Historical markers at entrance to Presidio Park.

Several historical markers can be found near the northwest entrance to Presidio Park. If you’ve ever driven along Taylor Street just past Morena Boulevard and the Presidio Recreation Center, you might’ve glimpsed them. They stand beside a sidewalk that comes to an abrupt end, in a place where almost nobody walks.

The three markers were placed years ago near three sites of historical importance: the Serra Palm, Derby Dike, and the La Playa Trail.

I’ve transcribed the words on each plaque.

I was told by a park ranger who happened to be parked nearby that the Serra Palm is long gone. He said it was probably blown over in a windstorm, and pointed out a pine tree that was toppled by our most recent storms.

The Serra Palm was planted in 1769 by Padre Junípero Serra, and marked the beginning of El Camino Real.

I’ve photographed a similar La Playa Trail marker near Mission San Diego de Alcalá. To view that photo, click here.

According to Wikipedia: “In 1934, six commemorative terra cotta plaques were placed along the length of the trail by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other groups, based on a relief designed by sculptor Rose M. Hanks. The original six were located at Mission San Diego de Alcala; at the foot of Presidio Hill in Old Town; near the intersection of Rosecrans St. and Midway Blvd. in the Midway area; at the corner of Rosecrans and Lytton streets in Loma Portal, across from the Naval Training Center San Diego golf course; at the corner of Rosecrans and Byron streets in Roseville; and at the site of the fuel depot at Naval Base Point Loma…”

SERRA PALM

TRADITIONALLY THE EARLIEST PLANTED TREE IN
CALIFORNIA. DIRECTLY IN THE REAR, BENEATH
THE BROW OF THE HILL, LIE THE DEAD OF THE
SACRED EXPEDITION OF 1769, BURIAL PLACE OF
OUR FIRST UNKNOWN SOLDIERS.
STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 67
MARKER PLACED BY CALIFORNIA CENTENNIALS COMMISSION
IN COOPERATION WITH
SAN DIEGO COUNTY HISTORICAL MARKERS COMMITTEE
DEDICATED SEPTEMBER 2, 1950

DERBY DIKE

UNTIL 1853 THE ERRATIC SAN DIEGO RIVER DUMPED TONS
OF DEBRIS INTO THE HARBOR OR POURED INTO FALSE
BAY, NOW MISSION BAY. AT TIMES IT THREATENED TO DE-
STROY OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO. LIEUTENANT GEORGE
HORATIO DERBY, U.S. TOPOGRAPHICAL CORPS, BUILT A
DIKE THAT DIVERTED THE WATERS INTO FALSE BAY. THIS
WAS THE FIRST EFFORT TO TAME THE RIVER, AND ONE
OF THE FIRST U.S. GOVERNMENT PROJECTS IN CALIFOR-
NIA. THE RIVER WAS NOT FULLY HARNESSED UNTIL THE 1950s.
CALIFORNIA REGISTERED HISTORICAL LANDMARK NO. 244
FIRST REGISTERED JUNE 10, 1936. PLAQUE PLACED BY THE
STATE DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION IN CO-
OPERATION WITH THE SAN DIEGO DEPARTMENT OF PARKS
AND RECREATION AND SQUIBOB CHAPTER, E CLAMPUS
VITUS, AUGUST 4, 1990.

LA PLAYA TRAIL
JEDEDIAH STRONG SMITH
PATHFINDER OF THE SIERRAS
HERE COMPLETED THE FIRST TRAIL FROM
THE ATLANTIC TO THE PACIFIC JAN. 1827
ERECTED BY
SAN DIEGO CHAPTER D.A.R. 1937

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Finishing a 19th century quilt in Old Town.

Today, when I stepped into Threads of the Past in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, I found several ladies working on quilts. One beautiful quilt in particular was spread out before them, and on top of it was a small very old photograph showing two sisters from a century ago.

I asked a question or two and jotted a few quick notes. I didn’t really achieve a perfect understanding, and some of what I’m about to write might be incorrect!

I believe the spread quilt and another folded beside it had been pieced in the late 19th century by two sisters, Gertrude and Mabel Raymond, who were school teachers in National City, and who are now buried in Greenwood Memorial Park. The old quilts had been found by a family in their attic, and brought to Threads of the Past to be completed.

One of the quilters I spoke to was working on a modern “Sanitary Commission” quilt, which will be auctioned off on the Fourth of July. The fabric squares were designed by local school children. (You can glimpse a bit of their artwork in the second-to-last photograph.) I learned that there are only six authentic United States Sanitary Commission quilts from the Civil War known to exist, and was told that if you see those words on an old quilt at a rummage sale or swap meet, buy it!

Walk into Threads of the Past and not only will you see historic quilts hanging on the walls, but you’ll learn something new about that big colorful quilt known as History, and you might find skilled quilters working to preserve it!

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Making beautiful candles in Old Town.

Today I watched as a father and his son made beautiful candles in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

The father, Paul, is the owner of Toby’s Candle and Soap Shop. His son is a super friendly young man named KC.

This talented family has been making candles by hand for three generations. I learned their business has been operating for about 38 years (including a period at Knott’s Berry Farm) and has been located in Old Town now for about 24 years.

For a few minutes I watched as Paul used a special carving tool to cut and curl back soft wax as he made an elaborate, very beautiful, multicolored candle. He told me he had about 8 minutes to complete the task, before the wax cooled and hardened. After carving a well at the top of the candle, he dipped his finished creation in clear wax, then a hard glaze.

Sometimes he’ll add shells or figurines to these decorative candles, to make them even more fantastic. I also learned that these fancy many-layered candles, which begin modestly as a solid mold, can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours to create!

Outside the shop, tourists and curious passersby were watching KC dip taper candles. He’d dip each group of wicks, which are suspended vertically in a circle, about 30 to 35 times, depending on the outdoor temperature. He was careful not to leave the forming candles in the hot wax for too long. After the candles grew in girth to the correct size, he removed the excess wax for future use, and used scissors to cut the candles free, as you can see in my last photo!

Toby’s Candle and Soap Shop is located in the historically and architecturally important Sessions Building, which was designed by renowned San Diego architect Richard Requa. Learn more about it here!

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Making adobe blocks in Old Town.

Today I spent a couple of hours exploring Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and a small section of nearby Presidio Park. As I walked through Old Town’s historic plaza near the Cosmopolitan Hotel, I noticed some people in period attire were demonstrating how to create adobe blocks.

At the very beginning of San Diego, in the early days of Spanish and Mexican settlers, adobe was the small town’s primary building material. Primitive bricks–or blocks–were made by simply mixing mud and straw together. The mixture was then shaped using wooden forms, then left to dry in the sun for a month or so. The resulting adobe blocks were used to build walls that in our arid climate were remarkably sturdy and insulating.

During past visits to Old Town, I’ve seen people working in this same spot demonstrating the making of adobe. Over time, that wall in a couple of my photos has slowly grown.

I was told by one friendly gentleman that eventually this grassy spot will be used for a Native American Kumeyaay exhibit, and a more permanent demonstration adobe structure will be built inside the fenced area near Old Town’s Blacksmith Shop.

Here’s a pic I took a couple months ago which shows how the adobe wall is slowly being built, layer by layer…

IMG_9847z

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Beautiful scenes around the Timken Museum.

My walk through Balboa Park today included a slow circle around the Timken Museum of Art.

While the building doesn’t really fit with the park’s nearby Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, the museum is quite beautiful in its own way. For a description of this masterpiece of Southern California Modernism, you can visit an earlier blog that I posted here.

Few people journey next to the Timken’s bright walls. The walkway can be a bit hidden.

Here are a few scenes from this afternoon…

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Hotel, shops coming to Santa Fe Depot!

Today I learned a very big change is coming to downtown San Diego’s historic Santa Fe Depot!

This morning, after noticing the building’s exterior is getting a new paint job, I spoke to a gentleman outside the Amtrak office and asked if he knew whether the new owner still plans to renovate the building. I was surprised to hear that this year there will indeed be a major renovation of the building, including the opening up of an interior stairwell that will lead to a small new hotel and shops on the depot’s second floor!

I asked if there were plans to develop the depot’s old forecourt by Broadway, where there are tile benches and a broken fountain, and where streetcars picked up passengers arriving by train a century ago, but he knew nothing concerning that.

He and I agreed that it would be a amazing if the large Santa Fe sign atop the historic depot were finally lit up at night, adding more character to San Diego’s skyline. I’d heard a couple years ago during an architectural tour of the Santa Fe Depot that lighting the sign was a project that might lie in the future.

This all was news to me!

Very cool news!

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A hopeful New Year in the Gaslamp.

It’s New Year’s Eve. This morning and afternoon I walked through the Gaslamp Quarter to see what’s in store for the midnight celebrations.

Up and down Fifth Avenue the restaurants, bars and hotels were getting ready. Workers were sweeping sidewalks, putting up balloons.

I see the Gaslamp Quarter has big plans for the future. According to some information you can read in one photo, Fifth Avenue is to become the Gaslamp Promenade–a sprawling urban plaza. I’m sure it will be opulent and amazing.

Apart from one photo in particular, in the morning I didn’t point my camera at the numerous homeless, who sleep on the sidewalk and in doorways before being ushered along.

The Gaslamp Quarter contains some very stark contrasts. There is material self-indulgence, and there is despair.

Hopefully, in the New Year, there’s more heart.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!