Balboa Park is without a doubt one of America’s national treasures. Located just north of downtown San Diego, its 1,200 acres is the home of magnificent museums, gardens, architectural marvels, many recreational facilities and perhaps the world’s most famous zoo. The amazing urban park is so gigantic most visitors see only a small fraction of it. Some out-of-the-way corners of Balboa Park are enjoyed by locals who live nearby; other overlooked areas seem almost forgotten.
The USS Bennington Memorial Oak Grove is one such area. While many drive by it on any given day, as they travel along 26th Street just before it turns into Florida Drive, and a few joggers pass through the shady grove, I’d wager only a handful of San Diegans know of the oak grove’s existence or historical significance.
There are 66 live oak trees in this grove. They were planted to memorialize 66 men killed on the USS Bennington on the morning of July 21, 1905, when the gunboat’s boiler suddenly exploded and the ship nearly sank in San Diego’s harbor. No markers in the grove indicate the significance of the large gnarled oaks. (A 60 foot high granite obelisk stands at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, a memorial to those sailors who died on the USS Bennington. Most of the dead are buried there.)
The USS Bennington was a warship with a long and proud history. Commissioned in 1891, she was the ship that claimed Wake Island for the United States. After the boiler explosion in San Diego Bay, eleven men were awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.
Earlier this year, when I visited an exhibit in Balboa Park created by The Daughters of the American Revolution San Diego Chapter, I learned the local DAR would like to place plaques in the grove to memorialize the USS Bennington and the men who tragically died. If you, your business or organization would like information about the project, or to help, you might contact them from their page. Should this project come to fruition, I’ll be very pleased to blog about it!