History inside Old Town’s San Diego Union Building.

Plaque marks the birthplace of the San Diego Union newspaper in 1868.
Plaque marks the birthplace of the San Diego Union newspaper in 1868.

There are many interesting houses and buildings within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. One of the most fascinating is the San Diego Union Building. Take a step inside and you’ll see the carefully restored birthplace of a present-day major newspaper: the San Diego Union Tribune.

The framework of the building, erected around 1851, is believed to have been originally fabricated in Maine, then shipped to San Diego around Cape Horn. The San Diego Union was first published on October 10, 1868. The newspaper’s editor at that time was Edward “Ned” Wilkerson Bushyhead, a Cherokee Indian with a Scottish ancestor.

The newspaper began as a modest four page weekly, and was produced on a massive wrought iron Washington hand press. In the museum one can also see an authentic 1860’s recreation of the editor’s room, which contains a desk once owned by the son of Ulysses S. Grant!

The San Diego Union Building in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park contains a print shop and editor's office.
The San Diego Union Building in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park contains a print shop and editor’s office.
The prefabricated wood-frame building was erected in 1851.
The prefabricated wood-frame building was erected circa 1851. In 1967 the building was restored by James S. Copley, who at the time was owner of the San Diego Union Tribune.
Old wood stove just inside the front entrance to accurately restored newspaper office.
Old wood stove just inside the front entrance of accurately restored newspaper office.
Drawers hold hand-set type that used to be used in old newspaper printing presses.
Drawers hold hand-set type that used to be assembled in a press for newspaper printing.
Massive Washington hand press can be glimpsed to the right in small printing shop.
A massive Washington hand press can be glimpsed to the right in the small printing shop.
The small editor's office contains a desk once owned by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant. Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. built a grand hotel in San Diego's New Town.
The small editor’s office contains a desk once owned by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1910 Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. built a grand hotel in San Diego’s New Town. (I took this photo in August 2017.)
The Newspaper Museum is open daily from 10 to 5.
The Newspaper Museum is open daily from 10 to 5.

UPDATE!

In August 2017, during Stagecoach Days in Old Town, I was able to actually enter the print shop and take better photos of the presses and other objects inside. (Usually visitors must peer or take photographs from a greater distance.)

Washington hand presses were common on the frontier because of their relative light weight. They required two people for efficient operation.
Washington hand presses were common on the frontier because of their relative light weight. They required two people for efficient operation.
Fresh paper was laid on inked type. Setting the type for new articles on just one page could take hours. Fortunately, many advertisements on a page remained the same.
Fresh paper was laid on inked type and an impression made. Setting the type for new articles on just one page could take hours. Fortunately, many advertisements on a page didn’t change.
This jobber printing press would have been used for small jobs such as stationery and handbills.
A jobber printing press like this would have been used for small jobs such as stationery and handbills.
This safe is the one original object displayed inside the reconstructed San Diego Union Building in Old Town.
This safe is the only original object displayed inside the restored San Diego Union Building in Old Town.
A type case full of large cast metal sorts. Individual letters were combined into words, sentences and paragraphs.
A type case full of large cast metal sorts. Individual letters were combined into words, sentences and paragraphs.
Manual typesetting for old presses, as one might imagine, took patience and a good eye.
Manual typesetting for old presses, as one might imagine, took lots of patience and a good eye.
Gazing from the print shop toward the building's entrance area.
Gazing from the print shop toward the small building’s entrance area.
According to one sign, the San Diego Union Building was erected around 1850 by Miguel Pedrorena. The Washington Press, type and printing supplies arrived by steamship from Northern California.
According to one sign, the San Diego Union Building was erected around 1850 by Miguel Pedrorena. The Washington Press, type and printing supplies arrived by steamship from Northern California.
A docent explains how the San Diego Union newspaper was composed and printed many years ago.
A knowledgeable lady in period attire explains how the San Diego Union newspaper was composed and printed a century and a half ago, long before the digital age.

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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