San Diego’s early history at the Serra Museum.

The Junipero Serra Museum of the San Diego History Center was built in 1928 on Presidio Hill, where European civilization was established in Alta California.
The Junipero Serra Museum of the San Diego History Center was built in 1928 on Presidio Hill, where European civilization was established in Alta California.

I recently visited one of San Diego’s most fascinating museums. The Junipero Serra Museum is located atop Presidio Hill, in a distinctive Mission Revival architectural style building overlooking San Diego Bay and the San Diego River, just east of Old Town. It stands near the site of San Diego’s historic Spanish presidio, built in 1769. The presidio was the birthplace of European civilization in Alta California.

The Serra Museum is operated by the San Diego History Center, which is headquartered today in Balboa Park. Back in 1929, when the building was dedicated, it became home of what was then called the San Diego Historical Society. The important San Diego institution was established by civic leader George W. Marston.

Can you believe it? I’ve lived in San Diego for 15 years . . . and this was the very first time I ventured into the Serra Museum. (I can thank my blog for that!)

What I discovered was an absolutely amazing place that both residents and visitors to San Diego should definitely not miss.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll see…

People arrive at the Serra Museum, where San Diego's early Spanish history comes alive.
People arrive at the Serra Museum, where San Diego’s early Spanish history comes alive.
Junipero Serra Museum dedicated July 16, 1929 to the memory of the founder of the California missions. The original Mission San Diego de Alcalá was established nearby in 1769.
Junipero Serra Museum dedicated July 16, 1929 to the memory of the founder of the California missions. The original Mission San Diego de Alcalá was established nearby in 1769.
A quick look at the rear of the museum.
A quick look at the rear of the museum.
The Serra Museum building was designed by noted architect William Templeton Johnson. It reflects Spanish Revival architecture.
The Serra Museum building was designed by noted architect William Templeton Johnson. It reflects Mission Revival style architecture.
Large wine press in front of the museum was a gift from the Spanish island of Mallorca, Father Junipero Serra's birthplace.
Large wine press in front of the museum was a gift from the Spanish island of Mallorca, Father Junipero Serra’s birthplace.
Plaque near entrance reads George White Marston 1850-1946. FRIEND OF HIS FELLOW MEN - LOVER OF ALL GROWING THINGS. Piece by piece through many years he acquired these acres...
Plaque near entrance reads George White Marston 1850-1946. FRIEND OF HIS FELLOW MEN – LOVER OF ALL GROWING THINGS. Piece by piece through many years he acquired these acres…
Elegant interior of the Serra Museum contains many exhibits pertaining to San Diego's early Spanish history.
Elegant interior of the Serra Museum contains many exhibits pertaining to San Diego’s early Spanish history.
Researchers discovered this sketch of the Royal San Diego Presidio dated 1820. It shows the layout of the old buildings which no longer exist.
Researchers discovered this sketch of the Royal San Diego Presidio dated 1820. It shows the layout of the old buildings which no longer exist.
Modern graphic illustration of the fortified presidio, which was located a short distance below the Serra Museum's front entrance.
Modern graphic illustration of the fortified presidio, which was located a short distance below the Serra Museum’s front entrance.
Old Spanish cannon named El Jupiter, cast in Manila in the 18th century. El Jupiter stood in Fort Guijarros at Ballast Point, the first defensive fortifications for San Diego Bay
Old Spanish cannon named El Jupiter, cast in Manila in the 18th century. El Jupiter stood in Fort Guijarros at Ballast Point, the first defensive fortifications for San Diego Bay.
Leather armchair made in Catalan, Spain in the 17th century. This "friar's chair" was part of the original Serra Museum's furnishings.
Leather armchair made in Catalan, Spain in the 17th century. This “friar’s chair” was part of the original Serra Museum’s furnishings.
Old violin with bow, a branding iron used by rancheros to identify cattle, and iron spurs are among the many historical objects on display.
Old violin with bow, a branding iron used by rancheros to identify cattle, and iron spurs are among the many historical objects on display.
Another look at the beautiful interior of the Serra Museum in San Diego.
Another look at the beautiful interior of the Serra Museum in San Diego.
Large wooden beams in a truly amazing ceiling.
Large wooden beams in a truly amazing ceiling.
Stairs lead up to the Serra Museum's tower. Painted on the wall is a map showing the sea journey of the Spanish Expedition which founded San Diego in 1769.
Stairs lead up to the Serra Museum’s tower. Painted on the wall is a map showing the sea journey of the Spanish expedition which founded San Diego in 1769.
March 9-20, 1769. Desperate to replace drinking water which leaked from the ship's casks, Captain Vicente Vila commands the Spanish galleon San Carlos near Isla de Cedros.
March 9-20, 1769. Desperate to replace drinking water which leaked from the ship’s casks, Captain Vicente Vila commands the tacking Spanish galleon San Carlos near Isla de Cedros.
A room halfway up the tower. Numerous displays recall San Diego's history, most notably at the time when the Serra Museum was dedicated in 1929.
A room halfway up the tower. Numerous displays recall San Diego’s history, most notably around the time when the Serra Museum was dedicated in 1929.
Old photo of the crowd attending the Serra Museum's dedication ceremony on July 16, 1929.
Old photo of the crowd attending the Serra Museum’s dedication ceremony on July 16, 1929.
A fascinating look at Presidio Hill almost a century ago.
A fascinating look at Presidio Hill almost a century ago.
A lovely watercolor sketch of the Junipero Serra Museum atop Presidio Hill.
A lovely watercolor sketch of the Junipero Serra Museum atop Presidio Hill.
On the wall are many historical photos and artifacts, including an image from around 1930 of a cigar factory on 4th Street in San Diego.
On the wall are many historical photos and artifacts, including an image from around 1930 of a cigar factory on 4th Street in San Diego.
A reproduction of the west elevation drawing of the Serra Museum by architect William Templeton Johnson.
A reproduction of the west elevation drawing of the Serra Museum by architect William Templeton Johnson.
Now we're heading up to the very top of the tower.
Now we’re heading up to the very top of the tower.
Looking west from the Serra Museum tower along Interstate 8. Point Loma is on the left and Mission Bay is to the right.
Looking west from the Serra Museum tower along Interstate 8. Point Loma is on the left and Mission Bay is to the right.
Looking east into Mission Valley.
Looking east into Mission Valley.
Visitors at the Serra Museum head back down from the tower, after looking at old photos which show a less-developed surrounding landscape.
Visitors at the Serra Museum head back down from the tower, after looking at old photos which show a much less-developed surrounding landscape.
A small theater in the Serra Museum contains additional exhibits about life in and around the old Presidio.
A small theater in the Serra Museum contains additional exhibits about life in and around the old Presidio.
Examples of what life was like for the Native American Kumeyaay, who occupied this region long before it was discovered by the Spanish.
Examples of what life was like for the Native American Kumeyaay, who occupied this region long before it was discovered by the Spanish.
Stories of two people who lived on a local Rancho. Click the image to enlarge, if you'd like to read it.
Stories of two people who lived on a local Rancho. Click the image to enlarge, if you’d like to read it.
Map of the old Presidio's archaeological site. You can see where the fort was located in relation to the Serra Museum.
Map of the old Presidio’s archaeological site. You can see where the fort was located in relation to the Serra Museum.
Explanation of the excavation process utilized by researchers. Some artifacts that were unearthed are on display in the museum.
Explanation of the excavation process utilized by researchers. Some artifacts that were unearthed are on display in the museum.
Artistic rendition of a Mexican presidio soldier circa 1830, and a horse's bit.
Artistic rendition of a Mexican presidio soldier circa 1830, and a horse bit.
An olive press, granite mill stones, and an ox yoke.
An olive press, granite mill stones, and an ox yoke.
Small artifacts include this carved polychrome wood San Diego de Alcala Santo from 18th century Spain.
Small artifacts include this carved polychrome wood San Diego de Alcala Santo from 18th century Spain.
Sign describes the life of Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra, and his work to establish the California Missions under the flag of Spain. He was recently made a Catholic Saint.
Sign describes the life of Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra, and his work to establish the California Missions under the flag of Spain. He was recently made a Catholic Saint.
Painting. Oil on canvas. San Diego del Alcala de Henares. Mid 18th century, Spanish or Mexican.
Painting. Oil on canvas. San Diego del Alcala de Henares. Mid 18th century, Spanish or Mexican.
Olla and bowl. Kumeyaay or neighboring culture.
Olla and bowl. Kumeyaay or neighboring culture.
The Serra Museum in San Diego provides a fascinating look at our uniquely diverse city's very early history.
The Junipero Serra Museum in San Diego provides a fascinating look at our culturally diverse city’s very early history.

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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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