THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT
F. Ross Holland, Jr.
Published by Cabrillo Historical Association
The Story of Cabrillo National Monument began with a dreama most ambitious dream. The dream was only partially fulfilled and as a result today at Cabrillo National Monument there are a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a restored lighthouse of great historical significance and value, an award-winning visitor center, handsome landscaping, and spectacular vistas. But had the dream been completely fulfilled there would not be even the vestige of a lighthouse; indeed, on the spot where it stands would be a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo rising one hundred fifty feet into the airan edifice that, in California, could have been rivaled only by San Francisco's Coit Tower.
The vision of the statue of the discoverer of the Pacific shore of the United States had been conjured up by a now defunctbut at one time quite fashionableorganization known as the Order of Panama. Devoted to the encouragement and promotion of California's Spanish heritage, the organization flourished in the decade or so prior to World War I when American society was "discovering" European nobility and traditions.
Long before there had been an Order of Panama, San Diegans had manifested an interest in their port's discoverer. As early as 1892 a grand reenactment of the Cabrillo landing was held. On September 28 of that year, two boats, disguised as caravels, sailed into San Diego Harbor, amidst the cheers of thousands of San Diego citizens and a large number of Luiseno and Diegueno Indians in native dress. Fortunately, the aborigines were dressed in the native costume of the 1890s, for had they been clad as Cabrillo reported them in 1542, which was naked, they would have created a sensation that would have left Victorian San Diego devoid of smelling salts and sputtering for several weeks. There are certain limitations to realism in reenactments.
Cabrillo and his appropriately dressed compadres stepped ashore, breasting through the cheering crowd of several thousand spectators. The Indians awaited his arrival on the flimsy, little-used wharf at the foot of D Street. The weight of the people was more than the rickety platform could support and part of the wharf gave way, dumping about forty of the aborigines unceremoniously into San Diego Bay. Fortunately, the fall injured none, and the Indians were plucked from the harbor to continue their participation in the festivities.
The city held another reenactment in 1894, and it duplicated the previous one, except this time the officials selected a sturdier wharf for the Indian greeters. Both celebrations generated talk about erecting a statue to Cabrillo. But shortage of funds and lack of general interest caused the idea to die aborning.
With the approaching completion of the Panama Canal, a number of San Diego business organizations, motivated principally by a desire to spur on the San Diego economy which had been sluggish since the slump of the late 1880's, decided to hold an exposition to coincide with the official opening of the canal in 1915. Strongly supporting this activity was the Order of Panama; indeed, many members of the Order had a vested interest in the exposition since they were also businessmen.
One of the Order's endeavors associated with generating enthusiasm for the exposition was the erection of a statue to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. In those days Cabrillo was popularly regarded as the "Discoverer of California"; hence, there was not only publicity value in such an effort, but also the Order's aim of keeping alive California's Spanish heritage would be furthered. Charles F. Lummis, noted Southern California writer and magazine editor, was induced to write a short promotional article. Liberally sprinkled with purple phrases and historical misconceptions, it was expensively printed and bound, and profusely illustrated with sketches by Virginia Goodrich.
Lummis summed up the proposal of the Order of Panama:
Moreover, the Order intended "to find (Cabrillo's) unknown grave on the wild island of San Miguel, and to lay his bones to rest in the base of this monument. . . ."
The Order of Panama appointed a Cabrillo Monument Committee with Ernest Riall as Chairman. Immediately the committee went to work selecting a site, and soon its members chose a spot three hundred feet south of the abandoned old Point Loma lighthouse. Here the ground sloped off fairly sharply on three sides, and it was the furthest high spot on Point Loma to which there was easy access. But this place was well within the boundaries of Fort Rosecrans Military Reservation, and consequently, the committee had to obtain permission from the War Department to erect a statue there.
On May 5, 1913, the Secretary of War received the request from the San Diegans, and two days later the letter began the necessary long desk-hopping trek for which the federal government is famous. Before the letter's journey had ended, it had travelled across the country many times, making several side trips up and down the west coast between San Diego and San Francisco, and in the process picked up comments from twenty-three offices.
Even though the Order of Panama was interested only in erecting a statue, the Judge Advocate General said the statue "would be a permanent structure which would contemplate a permanent occupation of a portion of the reservation . . . which, in the absence of legislative authority from Congress, could not properly be authorized. . . ." However, he went on, the President was authorized by Act of Congress of June 8, 1906, to set aside sites of historic or scientific importance as National Monuments. The Judge Advocate General recommended, therefore, that the land requested and needed for the statue be set aside as a National Monument; thus was injected into the picture for the first time the thought that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was of more than local significance.
The commander of Fort Rosecrans in his endorsement to the letter said he could not recommend the site the committee had selected, since long-range plans called for military use of the spot. The commander was not being arbitrary, and he willingly met with the Cabrillo Monument Committee. During the meeting all agreed that actually the best location for the statue was the site of the old lighthouse. When the commander mentioned that he had intended converting the lighthouse into a Coast Defense Radio and Signal Station, the committee quickly agreed to provide necessary space in the pedestal of the statue. This offer satisfied the base commander, and he concluded his endorsement by recommending the lighthouse site.
Only part of the committee had met with the commander, and when all did get together the subcommittee's agreement to provide room for a radio station in the pedestal was disapproved. Chairman Riall wrote Secretary of War Garrison that "the base or pedestal of the Statue [was to be] a sepulcher for the bones of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo; expert search is now being made on the island of San Miguel, with every assurance of success in finding his remains." With a radio station in the base, the statue, "in the event of war, would become a target for the enemy." Although somewhat disappointed in the attitude of the committee, the commanding officer at Fort Rosecrans still felt that the best site for the statue was at the lighthouse and proceeded to have surveyed a plot of land. It consisted of about one-half acre and embraced the land formed by the loop of roadway around the lighthouse.
At this juncture the headquarters of the Pacific Coast Artillery District in San Francisco reared up, and asked why the Fort Rosecrans commander continued to recommend the lighthouse site when only the previous April he had urged the conversion of the lighthouse into a radio station; moreover, why had he recommended so much land? Headquarters suggested that the Monument site be selected farther north so that the proposed Coast Defense Signal Station's "view of the sea will be unobstructed." This was the thirteenth endorsement.
The Fort Rosecrans commander replied that his reasons for continued acceptance of the lighthouse site were:
Moreover, the commander continued, the Cabrillo Monument Committee felt that they could not go to the expense of erecting the statue and leave the lighthouse standing, "since it would mask the view of the monument through a considerable arc and would otherwise detract from the dignity of the monument." The large size recommended, he went on, consisted of only one-half acre, part of which he felt was necessary for a small parkway. The smallest plot of land acceptable to the Monument Committee was "a circle described with a radius of fifty feet," about one-sixth of an acre.
The Pacific Coast Artillery District Headquarters accepted the reasoning of the men on the ground and concurred in the lighthouse site, but wishing to keep as much land as possible for military purposes only, it recommended the minimum area for the monument.
Assuring itself that once the monument was established it would not pass out from under its control, the War Department drafted a proclamation setting aside one-half acre of land surrounding the old Lighthouse as Cabrillo National Monument and forwarded the document to President Woodrow Wilson on October 10, 1913. Four days later, with Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan as witness, Wilson signed the proclamation.
Actually the signing of the document was an anti-climaxthe monument had been dedicated the previous September 26. On that day a large crowd gathered near the remains of the old lighthouse to observe the ceremony. Among the dignitaries attending was the Spanish envoy, Juan Riano y Guyangos. United States Senator John D. Works was the main speaker. Lieutenant Governor A. J. Wallace performed the dedication, and "from a silver urn, presented by the Order of Panama, he christened the spot with waters of San Diego Bay and earth of California." Everyone seemed pleased with the ceremony, and the day's festivities were topped that evening with a Cabrillo Day banquet sponsored by the Portuguese community.
The proclamation gave the Order of Panama authority "to construct a heroic statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the discoverer of California . . ." But the organization, for some reason, failed to act, and the National Monument which had been established at their behest lay neglected. The old lighthouse remained a ruins that tourists visited to climb the rickety stairs for a better view of the magnificent seascape and to use the basement as a makeshift comfort station. The Army, under whose jurisdiction the monument came, was cognizant of its responsibilities, but there was barely enough money to support coastal defenses, let alone fix up the monument by restoring the old lighthouse. It did what it could, though, and encouraged military families to live in the old structure and keep it in repair. Later the Army used the old building as a radio station.
In 1926, because the "Order of Panama has never exercised the privilege granted to it . . . and is a defunct organization and has been so for a number of years . . .", President Calvin Coolidge issued another proclamation authorizing the "Native Sons of the Golden West to erect . . . a suitable monument in commemoration of Cabrillo. . . . " The group must have spent its energies in getting the proclamation signed for, like the Order of Panama; they failed to show results.
Perhaps contemplating the sad condition of the lighthousean eyesore, reallyand the fine promises but lack of action on the part of the various organizations, a responsible Army officer threatened to raze the old lighthouse unless the civilian populace did something about getting the old structure into some presentable condition. A flurry of activity occurred, but again nothing happened, and in 1931 the Army found some funds to make minor repairs to the building.
The next event occurred, and it was the most significant step in the monument's history, when the monument came under the administration of the National Park Service. By executive order, President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 28, 1933, transferred to the National Park Service forty-eight National Parks, National Military Parks, Battlefield Sites, National Monuments, National Cemeteries and miscellaneous memorials formerly under the jurisdiction of the War Department. Among this number was Cabrillo National Monument which was placed under the direct supervision of the superintendent of Sequoia National Park.
Colonel John White, the superintendent of Sequoia, soon dispatched personnel to the monument to find out its condition and to determine what could be done to improve its appearance. About the same time he began to enlist the support of local historical organizations. The San Diego Historical Society was especially helpful. State Senator LeRoy Wright began stirring up California's representatives in Congress, and John and Winifred Davidson, director and historian respectively of the San Diego Historical Society, undertook the compilation of a history of the lighthouse. Plans began to take shape and Senator Wright and his friends urged the appropriation of $50,000 to perform the work at the monument.
By 1935 plans had taken final form, and the National Park Service earmarked $28,000 for Cabrillo National Monument. In March of that year work started, and the Service hoped to finish the job in time for the opening of the San Diego Exposition.
For the next six months, the one-half acre monumentthe smallest in the National Park System&$151;resembled an ant mound with its busy inhabitants scurrying here and there. Workmen restored the lighthouse, built a garage a few hundred feet north of the lighthouse, erected a stone comfort station, constructed a stone retaining wall, and cleared away a plaza area, where an eight-foot bronze plaque commemorating Cabrillo's voyage was suitably installed. The workmen then landscaped the area.
Dedication ceremonies were held on September 28, 1935. Dr. Joao de Bianchi, Portugal's ambassador to the United States, delivered the principal address.
For the first time in its twenty-two year history, the monument now had a memorial to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Although more realistic and appropriate, it could not compare in dimensions to the heroic statue about which the Order of Panama dreamed. The memorial was an eight-foot plaque that told briefly of the voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. The federal government designed and paid for the plaque, but Mrs. Winifred Davidson composed the wording on it.
Two private organizations defaulted on their promises, and over the years local interest in the monument bordered on apathy. Lack of interest may have been due to lack of leadership. The Army had unsuccessfully tried to stir up concern for the monument, but it had no money to offer. The National Park Service successfully stirred up interest because it had the necessary funds to perform the work. One must conclude, then, that as far as Cabrillo National Monument was concerned San Diegans were willing to offer their talent, but not their pocketbooks.
After the work was completed, Clifton Rock, as the result of an agreement with the National Park Service, opened a concession stand in the lighthouse. Here, he sold postcards and souvenirs, and later, for a time, had a tearoom in the lower north room of the lighthouse. Modifications had been made to the lighthouse during restoration so as to make it habitable. A water heater was installed, a bathroom was fitted in the basement, and the lean-to on the rear was fitted up as a kitchen. The National Park Service gave the concessioner authorization to live in the structure. It also appointed him custodian with the understanding he would perform routine maintenance on the building and ground and protect the monument from vandalism, and in general act as the Park Service's local representative.
This arrangement continued until World War II when the exigencies of war precluded continued unrestricted travel through the military reservation. The monument was closed to visitation, and the Army resumed temporary control of the area. The lighthouse was used for a time as a signal tower to question the identification of ships before they were permitted to pass through the submarine nets stretched across the entrance to San Diego Harbor.
World War II ended, but there was the residual effect of the war, and the military reservation still possessed the mantle of security which had cloaked it during the war. Finally, in 1946, the National Park Service reclaimed its wandering child, and the monument fell back under the supervision of Sequoia National Park. The Army willingly repaired damage done to the lighthouse during the war. On November 11, 1946, the National Park Service reopened the monument to visitation.
Mr. Rock resumed his position as concessioner and custodian of the monument. But the Park Service soon made changes. It appointed a full-time custodian who would not only perform maintenance work, but also handle some of the administrative details connected with the operation of the monument. Donald M. Robinson of San Diego assumed this new position.
The Order of Panama's dream of a one-hundred-and-fifty foot statue of Cabrillo was not fulfilled, but the monument did get a statue of Cabrilloa statue more customary in size, and completely appropriate for the monument. Illegality, however, clouded its acquisition. On the other hand, it was morally and historically justifiable.
Alvaro De Bree executed the statue now residing at the monument for the Portuguese Government, De Bree was one of Portugal's most accomplished and best-known sculptors. The statue is a full-sized rendering in Portuguese sandstone, and stands fourteen feet tall, all told, and weighs seven tons. Finished in 1939, Portugal shipped it to the San Francisco World's Fair, where it was to be given to the State of California. The statue arrived in San Francisco, but after the exposition had gotten underway. This tardiness coupled with the expense involved in putting it up resulted in the statue not being erected at the fair; a replica about six feet tall was placed in its stead. After the original statue had been accepted by Governor Culbert Olson, the crates were placed in storage at a private residence in San Francisco. At the same time the governor announced that he intended to give the statue to the City of Oakland, the home of a large number of Portuguese.
Reading in a newspaper of the ultimate destination of the statue, State Senator Ed Fletcher of San Diego, who harbored little admiration for Governor Olson, resolved to throw a monkey wrench into the governor's plans. Senator Fletcher felt that the more appropriate location for the statue was San Diego. In this feeling he was supported by most of the civic, historical and political groups in San Diego. He made preliminary overtures to the custodian of the monument, at that time Rock, to place the statue there.
Quietly obtaining a legal opinion from the California Legislative Council which stated that only the California Legislature had the authority to dispose of the statue, Fletcher visited the residence where the statue lay in boxes. The man of the house had recently died, and his widow, perhaps anxious to be rid of the seven tons which had already cracked the floor of her garage, was sympathetic to Fletcher's desire for the statue. But she would not accept the opinion of the Legislative Council alone; she wanted more authority before releasing the crates.
Wisely enlisting the support of several key senators, including the one from Oakland, Fletcher introduced a bill to have the statue sent to San Diego. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but in the Assembly the representative from Oakland had it killed in committee.
Stymied in legal avenues, Fletcher then turned to quasi-legal means of obtaining the statue. "My only thought," he said, "was to get possession, as that is nine points of the law, so the lawyers say." He secured a letter from the President of the State Park Commission, a San Diegan, asking the widow to turn over the crates to Fletcher. He prevailed upon the Secretary of State to place the "golden shield of the State of California" on the letter. Presenting this impressive looking document and a copy of the State Journal showing unanimous approval of the Senate, Fletcher was elated to see his bluff work when the widow permitted the statue to be removed.
At this point events quickened and what happened has been described by Fletcher as follows:
A furor followed and Governor Olson accused Senator Fletcher of stealing the statue. Oakland demanded the statue. Four of the five State Park Commission members demanded the return of the statue. Legislators introduced bills to get the statue back; all were defeated in committee. San Diego had its statue of Cabrillo, but it was to be nine years before it would be readily accessible to the public.
Meanwhile, a site was selected for the statue and dedicated on December 19, 1940. Located on the grounds of the Navy's Sonar School on Harbor Drive, "the statue," Fletcher reported, "was, for some time, under guard day and night by the United States Navy." The San Diegans didn't want the statue stolen back from them. Wartime security at the Sonar School precluded visitation to the statue and excitement over it faded. San Diegans had a much more serious problem facing them. But when the war was over agitation soon resumed to have the statue placed where it could be viewed by the public. Beginning in 1947, various proposals were made for a location. A city councilman urged it be placed on the bayside of Civic Center. Others made the more appropriate suggestion that the statue should be moved to Cabrillo National Monument. The influential San Diego Historical Society favored the Point Loma site, as did Colonel Fletcher. In January, 1948, the City Council asked permission of the National Park Service to move the statue to Cabrillo National Park. Superintendent E. T. Scoyen, replying for the Park Service, favored the move to the monument. The Director of the National Park Service gave his permission. But about this time the Park Service began negotiations in Washington with the Army to secure land for expansion of the monument and as a consequence, Scoyen asked the City Council to hold up action on the statue until the land question could be settled. Scoyen felt that with the additional land, the statue could be more favorably placed on monument grounds. The following May the Army decided. They turned down the Park Service's request for more land because the unsettled international situation might cause all of Point Loma to be needed for harbor defense.
This disappointment caused plans to languish temporarily. Within a few months, at the behest of the San Diego Portuguese community, the City Council resumed its activity. In the meantime, the Park Service selected a location for the statue just north of the lighthouse facing the Cabrillo plaque which had been erected in 1935. Plans progressed and a rededication of the statue was held on September 28, 1949. Officials of the Army, Navy, National Park Service, City and County, along with representatives of various historical and civic groups, participated in the ceremony. A large crowd attended. The day's festivities were completed with the annual Cabrillo Day banquet by the Portuguese-American Social and Civic Club.
Over the years, visitation to Cabrillo National Monument had always been heavy. But due to the increased mobility of the American public and the increased popularity of Southern California as a vacation land and place to live, the monument after World War II saw a sharp increase in visitation. By the mid-1950's the monument had two chief claims to fame: (1) its one-half acre size made it the smallest area within the National Park System, and (2) it was the most heavily-visited National Monument in the country.
At about this time, two events happily combined to remove the stumbling blocks to planning. The Army relinquished its control of the military reservation on Point Loma, and in the process the monument had its size increased to eighty acres. In 1956 the National Park Service began its "Mission 66" program whose object was to bring up-to-date facilities in the various areas within the Park System so as to meet existing and future use.
As a result of these developments, the National Park Service decided to sever the umbilical cord connecting Cabrillo National Monument and Sequoia National Park. The Service established a separate office at Cabrillo and designated the custodian, Donald M. Robinson, as superintendent. At the same time, the Service placed Channel Islands National Monuments, comprising the islands of Santa Barbara and Anacapa, under the Cabrillo office.
Not long afterwards, The Park Service assigned additional personnel to the monument, and the long process of planning and the preparation of planning documents began. Then in 1963, construction work started with the laying out of a 430-car parking area next to the site of the proposed visitor center. Two years later the visitor center was added. Overlooking the beautiful San Diego Harbor, which was Cabrillo's first stop in what is now the United States, this visitor center contains twenty-one museum exhibits telling the story of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his voyage of discovery and fits his activities into the general framework of Spanish explorations to the north of Mexico. An adjacent 154-seating-capacity auditorium presents a movie telling further of Cabrillo's voyage. Additional audio-visual programs are shown here, including one on the California Gray Whales. These animals can be seen from monument grounds as they pass on their annual winter migration to the warm lagoons of Baja California. The De Bree statue of Cabrillo was moved from the lighthouse area to a spot not far from the visitor center where it overlooks the magnificent harbor. The old Point Loma Lighthouse has received some refurbishing and through the generous efforts of Mrs. Emily Morse of San Diego it has been refurnished approximately as it was when the lightkeepers and their families lived there.
In the meantime, in 1963, a change of superintendents occurred and Thomas R. Tucker took over the reins of the monument. The great bulk of the development of the park was under his energetic and capable supervision. Complicating his work at this time was the fact that the other park under his jurisdictionChannel Islands National Monumentdemanded increased attention. Visitation and public usesome of it adverseof the islands was growing, as was the acreage. The result was that personnel and equipment, including patrol boats, were added to the park. About the time that developments at Cabrillo reached an end, Channel Islands had grown to such size that it was ready to stand on its own feet, and in the spring of 1967, the Park Service broke away from Channel Islands and established it as a separate area. It had been an arduous four years and Tucker could feel a deep sense of satisfaction as each project reached its conclusion.
The developments at Cabrillo began fittingly in 1963the fiftieth anniversary of the monument. Many changes in thinking have taken place in those fifty years. It has, unfortunately, taken that long to give Cabrillo the honor due him and get his story before the American public.
The completion of the developments at the monument moved the park into a more important position in the National Park System, for it now had the accouterments of a parka museum and visitor center, a refurnished historic lighthouse, and a more sophisticated interpretive program. Gone were the days of the makeshift amphitheatre where the park interpreters gave lectures on the gray whale and whaling in San Diego. No longer was it necessary to give talks on Cabrillo and on the old lighthouse in the parlor of that structure. But even with these good things, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was still hardly more than a figure of state importance. He had not yet taken his place in the public mind with Coronado and DeSoto.
The first fifty years were spent trying to secure an appropriately developed park to memorialize Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and that was accomplished in 1965. The next fifteen years were devoted to giving Cabrillo the national recognition he deserved and bringing the park into focus. Both finally came about because of two things: the imaginative, energetic, and competent leadership of Supt. Tom Tucker, and the establishment and growth of the Cabrillo Festival.
The latter efforts began in early 1964 when Supt. Tucker, Park Historian Ross Holland, and Administrative Assistant Kay Leahy, along with Dr. Joan Jensen, Chairman of the History Department at Cal-Western University, met with representatives of the San Diego Portuguese community and the local Jr. Chamber of Commerce. The group met to devise a proper celebration for the 422nd Anniversary of Cabrillo's arrival in San Diego harbor. The Portuguese community of San Diego had always been proud of the fact that Cabrillo was commemorated by a national monument, and the small annual ceremonies that the park held in the plaza area near the lighthouse where the Cabrillo statue had been were always attended by a coterie of people from that communityand each year the two Portuguese civic and social clubs held annual Cabrillo Day banquets.
Over the next eight months planning was traumatic and at times came perilously close to foundering on the rocks of disagreement. Through sheer dint of perseverance, the Cabrillo Day committee, often meeting four nights a week until 11:00 or later, muddled and struggled forward. Finally in September plans came to a head and the first Cabrillo Festival was held. A Miss CabrilloNancy Hollerbachwas selected from the Portuguese community. The highlight was a banquet sponsored by both Portuguese clubs. This event was more momentous than Superintendent Tucker and his staff realized.
When they had first contacted the Portuguese, they did not realize that there were two factions in the Portuguese community, and, not only did these factions not work together, but they also harbored some ill-feelings toward each other. The Portuguese are noble people, and they would never want to burden outsiders with their problems. The two groups submerged any feeling of animus and worked together for the success of the festival. They have worked together since then.
The Committee learned many lessons from that first celebration, and the following year it made several changes. The Jr. Chamber of Commerce which had been the major problem in planning the first celebration was dropped, and the Peninsular Chamber of Commerce joined the group. This addition brought Tom Hamm, a successful businessman and a doer, into the festival, a fortuitous event, for his drive, interest, and organizing ability was a key factor in the growth of the festival over the next several years.
Each year thereafter, the Festival expanded. The government of Portugal recognized it and every year sent a prominent dignitary as its representative. In 1978 it sent its naval training ship, the Sagres, to be in San Diego during the festival, and each year the prize for the Cabrillo Festival queen was, and still is, a trip to Portugal. In addition to the government of Portugal, the governments of Spain and Mexico since 1979 have sent representatives to the festival, and groups in Mexico have become part of the festival.
Each year new events have been addedart contests for the elementary schools, band concerts, seminar by scholars, folk dancing, and food exhibitions, to name a few. Four elements of the festival have remained consistent: the initial proclamation at City Hall, the memorial exercises at the moment, the banquet, and the reenactment of Cabrillo's landing.
Since 1964 there has been a Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and the person playing his part, dressed in the costume of the period, is at all official ceremonies and parties and plays the key role at the reenactment, the climax of the festival. Ed Nunes and then Tony Codina played Cabrillo for many years, but each in time felt the rigors of the role. For the last five years Paulo Goulart has been Cabrillo.
Each year hundreds of people attend the exercise at the monument, and thousands view the reenactment of the landing. The festival is the largest one in San Diego and has focused attention on Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Perhaps more important the festival is a tribute to the successful cooperative effort of the federal and private sectors and an ethnic community. All the leaders through the years cannot be named here, but certainly Judge Earl Cantos, Frank Gibson, Augie Felando, Mary Gilletto, and John Rebelo should be mentioned.
With the completion of the major developments at the monument, the staff devoted their efforts to developing interpretive and visitor use programs. At first they put together slide shows telling the story of Cabrillo, the migration of the gray whale, and natural tidepools, as well as other features of the monument. In time a motion picture about Cabrillo and a film on the gray whale came to the monument. Technically the film on Cabrillo was quite good, but the scriptwriter played fast and loose with the facts.
The lighthouse became a popular attraction, and costumed interpreters told its story.
The park established a sheltered whale watching station south of the lighthouse which quickly proved to beand still isa very popular attraction each year during the two and a half months whale migration season. It is the only observation platform where whales are interpreted in the United States.
Cabrillo National Monument pioneered in outreach programs. At first Rangers took programs to the schools, but in the early 1970s park personnel began special programs aimed at those not able to come to the Monument, particularly the infirm and the inner city dwellers. This parks-to-the-people program became a major thrust throughout the National Park System, and the experience at Cabrillo proved beneficial to the Service in launching this thrust.
Meanwhile, the staff probed in other directions. Supt. Tucker became active in the Federal Executive Association, and eventually served two terms as Chairman. Other staff members opened lines of communication to various local historical organizations and conservation groups. The park became the first federal unit to work with Citizens Coordinate Century III, an early environmental group composed of conservation organizations, university people, and private citizens.
These outreach programs attracted attention in the Service, and soon the Albright Training Centerthe Ranger "boot camp"in Grand Canyon began sending its trainees to Cabrillo for a one-week stint to learn about urban parks and how they operated. In addition to observing the monument's programs, the trainees saw how the city parks of San Diego fought vandalism, and went behind the scenes at the San Diego Zoo and Sea World to see how those organizations handled large urban crowds.
In the meantime the park grew in size. In 1966 the Office of Saline Water transferred to the National Park Service the site of the old experimental saline water plant. The plant had been shipped during the Cuban crisis to the Naval station of Guantanamo Bay to convert sea water to potable water for the inhabitants of the base. The site consisted of 42 acres on the ocean side of Point Loma. The Navy heard of the transfer and immediately agitated to have the land transferred to it. The Navy pleaded national defensea tough argument to buckand the Department of the Interior turned the land over to them in 1970. In exchange for ousting the park's maintenance operation from the old plant, the Navy transferred to the monument seven acres on the top of Point Loma and contributed $40,000 to help build a new facility.
Six years later, Congressman Bob Wilson was instrumental in having 56 acres transferred to the monument. The park now consisted of 144 acres. During the 1970s, Supt. Tucker wrestled with trying to bring the park into focus. There was no question that the main theme of the park and its reason for being was the story of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. But there were other resources and stories that were present in the park and cried to be told. The lighthouse historically was one of the two most important on the West Coast. The gray whale migration was an event of international significance. The chaparral-covered point was one of the last such natural areas in Southern California, and the rich tidepools were the last protected such resource on the Southern California coast. The spectacular scene on the bay side displayed views of the Naval Air Station and submarine base just below at Ballast Point, and a steady traffic of modern naval vessels. Tucker felt all of the resources deserved some sort of treatment for the visitor, but the problem he wrestled with was how to treat them without diluting the park's main theme.
To bring all these subjects together, Tucker evolved the concept of Man and the Sea, with Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at the center focus. Cabrillo, he felt, was foremost a man of the sea. Many of the natural features depicted well what the land was like when he arrived in 1542. The lighthouse is directly related to the sea and navigation and the modern intrusions were the natural historical developments in the "closed and good port" he discovered. The hustle and bustle of the scene on the harbor side of Point Loma is counterbalanced by the more passive and tranquil scene on the ocean side, a scene more suggestive of Cabrillo's day. The park staff interprets all these themes to the visiting public.
During the decade of the 1970s, the park reached its zenith and has remained at that level. The park had once been one of those little known, out of the way places in the National Park System. Today it is truly one of the premier historical parks of the System, and in stature exceeds the monuments to Cabrillo's two fellow explorersCoronado and DeSoto.
Many people contributed to the development and growth of the park. Without question the principal figure over the years was Supt. Thomas R. Tucker. His reputation among his peers is an envious one, and he has received numerous awards. His office at the monument was well endowed with them, from civic clubs, Chambers of Commerce, and the federal government. Though he received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor that is given by the Department of the Interior, the one he is proudest of was given by the Government of Portugal in 1978. Portugal knighted him in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator.
Sir Thomas retired in January 1980, ending an era for Cabrillo National Monument. He was replaced by Doris Omundson who starts a new era for the park.
Eight Annual Cabrillo Festival Historic Seminar
Volume 1, Number 8
Last Updated: 01-Mar-2005