OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park presents the opportunity to experience the history of early San Diego by providing a connection to the past. Learn about life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872. Even today, life moves more slowly in this part of San Diego, where the hustle and bustle is balanced with history and fiestas. Visitors are offered a glimpse into yesteryear, as converging cultures transformed San Diego from a Mexican pueblo to an American settlement. San Diego became California’s first Spanish settlement when a mission and fort were established here in 1769. Later, it passed into the hands of the newly made Mexican government before gaining statehood in the United States after the Mexican-American War. The core of restored original historic buildings from the interpretive period are complemented by reconstructed sites, along with early twentieth century buildings designed in the same mode. Five original adobe buildings are part of the historic park, which include museums, unique retail shops, and several restaurants. The Historic Plaza remains a special place for gatherings and historic activities. Visitors can also experience a working blacksmith shop, enjoy music, see or touch the park’s burros, and engage in activities that represent early San Diego.
Casa de Bandini
Peruvian-born Juan Bandini, was one of the first to regularly entertain traveling guests in his own home in San Diego when it was still controlled by Spain. For his family’s service to Spain, he was granted Rancho Tecate, then later Rancho Jurupa. Bandini’s large adobe house became the social center of San Diego and visitors always paid their respects to Don Juan. Bandini often hosted fandangos, sometimes very elaborate and lasting for days. A second story was added to the adobe home by Albert Lewis Seeley, and the building became the Cosmopolitan Hotel (1869).
Casa de Estudillo
Around the time of Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, soldiers of the Presidio of San Diego began building their homes outside the adobe walls of this fortified settlement. One the finest example of these homes is the Estudillo House, a National Historic Landmark located in the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Built between 1827 and 1829, the Estudillo House, or the La Casa de Estudillo, is one of the oldest surviving examples of a typical large Spanish-Mexican one-story town house in California. Since its construction, the house has served as a residence, a town hall, a chapel, a shelter, an early 20th-century tourist attraction, and a museum. Construction of the house began in 1827 on a land parcel that overlooked the Old Town San Diego plaza and under the direction of Captain José María de Estudillo, a commander of the San Diego Presidio. The great U-shaped one story house is built around three sides of a large patio and originally contained 13 rooms set in a straight line. The rooms are connected only by an external veranda. The adobe walls, averaging three to five feet in thickness, are coated with white plaster and gave protection in heat and cold. Originally a small round wooden cupola, used by the family and guests to watch the bullfights and festivals in the plaza, topped the house. When José María de Estudillo died in 1830, the house passed to his son, José Antonio Estudillo and his son’s wife, María Victoria Dominguez de Estudillo. The house was to become the social center of life in Old Town San Diego. The building was so central to town life that, from the early 1830s to 1856, a large hall in the house served as the town chapel and as a school. José Antonio and María Victoria fostered within the Estudillo House an atmosphere of social, political, and community involvement in what was considered at the time to be one of the finest houses in Mexican California.
Casa de Machado y Stewart
José Manuel Machado, a retired soldier from the presidio, built the Casa de Machado y Stewart around 1835. Made of sun-dried adobe bricks, the home originally had two rooms: a bedroom and living room. Like most adobes of the time, it was framed with ridgepoles, which were fastened around overhead rafters and beams with strips of rawhide. The roof, most likely, was originally covered with tule thatch called carrizo, and then packed with dried mud.
Casa de Machado y Silvas
Built in the early 1840s, this rectangular adobe on the plaza was a wedding present from José Manuel Machado to his daughter, María Antonia, and her husband, José Antonio Nicasio Silvas. It had four rooms and three doorways that opened onto the plaza. María Antonia converted the casa into the Commercial restaurant in the early 1850s. The Machado y Silvas family owned the property until the early 1930s. It was a rooming-house, café, art studio, souvenir shop, and community chapel before becoming part of California State Parks in 1968. It is one of the five historic adobes in the park.
Casa de Machado y Wrightington
Thomas Wrightington and his wife built their house on the plaza in the mid 1840’s. After his death in 1853, his widow Juana Machado Alipaz de Wrightington remained in the house until the late 1890s. Dr. George McKinstry, Jr. used a room in her house for his personal residence and office for almost thirty years. He and Juana Wrightington (who was trilingual) provided medical care for Native Americans in San Diego County.
Casa de Pedrorena de Altamirano
Miguel de Pedrorena, a native of Madrid, came to San Diego as a ship’s agent and in 1842 married one of the Estudillo daughters. He claimed the lot adjacent to the Casa de Estudillo, but died in 1850 before he could build a home, which was later built on the site in 1869 by his son, Miguel Jr. In 1871, ownership transferred to Isabel Pedrorena de Altamirano and remained as a family residence until 1907.
Casa de Rodriguez, Rancine & Laramie
Juan Rodriguez, a Mexican soldier who had received the land as compensation for his service, probably built his home here in the 1830s. It burned in the Old Town fire of 1872 and has been reconstructed and furnished with period pieces to recreate the Racine and Laramie store, which sold cigars, tobacco and stationery, as it was in 1869.
Chapel of Immaculate Conception
Begun in 1868 by Father Antonio D. Ubach. Due to the boom that set in for the New San Diego, the church was not completed and dedicated until 1919. In 1925 it was formally transferred to the Order of Saint Francis, the same order as the Mission San Diego de Alcala in Presidio Park.
Originally a hotel, now houses the Wells Fargo Museum. The building is a reconstruction of the 1860 original. The Wells Fargo Museum is a historically furnished Wells Fargo agent’s office, including one of the famous 30 Coaches shipped to Wells Fargo in 1867, a panoramic painting of San Diego in 1855, and a gold watch given as reward for care of San Diego treasure on a stagecoach.
Mason Street Schoolhouse
Built in 1865, the Schoolhouse was the first publically owned school in San Diego County. The building was a one-room, wood-frame, shingle-roofed structure with a ten foot high ceiling. A pot-bellied iron stove heated the room, and a water bucket and dipper provided the only indoor plumbing. All eight grades were taught in the single room. In 1873, the school was moved to Taylor and Whitman Streets, and a two-story school was erected there. it was later razed; the original school was returned and reconstructed on this site. The Schoolhouse was operated by the San Diego Historical Days Association until 2013 when it was given to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
In 1828, Sara Snyder eloped with her future husband, James Robinson, after a prayer meeting in Ohio. Because he was her schoolteacher, and already married with several children, they fled at night and broke most ties with their respective families for number of years. James, a self-taught attorney, became acting governor of Texas in 1836 and a judge after resigning that position. Mexican authorities captured him in 1844 and his negotiated release to propose a settlement of the Texas problem created a great deal of resentment among his fellow Texans, despite his efforts for the admission of Texas to the United States. The Robinsons removed themselves to San Diego, California in 1850. Sarah was abducted by Indians along the way, possibly in the Cuyamaca Mountains and returned to her family under mysterious circumstances. Judge Robinson became a deeply respected investor, promoter, and citizen of San Diego. He set himself up in law practice with a focus and expertise on litigating Mexican land grants in American courts. He built a grand house on the Plaza, established the San Diego and Gila Railroad, and served as district attorney and trustee of the school board. He died in 1857, leaving behind Sarah and their 17-year-old son, William. He went on to serve the Confederacy during the Civil War, but returned to San Diego and was elected to the California Assembly. After losing an election by a mere 14 votes he had a mental breakdown and died just a few years later, leaving his mother alone in 1878. In 1890, Sarah decided to return to Ohio where many of her secrets were uncovered and litigation ensued over real property transactions in San Diego. Judge Benjamin Hayes described her as “witty and intelligent.” Some of her letters are still extant and make tart reading about the doings of small town San Diego in the 1850s and 1860s.
San Diego’s First Brick Courthouse
The Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 to support the U.S. military garrison in the pueblo during the war with Mexico. When not engaged in military duties, the Mormon soldiers assisted the community by building new brick-lined wells, laying out walkways, and building the first fired-brick structure in San Diego. Originally designed as a town hall, the 16’x27′ brick building stood on the corner of the plaza facing San Diego Avenue. It had a moderately sloped roof, and the brick walls were whitewashed. Mexican and U.S. members of the Boundary Commission used the building as their headquarters in 1849. On March 27, 1850, the state legislature incorporated the town of San Diego. From that time until 1869, the building served as the city and county courthouse. It was also used as a meeting place, church, school, and polling place during elections. The courthouse was destroyed in the 1872 fire. The First San Diego Courthouse Association reconstructed it in 1992 and oversees its operation.
Thomas Whaley came to California during the Gold Rush. He left New York City, the place of his birth, on January 1, 1849, on the ship Sutton and arrived 204 days later in San Francisco. He set up a store with business partner George Wardle where he sold hardware and woodwork from his family’s New York business, Whaley & Pye. They offered mining equipment and utensils on consignment. This young entrepreneur, born on October 5, 1823, came from a Scots-Irish family, which immigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1722. His grandfather, Alexander Whaley, a gunsmith, participated in the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War where he provided flintlock muskets to soldiers and the use of his house on Long Island to General George Washington. Thomas’ father, Thomas A. Whaley, carried on the family gunsmith business, and served in the New York Militia during the War of 1812. He married Rachel Pye, whose father, William, manufactured locks in Brooklyn.