By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—In the 1820s, the hacienda built within the Presidio walls for California’s first Mexican governor, Jose Maria de Echeandia, commanded a view of other habitations and San Diego Bay. It was located on the hill below where the Serra Museum stands today, in the area where the brick and tile Serra Cross has stood since 1913. Today, to get a sense of the view Gov. Echeandia enjoyed, one needs to climb to the tower room of the Serra Museum, which commands a promontory overlooking the original presidio and mission site. Even at the greater elevation, the once unspoiled view is obstructed by freeways.
Businessman and civic leader George White Marston assembled the land and commissioned architect William Templeton Johnson to create a building that would invoke the spirit of the Spanish colonial era in San Diego, which Father Junipero Serra had inaugurated on July 16, 1769, on the date that he celebrated mass here for a military fort and the mother mission of the California mission chain.
Johnson did such a good job of recreating that era that visitors still need to be persuaded that this building is a museum and not Mission San Diego—which since 1774 has been located six miles away from this site, at a location within Mission Valley. Marston presented the museum and grounds as a gift to the City of San Diego, so that California’s birthplace would not be developed for residential, industrial or commercial uses. Operated by the San Diego Historical Society, the Serra Museum has been a mainstay in San Diego’s education of its school children, a “must-see” venue during fourth-grade field trips designed to acquaint children with California’s—and San Diego’s—rich history.
Most exhibits relating to San Diego’s Kumeyaay, Spanish and Mexican eras are presented in uncrowded fashion along the walls of the long main exhibit hall. The room has an impressive wood ceiling, prompting one architecturally knowledgeable visitor recently to quiz his young children what the longer pieces of wood are called. “Beams,” said the older of the two youngsters. “And what if they were turned 90 degrees (on the outside of the building), so they were went from floor to ceiling? What would they be called then?” asked the father. When neither child answered, the father motioned to his daughter’s bottom. “Oh, yeah, buttresses!” she laughed.
Nearby the exhibit hall are rooms where teachers may give more formal lessons to their students about California history or lead them in hands-on learning activities. In one of these classrooms, visitors of all ages may watch a short video presentation narrated by former San Diego television anchor Jack White about the history of the Presidio. The museum’s tower complex houses special exhibits such as one which illustrates what San Diego life was like in 1929, the year Marston dedicated his museum for the citizens of San Diego.
Two pamphlets on sale in the book store at the entrance to the museum can help visitors divine what life was like in the Presidio between 1769, when it was founded, through the mid 1830s when it was falling into ruins. Serra’s San Diego by Iris H.W. Engstrand explains that initially the Presidio consisted of no more than a rudimentary chapel and a makeshift clinic where sailors and soldiers were treated for the scurvy and other diseases that they had contracted during the expedition from Baja California to San Diego.
The encampment was lightly guarded because the military governor Gaspar de Portola was leading a march to find the port of Monterey—which like San Diego had been described in 1602 by the explorer Sebastian Vizcaino. Resentful of the intrusion of the Spaniards, about 20 Kumeyaay from the nearby village of Cosoy attacked the nascent European settlement, losing three of their number in the engagement, killing an Indian in the service of Father Serra, and wounding, among others, Father Vizcaino, one of the Franciscan padres in Serra’s company. Thereafter, for their protection, Spaniards fortified a stockade in the shape of a quadrangle around the little settlement.
Eventually, it was decided that soldiers with families should be sent from New Spain to the fort, which was upgraded to a Presidio. “In 1790,” Engstrand informs, “it housed 190 persons of whom 96 were adults. A school was conducted within the Presidio walls for the children and the fortress resembled a small community.”
As told in Jack S. Williams’ A Walking Tour and Brief History of the Royal Presidio of San Diego, initially the families living in the Presidio had small, compact quarters, with kitchen and work activities typically conducted in small back yards between their homes and the stockade’s outer wall. Other structures included barracks, store houses, a guard house, the chapel, and the commandant’s home and headquarters. The interior of the quadrangle was a plaza where soldiers amused themselves by playing cards or dancing to guitar music when not marching, standing inspection or carrying out other military training.
Although Williams had conducted excavations of the Presidio grounds under joint auspices of the Center for Spanish Colonial Archaeology of Mesa, Arizona, and the San Diego Historical Society, except for a cannon used in colonial San Diego, local artifacts are not presently lodged in the museum. Gathered from other locations are exhibits that are representative of the kinds of objects and tools that would have been in use during Presidio times.
Among these are a Kumeyaay ewaa and various implements, along with the kinds of technology introduced to the area by the Spaniards including an olive press, a granite mill stone, and an oxbow. There also are stirrups, iron spurs and branding irons, a long hand-wrought iron spoon, a rawhide trunk, a wooden armchair, a painting and figurine of San Diego de Alcala for whom the city was named, and a Mexican violin and bow.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. This article appeared previously on examiner.com Is there a San Diego sightseeing venue that you would like Don Harrison to write about? Please contact him with details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal
SAN DIEGO –The combined parshiot of Tazria and Metzora deal with different types of skin disease that are found on people and fungus that grows in their homes. The Torah tells us that these afflictions are sources of ritual impurity and designates the different rites that must be carried out in order to “cure” the ailments and purify the person or dwelling.
The rabbis of the Talmud did not have access to the scientific knowledge we have today so they believed that these afflictions were spiritual, rather than biological, in nature. Specifically, they believed these conditions were punishment for lashon hara, slanderous speech and idle gossip. Since they believed the source of these maladies was moral and spiritual they also saw the purification rituals as reflecting these same concerns.
One example is found in the purification rite of the leper. In addition to offering sacrifices and bathing in water, the afflicted person also had to shave off all of their hair, specifically, “…of head, beard, and eyebrows…” (Lev. 14:9)
The commentator known as the Kli Yekar (Rabbi Shlomoh Efraim of Luntchitz, 1550 -1690) explained why the Torah specified these three parts of the body for special attention. He wrote that the hair of the head is shaved off to atone for the purveyor of lashon hara having a swelled head and thinking that he or she was better than everyone else. The beard is shaved to atone for the mouth that spoke gossip and slander. And finally, the eyebrow is shaved to atone for the person who looked at the world with ‘tzarot ayin.’
The last phrase is particularly interesting. Tzarot ayin literally means “with narrowed vision.” It refers to the predilection of some to see the world in a cynical and narrow way. If one sees the world as an inhospitable place, then one is also more apt to denigrate its inhabitants through hateful speech and action.
The Kli Yekar’s explanation of the purification rites for the one who indulges in lashon hara echos the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai in Pirkei Avot. Rabbi Yochanan asked his students: “What is a good way for a person to live their life?”
One student answered: “It is to have a good eye.” That is, to look at the world through a positive and broad lens rather than a negative and constricted one.
A second student answered: “It is to be a good friend,” to always be available and supportive to those in need.
Rabbi Elazar said, “It is to have a good heart.”
Rabbi Yochanan replied, “I prefer Rabbi Elazar’s answer, for those who have a lev tov, a good heart, also possess the other qualities” (Pirkei Avot 2:13)
Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego.