Old Town is considered to be the birthplace of San Diego. It was here that, on behalf of Spain, Spanish priest Father Junipero Serra, established the first permanent European settlements in California, in 1769. Old Town San Diego Historic State Park takes you back to a time when California was still part of Mexico. The park showcases buildings from 1821-1872, most of which are original. Today was the first time I have walked through La Casa de Estrudillo, a 1829 adobe mansion which millionaire sugar magnate John Spreckels purchased in 1907. It was John Spreckels that saved Old Town by restoring interest in the area. Spreckels sweetened the deal by building streetcar tracks that went right in front of La Casa de Estrudillo, connecting Downtown with Old Town (and Balboa Park), all in preparation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Mason School, built in 1865, was San Diego’s first public school. This is what the first school teacher, Mary Chase Walker, said about her teaching position in Old Town, “the area of the county of San Diego at that time was larger than the area of the whole state of Mass., and I was to teach the only school in the county…. At recess the Spanish girls smoked cigaritas & the boys amused themselves by lassoing pigs… The Spanish children were very irregular in their attendance at school, on account of so many fiestas and amusements of various kinds.
For a week before a bull fight the boys were more or less absent, watching preparations, such as fencing up the streets leading to the plaza…” With all that excitement, it must have been difficult not to call in sick. Well, difficult for me. Mary Walker was not enchanted with Old Town like I am. Reminiscing about her initial arrival she described Old Town like this, “of all the dilapidated, miserable looking places, I had never seen one like this before…” Yikes. Not a good start…
The three hours we spent today admiring historic hotels, offices, homes, and stables, chasing animals, climbing on everything we could find and going into a few mandatory shops was much too little time to see everything in the area. We have a lot to look forward to on our next visit.