A moment in San Diego history is captured in a photographic mural outside Rudford’s Restaurant in North Park.
The exterior of this popular all-American diner, which first opened in 1949, appears today much as it did back in 1963. The mural recalls how on June 6th of that year, President John F. Kennedy passed the restaurant as a crowd looked on.
A description of the event in a corner of the photo mural explains: “In a visit to San Diego…the president traveled down El Cajon Boulevard on his way to San Diego State College where he gave the commence address… This is an actual photo of the motorcade taken by local teenager James Daigh as it passed Rudford’s Restaurant on that Thursday morning…”
Rudford’s Restaurant remains just as popular as ever. The retro diner is open 24 hours a day and treats its customers with home-style cooking and nostalgic decor!
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There are dozens of cool things to see in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. I’ve barely scratched the surface so far with my blog.
For example, there’s a small free museum right next to the central Plaza de Las Armas called Commercial Restaurant. A rather dull name, but a very interesting place jam-packed with history!
The small recreated restaurant shows what life was like in the mid 1800s, back when San Diego was downright tiny. The Commercial Restaurant is comprised of two rooms: one contains the dining area, the other, the kitchen. Originally called the Casa de Machado y Silvas, the house was built by José Manuel Machado and given as a wedding gift to his daughter María Antonia, and her husband, José Antonio Nicasio Silvas. The simple adobe building was converted into a modest restaurant by its owners in the early 1850s. Today it stands as one of the five historic adobes in Old Town San Diego.
I’ve provided a bit more info in the photo captions!
In the mid 1800’s, when New England travelers arrived by ship to Old Town, they sought out a dining establishment serving meals like they would find at home, including stews, soups, crackers, bread and cow’s milk. Over the years, exposure to native Kumeyaay cooking influenced the European diet and became integrated into the region’s cuisine.
Historical documents discovered by archeologists hidden in the Casa de Machado y Silvas shed light on the life of San Diego resident Allen B. Light. He was also know as the “Black Steward”. Allen arrived in California during the 1830s, aboard the sailing ship Pilgrim, the same vessel that brought Richard Henry Dana Jr. who would later write Two Years Before the Mast.
One document was “a sailor’s protection”, which proclaimed Light was a “coloured man, a free man, and a citizen of the United States of America”. The second document was his commission from the Mexican Governor of Alta California to investigate illegal sea otter hunting along the coast.
Another early morning stroll. Today: through Little Italy. Trucks were lined up on India Street, delivering to many popular restaurants. You like Italian? You like a friendly neighborhood with history and character? This is the place to go.
Many years ago, I loved to grab some food in the small waterfront cafe and bring it up onto the rooftop. From a table beneath an umbrella, I’d gaze out at the sparkling water. I’d observe passing sailboats, people on the Broadway Pier, and cruise ships docked at the nearby terminal. When two or more huge cruise ships were in port, I’d watch with interest as the departing Coronado ferry and harbor tour boats navigated the narrow space between them. In those days, the Bay Cafe also served as an embarkation hub for San Diego Harbor Excursion, now called Flagship. A ramp from inside the deli plunged down to a floating dock, where a gift shop was housed in a special boat. On this small dock a harbor cruise photographer asked guests to pose by a life preserver.
Up on the roof, if I wanted a change of view, I’d grab another table where I could gaze back toward downtown and watch tourists flow along Harbor Drive. There were almost always several empty tables. Few people seemed to realize the rooftop was open.
The Bay Cafe’s roof was also used for many years by broadcasters covering parades down Harbor Drive. From up there you could see everything.
My walk this morning brought back those memories. And a bit of sadness. The Bay Cafe is being demolished as I type these very words. The structure will be removed, but the concrete pad and pilings will remain, as part of an observation platform jutting over the water. It’s just one small part of the Embarcadero’s recent renovation. I’m sure the change will be great. I believe there are supposed to be benches where folks can just sit and enjoy the views. If there are, I’ll surely enjoy them. But time and progress march on. The Bay Cafe is almost just a memory.
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These pics offer a sample of the sort of Mexican-themed eateries one encounters in the commercial part of Old Town, which runs several blocks south of the State Park along San Diego Avenue. Lots of seating outdoors, an eyeful of festive colors and a cool, laid-back Southern California atmosphere.
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