California Historical Landmark: No. 69 Fort Guijarros Site
Continuing the history of the Ballast Point area. After Cabrillo’s landing in 1542, there wasn’t a lot of European activity in San Diego until the founding of Mission San Diego and the Presidio in 1769. Two centuries of minimal contact, such as Vizcaino’s visit in 1602, when he named the bay after San Diego, wiping out Cabrillo’s designation of San Miguel. But once a permanent settlement was established in San Diego, the Spanish realized that not only did they need a military presence in general, they also needed to defend the bay and their ships from foreign ambitions.
California Historical Landmark No. 69
Despite the ban on foreign trading ships visiting Spanish ports, except at Monterey, George Vancouver visited San Diego Bay in 1793 and noted the lack of defenses at San Diego Bay.
With plans drawn in 1795 by Alberto de Cordoba, the Spanish built Fort Guijarros at the entrance of San Diego Bay, on the base of the spit of land later known as Ballast Point, which was also where Cabrillo had made his first landfall 250 learns earlier. Besides defending the entrance to the bay, it also was located near Old La Playa, the main harborfront for the San Diego settlement, and could offer it some protection.
Completed in November 1796 and named “San Joaquin”, the fort was later named “Guijarros” for the cobblestones found nearby, which also later led to the name of Ballast Point after the Americans moved in. Historical records indicated that the sloping walls of the coastal defenses were twenty feet thick, and the fort had about ten cannons.
The fort was involved in two skirmishes:
In March 1803, the Spanish defenders traded fire with the American brig Lelia Byrd, which was attempting to escape the harbor with a load of contraband sea otter pelts. This event, in which the Lelia Byrd escaped, was dubbed “The Battle of San Diego Bay”.
In 1828, with the fort now under Mexican control, shots were exchanged with another American ship, the Franklin, after being caught in illegal trade.
Under Mexican rule, the fort deteriorated, and was abandoned by 1838. By the 1840s, the Ballast Point area became settled by whalers. When US naval forces arrived in 1848, they took the abandoned cannon from the fort to siege against Old Town San Diego. Later, the site became part of the US Army’s Fort Rosecrans, and remains in US military control today.
The site of Fort Guijarros was registered as a California Historical Landmark on Dec. 6, 1932.
FORT GUIJARROS SITE
An outpost of Spain's far-flung empire at its greatest extent, this fort was completed before 1800 from plans drawn by Alberto de Cordoba in 1795. Its major action came under Corporal Jose Velasquez on March 22, 1803, in the "Battle of San Diego Bay" with the American brig, Lelia Byrd, which was smuggling sea otter pelts.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 69
Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Navy, Casa de Espana, San Diego Cannonneers, San Diego Archaeological Society, and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, March 22, 1981.
Note: the State listing for this landmark calls it “Site of Fort Guijarros” while the plaque itself says “Fort Guijarros Site.”
The plaque is located in a small grassy area with parking along the south edge of Ballast Point, at the south end of Fort Rosecrans Blvd, forming a semi-circle with three other California Historical Landmark markers. The Fort Guijarros marker is the third of the four markers, as you face them from the north. Located within Navy Base Point Loma, public access to the landmark may be limited. The Ballast Point area is open to the public during the annual Cabrillo Festival, which is held at the recreation area marked Smuggler’s Cove on the map.
The actual location of the fort site is the spot immediately west of the landmark semi-circle, which is currently an access road and a building.
Also at the landmark plaque site is a small monument across the parking lot from the California Historical Landmarks. This monument commemorates the visit of the Spanish naval training ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano in 1983 and is left in honor of their Spanish comrades who served at the fort from 1797 to 1821.
View my album of the Fort Guijarros marker and other Ballast Point landmarks, as well as my album of the 2013 Cabrillo Festival.
- History of Fort Guijarros
Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation
- Castillo de Guijarros
California State Military Museum
- Fort Guijarros entry on FortWiki
- Fort Guijarros Quarterly Journal archive, San Diego State University
- The Battle of San Diego Bay
- California Historical Landmark No. 69 – Site of Fort Guijarros
Official Listing at California State Parks – Office of Historic Places
- History of Navy Base Point Loma