Who plants a tree,
He plants a joy
That many eyes shall see.
He plants a heritage
For the coming age.
Presidio Park History:
For millennia the hillside was occupied by native Kumeyaay as part of the village of Kosa’aay. Discovered by Spanish financed explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, the site was not settled by Europeans until missionaries and soldiers arrived in 1769. On July 16th, Padre Junipero Serra dedicated Mission San Diego de Alcala within the current park grounds. The hill served as a mission and military outpost until the missionaries relocated the mission facility several miles up river. Shortly afterward the settlement was given Royal Presidio status. At that time, soldiers and their families continued to occupy what is now recognized as the first European settlement on the west coast of the United States.
After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, all of the former Spanish colonies came under Mexican rule, and for a short time the territorial governor of California made his home at this location. Eventually the Mexican government secularized the mission system within its territory, and divided former mission lands among private individuals in the form of land grants. Many former officers and political families from the San Diego Presidio were given grants for large tracts of land throughout the county. Over time, the Presidio settlement was abandoned as many families moved out into their newly owned ranchos or down into the area now known as Old Town. In the process, many building materials were taken with them, leaving the site to fall into disrepair and ultimately ruin.
When the American forces arrived during the Mexican-American War in 1846, the old Presidio fort was overlooked when General Stockton placed his military garrison on higher ground above Old Town and the abandoned Presidio hill. For the rest of the 19th and early 20th century, the hillside remained undeveloped with the exception of a concrete water storage facility known as “The Bowl.”
With the approaching California-Panama Exposition slated for 1915, a resurgence of interest in California’s Spanish Colonial heritage prompted local businessman and philanthropist, George W. Marston to launch an effort to preserve the historic Presidio site. By the 1920’s, his partners abandoned the Presidio Park venture, so George took on the project utilizing his own funds. He hired John Nolan’s public planning firm to create a park landscape design and architect William Templeton Johnson to draft a museum concept reminiscent of the early California Mission buildings.
Then, on July 16th, 1929, for the 160th anniversary of the dedication of Mission San Diego de Alcala, George presented the park and museum to the City of San Diego, so that they would always be available for public enjoyment.