) tree planted by Sessions.

Plaque text:

    This plaque commemorates the life and influence of a woman who envisioned San Diego beautiful. On this site she operated a nursery and gained world renown as a horticulturist, she was the first woman to receive the International Meyer Medal in genetics.

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 764

    Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with the Pacific Beach Woman's Club July 7, 1961.

A smaller plaque on the rock reads “Donated by Rotary Club of Mission Bay 1994”. The state plaque title doesn’t quite match the title No 764 (Site of the Kate O. Sessions Nursery) listed online at the Office of Historic Preservation – my guess is that when the plaque was replaced (likely in 1994), the plaque’s title was updated to include her full name.

The marker is located on the northwest corner of Garnet Avenue & Pico Street, as you head into Pacific Beach, after crossing Rose Creek. Closer to the corner is a large rosewood tree (Tipuana tipu) planted by Sessions in the 1920s. If you plan to visit the marker, you can park on Pico Street.

Up the hill from the nursery site is Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park (near where she once lived), a large city park with a great grassy hill known for its view of Mission Bay, and 60 acres of undeveloped space with trails. From the site, head west on Garnet Avenue, take Lamont Street north to reach the park.

On my visit on January 25, 2013, I took a handful of photos, available in this flickr album.

Other resources:

2013 goal of all landmarks in San Diego: 1 out of 73.

Adding some new info

So after I started the blog last week, I spent some time to create some pages of useful information.

The About page has some good resources, including lists of all the California Historical Landmarks, up and down the state, as well as links to other sites about visiting the landmarks. There’s some great information there about other people attempting to visit each and every landmark site. I should probably link some of them on the side navigation bar as a good resource.

The San Diego County page is a list of the 73 landmarks in San Diego County, as a checklist for me. As I add more posts, I’ll build links into that list for each landmark that I’ve visited.

The Other counties page will be used to list California Historical Landmarks that I visit in other counties, with links to their posts.

Starting off my blog on California Historical Landmarks

James at a California Historical Landmark marker

There are over 1,100 registered California Historical Landmarks up and down the state. One of my goals for 2013 is to visit the 73 landmarks in San Diego County. I started in late January and started documenting the landmarks I visited on my old personal blog,, but I think having a blog simply focused on the California Historical Landmarks will be better for people interested in California history and travel.

I will transfer over the few posts I made on livejournal, but here they are:

This blog isn’t just for the markers and the text on the plaques or just for San Diego County’s state historical landmarks, but will try to include the context for the historical significance of the site, as well as relevant information for those trying to travel to the site. Also, while my goal for 2013 is to visit all of the California Historical Landmarks in San Diego County, I’m sure I will also come across landmarks in other parts of the state.