History of Old Town San Diego

CALIFORNIA’S ORIGINAL PEOPLE

The earliest indications of people living in San Diego date back 9,000 years. They called themselves Kumeyaay. When the Spaniards arrived, they used the word Diegueño to identify the Indians associated with the Mission. In 1542 explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo reported that the native indians, “were good natured and an attractive people.” With the arrival of the Spanish settlements in 1769, many Kumeyaay retreated to the hills.
Historic Sites located in Old Town San Diego

Church of the Immaculate Conception
Begun in 1868 by Father Antonio D. Ubach. Due to the boom that set in for the New San Diego, the church was not completed and dedicated until 1919. In 1925 it was formally transferred to the Order of Saint Francis, the same order as the Mission San Diego de Alcala in Presidio Park.

Colorado House
Originally a hotel, now houses the Wells Fargo Museum. The building is a reconstruction of the 1860 original. The Wells Fargo Museum is a historically furnished Wells Fargo agent’s office, including one of the famous 30 Coaches shipped to Wells Fargo in 1867, a panoramic painting of San Diego in 1855, and a gold watch given as reward for care of San Diego treasure on a stagecoach.

El Campo Santo Cemetery
Used between 1850 and 1880. Here lie many of the most famous early San Diegan's. Now smaller than its original size, some graves lie beneath San Diego Avenue and Linwood Street.

First Brick Courthouse

Heritage Park Victorian Village
7.8-acre county park with seven restored and relocated Victorian homes, saved from the wrecking ball. Includes San Diego's first synagogue, which now hosts weddings, receptions, and bar mitzvahs. Two of the houses currently serve as bed and breakfast inns.

Johnson House
George Alonzo Johnson, a steamboat operator on the Colorado River and later a California State Assemblyman from San Diego, built this small frame home for his family in 1869. In 1880 he moved back into the Old Town House, where he lived until his death in 1903. Displays include artifacts from the Spanish and early American periods, as well as archaeological tools and techniques.

McCoy House
The McCoy House was originally built in 1869, and was home to California's first sheriff. It has been reconstructed. Prior to 1851 the land belonged to Maria Eugenia Silvas, descendant of a Spanish Colonial soldier who came to Alta California in the 1770s.

Mormon Battalion Historic Site
Arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 to support the American military garrison during the Mexican War. Five companies totaling over 500 men had been mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa on July 16, 1846. Along with 32 women, they made the longest march in military history consisting of 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego. Located at 2510 Juan Street, open 9 am - 9 pm every day of the year.

Old Adobe Chapel
The Old Adobe Chapel was reconstructed in the 1930's, after the original structure was razed. The Adobe Chapel was the first parochial church in the first parish of California after the secularization of the missions in 1832. The Old Adobe Chapel was the setting for the fictional wedding of Ramona in Jackson's novel.

Derby-Pendleton House
This house was shipped around the Horn as a prefab home in 1850. It was originally built in New Town and moved to Old Town around 1851. In 1855 Captain George A. Pendleton, the first county clerk and recorder acquired it for his office. The house was moved in 1962 from the end of Harney Street to its current site at the Whaley House Complex.

Plaza Viejo
Set aside for public use when Spaniards planned the town. Site of bull and bear baiting contests and other typical Spanish-Mexican activities. On July 29, 1846 a U.S. Navy Lieutenant and a Marine Lieutenant, under the command of Captain John C. Freemont first raised the American Flag.

The Alvarado House
A reconstruction of an original 1824 house which was once home to the sister of the last California governor appointed by Mexico.

Casa de Aguirre
This is a reconstruction of a house built in the 1850's by Jose Antonio Aguirre. Aguirre married two of his neighbor Don Jose Antonio de Estudillo's daughters. He married Francisca, and after her death married her sister Maria del Rosario.

Casa de Bandini / Cosmopolitan Hotel
Originally a one-story adobe, the home of Don A. Bandini. Built in the early 19th century, this adobe was the headquarters of Commodore Robert F. Stockton in 1846. The building was purchased in 1869 by Alfred Seeley, who added the second story and opened it as the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Now operates as the Cosmopolitan Restaurant.

Casa de Estudillo
Constructed in 1825 as the home of Don Jose Antonio de Estudillo, a Spanish aristocrat. It became a sanctuary for women and children during the American occupation in 1846. For a number of years it was incorrectly identified as "Ramona's Marriage Place" from Helen Hunt Jackson's "Ramona". The adobe structure is considered to be one of Old Town's outstanding show places.

La Casa de Estudillo was turned over to a caretaker in 1887 who sold its tiles, locks, doors and windows. In 1910 architect Hazel W. Waterman supervised the restoration of the house with funds provided by the Spreckels family.

Casa de Lopez
Built about 1835 by Juan Francisco Lopez, one of San Diego's early Spanish settlers, the Casa Larga, or Long House, was among the first substantial houses built in the San Diego. In 1846 it was the home of Juan Matias Moreno, secretary to Pío Pico, California's last Mexican governor. Casa de Lopez has been reconstructed and houses the Rockin' Baja Lobster Restaurant.

Casa de Pedrorena
Residence of Don Miguel de Pedrorena, who made his home in San Diego in the 1850's. A member of an old Madrid family, he was educated both in that city and at Oxford. Allied in sympathy with the Americans during the Mexican War, he became captain in our Army. It was he who saved the famous old Spanish gun "El Jupiter" (now standing on Fort Stockton, Presidio Park) by burying it is the yard of his house.

Casa de Wrightington
Thomas Wrightington and his wife built their house on the plaza in the mid 1840's. After his death in 1853, his widow Juana Machado Alipaz de Wrightington remained in the house until the late 1890s. Dr. George McKinstry, Jr. used a room in her house for his personal residence and office for almost thirty years. He and Juana Wrightington (who was trilingual) provided medical care for Native Americans in San Diego County.

Casa Machado Silvas
An excellent example of adobe construction, was built by Corporal Jose Manuel Machado for his daughter, Maria Antonio Machado de Silvas. It was from this house in 1846 that Senora de Silvas ran to cut away the Mexican flag, and in it that she hid the banner.


Casa Machado Y Stewart
Casa Machado Y Stewart was originally built in 1836 by Corporal José Manuel Machado. After his death the house was occupied by his daughter Rosa, who married John S. Stewart, a shipmate of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. on the Alert. It has been reconstructed, and features an extensive period vegetable garden.

Presidio Park
Father Junípero 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.

Racine and Laramie Store
Juan Rodriguez, a Mexican soldier who had received the land as compensation for his service, probably built his home here in the 1830s. It burned in the Old Town fire of 1872 and has been reconstructed and furnished with period pieces to recreate the Racine and Laramie store, which sold cigars, tobacco and stationery, as it was in 1869.
Robinson-Rose House
James Robinson built this two-story structure in 1853 as his family residence and as the home of the San Diego Herald, the San Diego and Gila Railroad office and other private offices. Fire destroyed the roof in 1874. The reconstructed building now serves as Old Town State Historic Park's visitor center. Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free.

San Diego House
Built in 1830, this was originally a small adobe saloon and provision store, owned by two black men, Richard Freeman and Allen Light, the first two African/Americans to settle in Old Town. In 1856 it was known as the American Hotel. Reconstructed building originally built in 1838.

San Diego Sheriff's Museum
A project of the Honorary Deputy Sheriff's Association, located one hundred feet from where the first cobblestone jail once stood. Interactive exhibits from the 150-year history of the Sheriff's Department; displays include guns, badges, handcuffs, uniforms, patrol car, helicopter, motorcycle, jail cell and courtroom. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10-4; Admission: free

San Diego Union Newspaper
This wood-frame structure was prefabricated in Maine and shipped around the Horn in 1851. This first office of the San Diego Union newspaper is restored as it was when the Union printed its first edition on October 10, 1868 and was published as a weekly. It contained four pages as was common in those days. Visitors can view the original printroom with a Washington press and the editor's office. Hours: Daily 10-5; Admission: free

Seeley Stable Museum
Albert Seeley ran the San Diego-Los Angeles Stage Line, which was put out of business in 1887 after the coming of the railroad. Seeley Stables was the Yuma/San Diego stage stop in the 1850's. It has been reconstructed and now houses a collection of vintage carriages and transportation memorabilia. Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free.

Serra Museum
Original San Diego Presidio, this museum chronicles Old Town's inhabitants from the Kumeyaay to the present with classic photos and exhibits. Operated by the San Diego Historical Society, 2727 Presidio Drive.
U.S. House
Charles Noell and John Hayes operated a general store out of this two-story pre-fabricated building as early as 1850. In 1854, Hayes leased the structure to Robert Lloyd and Edward Kerr, who named it the U.S. House. Other ventures at this locale include an auction house, butcher shop, boarding house, restaurant, and a match factory. This structure, like many in Old Town, burned in the fire of 1872. Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free

Whaley House
According to the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted, the Whaley House is the number one most haunted house in the United States. The alleged hauntings of the Whaley House have been reported on numerous other television programs and been written up in countless publications and books since the house first opened as a museum in 1960. Although we cannot state positively that the Whaley House is really haunted, the voluminous documentation of paranormal occurrences at the site makes a compelling case. But, if there are ghosts at the Whaley House, who are they and why are they here?
The Founding
of California
Old Town San Diego is considered the "birthplace" of California. San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California. It was here in 1769, that Father Junipero Serra came to establish the very first mission in a chain of 21 missions that were to be the cornerstone of California’s colonization. Father Serra’s mission and Presidio were built on a hillside overlooking what is currently known as Old Town San Diego. At the base of the hill in 1820’s, a small Mexican community of adobe buildings was formed and by 1835 had attained the status of El Pueblo de San Diego. In 1846, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant and a Marine Lieutenant, raised the American flag in the Old Town San Diego Plaza.

In 1968, the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation established Old Town State Historic Park to preserve the rich heritage that characterized San Diego during the 1821 to 1872 period. The park includes a main plaza, exhibits, museums and living history demonstrations.

Historic buildings include La Casa de Estudillo, La Casa de Bandini, La Casa de Altamirno Pedrorena and the Mason Street School, San Diego’s first one room schoolhouse. Just up the hill from Old Town San Diego Historic State Park, you’ll find Heritage Park where several of San Diego’s most notable Victorian homes have been relocated and authentically restored to their original splendor. Just a short walk down San Diego Avenue is the Whaley House, an officially designated haunted house, the Little Adobe Chapel on Conde Street, the first Church in Old Town San Diego and El Campo Santo on San Diego Avenue, a 1850 Catholic Cemetery.

Come visit the original and reconstructed buildings and furnishings that illustrate the ambiance of 1800’s San Diego . . . where California Began!