History and faith at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

On Saturday I stepped inside St. Agnes Catholic Church. It was one of three sites I visited in Point Loma during the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s 2019 OPEN HOUSE SAN DIEGO.

Donna Alves-Calhoun, author of the book Portuguese Community of San Diego, told me a little about the history of this church and the people whose lives are deeply linked to it.

I learned that an original church was built in 1908 by Portuguese fisherman families that had settled in La Playa, near the entrance to San Diego Bay. It was difficult for them to travel to Old Town or La Jolla to attend church services, so they built a small mission church in Point Loma.

In 1933 the new Mediterranean-style St. Agnes Catholic Church was built at the same location, using funds donated by the crews of local fishing boats.

The beautiful church’s bell tower was decorated with an illuminated statue of Our Lady of Good Voyage, which could be seen at a distance. Like a beacon it guided the Portuguese fishermen safely home. I also learned the extraordinary stained glass windows were made in Ireland, and the religious statues placed in corners of the church are from Italy.

After I moved around the church, looking up at the ceiling and its dark wooden beams painted faintly with tulips, Donna explained that many Dutch settled in the Azores. Like many who have descended from San Diego’s Portuguese fishermen, she herself possesses a measure of Dutch ancestry.

During the annual Festa do Espírito Santo celebration, a crown kept in a glass case near the altar, symbol of the supreme dominion of the Holy Spirit, is brought with other holy objects in a ceremonial procession from the U.P.S.E.S. Chapel and Hall to St. Agnes Catholic Church. The bringing of the “Coroa” remembers an historical gesture of compassion by Portugal’s beloved Santa Isabel, the Peacemaker and Holy Queen.

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A look inside the Portuguese Historical Center.

Anyone interested in the rich history of the Portuguese community in San Diego should visit the Portuguese Historical Center in Point Loma. It’s located at 2831 Avenida de Portugal, in a neighborhood that was home to many immigrant fishermen who came from the Azores, Madeira, and the mainland of Portugal, back in the days when tuna fishing was a major industry in our city.

I took a look inside the center yesterday during the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s 2019 OPEN HOUSE SAN DIEGO.

Every corner of the small museum is jam-packed with history. Shelves are brimming with Portuguese cultural artifacts, and there are photos of notable people, places and events. I saw many references to Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the Portuguese explorer who discovered San Diego Bay in 1542 on behalf of Spain.

A recently opened exhibit in the Portuguese Historical Center remembers those in the local Portuguese community who have served their country. During World War II, San Diego’s many Tuna Clippers were converted into patrol and supply boats that served the United States military throughout the Pacific Ocean theater. You can learn much more about that fascinating aspect of San Diego history here.

When I visited yesterday, the centerpiece of the museum was a stunning dress worn by the 2018 Festa Queen. The traditional Festa do Espírito Santo is celebrated each year by the community at the nearby U.P.S.E.S. Chapel and community hall. Festa is a Catholic celebration of Pentecost Sunday. During the colorful event a religious procession makes its way several blocks up Avenida de Portugal to St. Agnes Catholic Church.

In front of the Portuguese Historical Center, a shining Tuna Fishing Industry Monument is inscribed with the names of loved ones who’ve become a part of local history. Members of the Portuguese Historical Center also maintain the Tunaman’s Memorial on Shelter Island. You can see photos of that iconic memorial here.

Please enjoy this quick look . . .

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Inside the historic Portuguese U.P.S.E.S. Chapel.

Today I enjoyed a look inside a beautiful Catholic chapel in Point Loma. The historic U.P.S.E.S. Chapel, located on Avenida de Portugal, was open to curious visitors for the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s 2019 OPEN HOUSE SAN DIEGO.

The small, nearly one hundred year old chapel stands in a neighborhood that once was the home to many Portuguese tuna fishermen. Many families that have descended from these seafaring fishermen still call this part of San Diego their home.

U.P.S.E.S. comes from União Portuguesa Açoreana Sociedade do Espírito Santo, which in English means the United Portuguese Azorean Society of the Holy Spirit.

According to the U.P.S.E.S. website, this building “was completed and inaugurated in 1922. The design of the Chapel is a facsimile of those that exist on the island of Terceira, Azores and follows the design of the chapels of that era. The interior reflects the design of the chapels that were found in the tuna vessels of that era. Today, as it was intended in 1922, the Chapel is used to house the Crown of the Holy Spirit during the Festa do Espirito Santo celebrations. On Pentecost Sunday, devotees of the Holy Spirit visit the Chapel to pray and offer a donation of money or Portuguese sweetbread to assure the continuation of this time honored ethnic religious celebration.”

The chapel stands adjacent to the United Portuguese SES Hall, directly across the street from the Portuguese Historical Center.

After walking up some steps and looking at memory-filled commemorative pavers, I stepped inside the chapel and took photos of its modest, elegantly beautiful interior.

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Before the Horizon, Beyond the Sea.

A colorful new mural decorates the AV8 Apartments in Little Italy.
A colorful new mural decorates the AV8 Apartments in Little Italy.

A large, very colorful mural has appeared in Little Italy! You can find it on the east wall of the brand new AV8 Aparments, overlooking a small parking lot. The public art is titled Before the Horizon, Beyond the Sea.

Artists David Leavitt and David Torres of CYRCLE created the mural, which honors the unique history of Little Italy–its many Italian and Portuguese tuna fishermen and their families, and the presence of an aviation factory years ago at this location.

Words in the mural trail an airplane, up there in the sky like the many commercial airliners today that fly over Little Italy as they approach San Diego International Airport. PRIMA DELL’ORIZZONTE is Italian for BEFORE THE HORIZON, and ALÉM DA COSTA is Portuguese for BEYOND THE COAST.

Before the Horizon, Beyond the Sea, a 2018 mural by David Leavitt and David Torres, celebrates the unique history of Little Italy.
Before the Horizon, Beyond the Sea, a 2018 mural by David Leavitt and David Torres of CYRCLE, celebrates the unique history of Little Italy.

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A taste of San Diego’s historic Little Portugal.

Design on tiles indicates Portuguese American Social and Civic Club.
Image on tiles indicates Portuguese American Social and Civic Club.

The history of the Portuguese community in Point Loma is fascinating. During a walk along a block of Avenida de Portugal, I got just a small glimpse of it.

Many have heard of Little Italy in San Diego, but I suspect few have heard of a neighborhood that some call Little Portugal. It can be found near the entrance to Shelter Island, an area settled by many families of Portuguese fishermen when the tuna industry flourished in our city. The neighborhood was once called Tunaville. Two landmarks that were built by the Portuguese almost a century ago still exist today: the United Portuguese S.E.S. Hall where the community gathers and a small Catholic chapel beside it.

I spotted some round plaques in the sidewalk and images on tile on the hall’s exterior during my walk beside these two buildings. They provide a small taste of Little Portugal’s history. I thought you might enjoy taking a look at a few of them.

Small Catholic chapel in Point Loma, in a neighborhood sometimes called Little Portugal.
Small Catholic chapel in Point Loma, in a neighborhood sometimes referred to as Little Portugal.
Front of the United Portuguese S.E.S. Hall on a sunny San Diego day.
Front of the United Portuguese S.E.S. Hall on a sunny San Diego day.
Plaque in the sidewalk is a Tribute to our Immigrants. Determination, hard work and strength of character are only a few of the gifts you have given us.
Plaque in the sidewalk is a Tribute to our Immigrants. Determination, hard work and strength of character are only a few of the gifts you have given us.
In admiration of their loyalty and commitment to the Fishing Industry and never ending support of our Portuguese Community.
In admiration of their loyalty and commitment to the Fishing Industry and never ending support of our Portuguese Community.
Age of Exploration. In thoughtful memory of God and our parents who so successfully contributed to our Festas do Espirito Santo, the tuna industry and our lives in America.
Age of Exploration. In thoughtful memory of God and our parents who so successfully contributed to our Festas do Espirito Santo, the tuna industry and our lives in America.
The flag of Portugal flies proudly in San Diego near Shelter Island.
The flag of Portugal flies proudly in San Diego near Shelter Island.
Map of the island of Madeira and image of Santo Amaro.
Map of the island of Madeira and image of Santo Amaro.
Image of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's galleon San Salvador and his statue at Cabrillo National Monument, a gift from the government of Portugal. Exploring on behalf of Spain, Cabrillo was Portuguese.
Image of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s galleon San Salvador and his statue at Cabrillo National Monument, a gift from the government of Portugal. Exploring on behalf of Spain, Cabrillo was Portuguese.

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