City Plans for Presidio Park Threaten to Destroy Archaeology of Original Spanish Fort

by on July 1, 2022 · 5 comments

in History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Presidio Park, Serra Museum Parking Lot and Ramp Project Needs Improvement

By Bruce Coons/ Save Our Heritage Organization Newsletter / July-August 2022

Presidio Park is one of the most significant historical and cultural landscapes, and archeological sites in the United States. It is not only a local treasure; it is a National Historical Landmark (NHL) and has international significance as “the Plymouth Rock of the Pacific Coast.” San Diego has the responsibility and obligation to future generations to protect it.

SOHO has concerns about the ADA/catering parking lot and ramp project for the Junípero Serra Museum that is being pressed by the City of San Diego without benefit of public review.

The parking lot and ADA path project is precisely located at the site of the casamata (fort), which was constructed on high ground to defend the Spanish presidio.

This project has an extremely high potential of disrupting or completely destroying the archaeological deposits associated with the casamata, as well as removing trees and Marston cobble features in the park. It would also forever alter and destroy the historic setting and landscape, reducing the historic elevation, the site’s significant topographical feature by 5 to 10 feet.

Ironically, this destructive project would not even accomplish the goal of providing ADA access to the Serra Museum.

An associated road widening/straightening project proposed for Presidio Drive would potentially destroy portions of the Presidio itself.

Due to the likely significant impacts to the Spanish presidio, Serra Museum, and Presidio Park as a whole, a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of this NHL is required and the project must be reviewed by the Keeper of the National Register, the State of California’s Historic Preservation Office, and the City of San Diego’s Historical Resources Board (HRB).

One alternative solution (prepared by Heritage Architecture & Planning) would create ADA access to all parts of the museum from an existing parking area via an elevator on the museum’s north side, out of public sight. This alternative avoids the archeological deposits and leaves the landscape intact. This solution as well as others that can reduce the impacts to this unique site need to be studied and presented for public review.

The red line shows the current project.

In 2005, SOHO proposed that the City transfer Presidio Park to California State Historic Parks. We have long expressed concerns that the presidio and the park require much higher protection, oversight, and maintenance than the City seems willing to provide. The park’s deteriorated condition amounts to a situation much like when George Marston along with G. Aubrey Davidson and Col. David C. Collier felt compelled to purchase the site and surrounding land to save it from development—because the City would not act.

SOHO urges San Diegans and the City to reject this ill-conceived project as it is proposed. Instead, we must request that alternative solutions be analyzed, and reviewed by HRB staff for consistency with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and that a full EIR be completed before proceeding further with this extremely destructive project at what is arguably San Diego’s most historic site.

Bruce Coons is the Executive Director of SOHO and a resident of Point Loma.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gravitas July 1, 2022 at 3:40 pm

Thanks, Bruce for trying to save Presidio Park from the City. Return it to the State so they can save it from further decline.

And look at the decay of Balboa Park for proof the City “leaders” just want development, development and no responsibility.


Judy Swink July 1, 2022 at 4:37 pm

This proposed project is purely elective. Historical landmarks are not required to install means of ADA access unless there is substantial remodeling undertaken. That is not happening here. The proposed project goes waaay beyond ADA access as well, proposing road widening for vehicles that would essential obliterate much or even most of the remains of the Spanish Presidio which exist beneath and downhill from the existing parking lot, most of which is within the red outline.

I question just how the City plans to address the severe impacts of such a project on the most important element of a National Historic Landmark. This is beginning to feel like “Shades of the Jacobs Plan” for the Central Mesa in Balboa Park.

Accessing the Serra Museum for anyone with mobility issues is severely constrained. There are undoubtedly other, far less destructive means to create ADA access. Given the included reference to “catering parking”, I find myself wondering if this is in fact the motivating factor with ADA access as an excuse to pursue such a project.


Mat Wahlstrom July 2, 2022 at 11:02 pm

Think you hit the nail on its head. Just like what’s being done to the Botanical Building in Balboa Park, our electeds are avid to facilitate the smash-and-grab of our facilities — so long as they get their beaks wet.

Just disgusting


Frank Gormlie July 3, 2022 at 10:51 am

Yes, thanks Judy — you’ve drawn out the issue to the city’s main motivation here.


Paul Webb July 3, 2022 at 1:21 pm

I’d also point out that the ADA does not necessarily require that there be direct physical access for disabled persons. It requires that “reasonable accommodation” be made, particularly in a historic structure that would require extensive modifications to provide access. When I was still working at state parks, we had to deal with providing reasonable accommodation to allow the disabled to experience the second floor of the historic Dyer House building and the exhibits located there. DPR ultimately implemented a video tour of the second floor.

I was at disneyland a few years ago and the submarine ride had a video experience for the disabled, as there was no way to get down the ladders into the vehicles for most of the disabled. I did, however, see one young man lower himself down the ladders and maneuver to his seat using only his upper body. I was very impressed.

That said, I don’t know enough about the Presidio to know what form reasonable accommodation might take.


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