Initiating an Interpretive Plan for Cabrillo
In its early years, Cabrillo, like many other parks and monuments, operated without benefit of a master plan. Left to their own devices, superintendents and caretakers often devised ways to make their particular area more appealing to tourists thereby gaining recognition and having more bargaining power when budget appropriations were determined. Donald Robinson in his early days as custodian of Cabrillo developed, in his words, "a gimmick" to do just that.  In December 1952, he opened a whale watching station in one of the Army's old fire control facilities overlooking the Pacific. Within a week over 6,500 people visited the improvised observatory.  The resulting publicity in the local papers caused a minor crisis at the monument when on January 4, 12,780 visitors inundated the tiny area resulting in an enormous traffic jam along the entire point In a letter to the Superintendent of Sequoia, Robinson reported:
The year 1955 provided another opportunity to call attention to the monument since it marked the 100th anniversary of the lighthouse. Robinson planned an elaborate ceremony in conjunction with the Coast Guard under the mistaken notion that the Point Loma light was the first in California, "if not the entire Pacific Coast."  The Regional Director, however, was lukewarm to the idea of a major celebration. In a letter to the Director, he pointed out that the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast was on Alcatraz Island not Point Loma and therefore he opposed putting the Service in a "position of seeming to endorse a ceremony which might exaggerate the relative importance of the Point Loma Light in the history of the Lighthouse Service on the Pacific Coast."  More important, however:
This controversy pointed out, once more, the necessity of developing some basic interpretive plan. While the regional and national administration of the Park Service still viewed Cabrillo as primarily commemorative in nature, individual superintendents often took advantage of the monument's other attributes to generate publicity and increase tourist travel. Without benefit of a written plan, however, their ideas were often subject to vetoes by the Regional Office for being inappropriate. Yet, it was this variety of attractions that made Cabrillo so popular. Clearly the time had come for some workable policy to be formulateda plan that would enable the monument to take advantage of its unique assortment of attractions, both natural and man-made.
In drawing up the initial outline for the monument's interpretive plan, Robert H. Rose, the park naturalist of Sequoia-Kings Canyon, made a convincing argument for taking as much advantage as possible of Cabrillo's general appeal. He listed five subject areas which he believed appropriate for development as interpretive themes: the voyage of Cabrillo and the discovery of the coast of California, the old lighthouse, the shore line and the littoral zone of the sea, marine life, and the modern scene. Within the modern scene classification, Rose pointed out the immense amount of activity going on in the harbor below the monument:
His visit to the monument convinced Rose that "the interpretive story of Cabrillo cannot be limited to a single historical item." Rather than dictating to the public what it should be interested in when visiting the monument, he believed that, "visitor interest and reaction should to a large extent, determining what should be included in an area's interpretive program."
A phenomenon at the monument which surprised Rose was the fact that visitors often took the initiative in seeking out answers to their questions about the area, "through queries of the personnel on duty, viewing exhibits, charts and maps,...climbing the lighthouse stairway and trekking about to the Whale Observation Station...." It would be a mistake, he believed, to try to limit this interest by insisting on some narrow interpretation of the purpose of the monument. Though history was indeed an important part of story, "the historical phase of the area is but one single element in the whole panorama of items engaging visitor attention." Summing up the situation he said, "...not only is Cabrillo National Monument the setting for an important historical event in America's past but it is also right in the midst of nationally significant natural and human history still in the making." 
In spite of his articulate presentation of what seemed a logical argument, Rose's emphasis on the monument's variety was considerably modified by the Region. In the developmental outline finally accepted by the Regional Office in February 1955, more emphasis was placed on the reasons why the monument was unimportant than on utilization of the area's strengths. A short history of Cabrillo's voyage in 1542 was followed by the statement, "...all of these themes [the Spanish voyages of exploration and discovery] are part of the history of Cabrillo National Monument; but they are minor themes, not in themselves of such outstanding significance as to be worthy of national commemoration."  Much of the document was devoted to a discussion of the biological and botanical aspects of the monument including the habits of whales and other marine mammals as well as a description of the agave shawii, a Mexican species of century plant "which is not found elsewhere in the United States...." The Regional Office made quite clear in this document what would not be included in the interpretive plan:
Instead, interpretation was to be limited to the story of the explorer, Cabrillo, for which an interpretive center was to be provided in addition to the the already existing commemorative plaque and statue. In addition, though subordinate to the major idea, there were themes of "minor value" including restoration of the lighthouse to its condition in 1855 and maintenance of the whale lookout. It appeared that a strange ambivalence had developed in the minds of the regional administration in dealing with Cabrillo. On one hand those in charge of developing an interpretive plan acknowledged the natural and historic aspects of the place. On the other, they deemed it necessary to constantly remind the superintendent that the monument's sole purpose was to honor the explorer. Before Cabrillo was forced to accept this designation as an unimportant monument with limited interpretive potential, two developments intervened, the extension of Cabrillo's boundaries and the advent of Mission 66.
The reorganization of the Park Service in 1933 defined and extended its responsibilities and aims and, from that time until the onset of World War II, the Service had a period of extensive growth. With the War, however, a number of factors nearly shut down the agency. Because of the limitations placed on travel, tourist visits slowed to a standstill. Permits were issued to the military to use portions of some parks for warfare training. Most park operations were discontinued and the agency lost two-thirds of its employees. Even the Park Service offices in Washington were closed to make room for essential wartime use. 
The end of the war brought on the opposite effect and the neglected and obsolete park facilities were suddenly inundated with an unprecedented number of tourists. The National Park System, which had been designed to accommodate 2.5 million visitors a year, was now faced with twice that number. What was needed, in the view of Director Conrad Wirth, was an overall master plan for the parks that would encompass the next ten years. Hoping to capitalize on the fiftieth anniversary of the Service which would occur in 1966, Wirth called his plan Mission 66 and set about selling the idea to Congress and President Eisenhower. Rather than a definite blueprint for each park's development, Wirth described Mission 66 as, "An intensive study of all the problems facing the National Park Serviceprotection, staffing, interpretation, use, development, financing, needed legislation, forest protection. fireand all other phases of park management."  Fortunately for Wirth and the National Park Service, the President was enthusiastic and Congress responded with appropriations which would total nearly one billion dollars in the next ten years. 
Cabrillo and Mission 66
Although each park and monument in the system would undergo extensive changes during Mission 66, the effect on Cabrillo was even more extreme, tied as it was to the extension of the monument's boundaries. In May 1956, Wirth informed Representative Bob Wilson that $212,000 had been allocated to Cabrillo for the purpose of refurbishing the lighthouse, establishing a trail system and building a visitors' center northeast of the lighthouse.  This development was contingent on the Army and Navy reaching some agreement on the extension of the monument's boundaries. Although this extension had always been deemed important, Mission 66 gave the project a new sense of urgency. In a letter sent to Wilson, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Director stated his concern that if a speedy solution to the land problem was not found, Cabrillo might well be deleted from the program. His fears were borne out when in 1958, the Interior Department announced that the money designated for Cabrillo had been diverted to other projects and that the improvement program would be delayed for three years.  With the presidential proclamation in 1959 extending Cabrillo's boundaries, however, planning for the project resumed and the following ten years were to bring about the most extensive changes in the monument's history.
Until 1959, with its miniscule plot of land, minimal visitor facilities and dependence on the administrators of Sequoia National Park, Cabrillo had been a second-class citizen in the National Park System. In spite of its large number of yearly visitors, the monument had to beg, cajole and enlist local pressure and support for even the most minor of considerations. Now, however, it was ready to take its place as an equal member of the system.
In 1956, Donald Robinson was promoted from his position as Custodian to Superintendent of the new facility.  Though he had, over the years, taken on many of the responsibilities of administrating the monument, he now assumed full charge, as Cabrillo became a separate entity with its own staff and budget.  His charge, as he saw it, was to develop a master plan and to increase visitation to the monument, thereby assuring that increased funds would be allocated to it. 
Part of the overall scheme for Mission 66 was to have each park and monument develop its own master plan and interpretive prospectus. With its new independent status, Cabrillo had, for the first time, the opportunity to define its purposes and goals and to plan for its future. This new status also brought an increase in personnel and the monument was fortunate in obtaining F. Ross Holland, an energetic young historian. Holland, who arrived in 1959, immediately started cataloguing the museum items that were part of the collection in the lighthouse. He also began to set down, in written form, the historical importance of the monument and to articulate the priorities that would eventually become part of the master plan.
Holland disagreed with Robinson's attempts to emphasize the natural history of the area. This approach, he believed, was to the detriment of its historical significance. "To some degreeto a great degreethe accent was on the natural history side of it," said Holland. "All the money was going into natural history. That was one of the points of frustration I had with the then Superintendent."  His general displeasure with the natural history emphasis was not aided by the fact that he had to share his small office in the basement of the lighthouse with a "Pacific coast rattlesnake and a sidewinder. They were in cases but they could get out of those things." 
Holland was also frustrated by the historical inaccuracies that had crept into events associated with the monument:
In addition, Holland attempted to change the popular misnomer of "the Old Spanish lighthouse." Though no one has been successful in discovering how the term crept into common usage, several theories exist. One is that stones from the old Spanish Fort Guijarros were used in constructing the lighthouse. Another holds that the Captain Israel, one of the early lighthouse keepers, had a wife of Spanish descent. Still a third possibility is that a local guide named Ruben invented the name at the turn of the century to capitalize on the Spanish craze that was in vogue at the time.  In any event, Holland sought to discourage the use of the term in all publications and publicity produced by the monument.
Robinson, on the other hand, was less interested in historical accuracy and more in catering to local tradition: "...well, they changed the name, dropped the name 'Old Spanish' and I disagree with them...because the name had just as much right to be called 'Old Spanish' as Cabrillo has to be called Cabrillo National Monument [even though] Cabrillo never landed there...[the name] is part of the history." 
Robinson was apparently not above inventing his own folklore for the monument, a fact that also irritated Holland. Said Robinson:
It is easy to see how the earnest young historian, bent on bringing an air of professionalism to the monument's historical program, would clash with the battle-worn Park Service veteran who was willing to stretch the truth for the entertainment of visiting tourists. In spite of the ongoing personality conflict between the two men, a great deal was accomplished during the next few years that would help set a course for the future of the monument.
In his quest to get Cabrillo on firm historical ground, Holland did extensive research into early Spanish exploration as well as the origins of the old Point Loma lighthouse. To provide a forum for the research, he enlisted the aid of Joan Jenson, chair of the Department of History at California Western University. Together, they began a journal called the Western Explorer.  Written in a scholarly format, the journal published articles "concerning Southwestern archeology, anthropology, geology and related sciences, and particularly works on the history of the early exploration and settlement."  The journal existed for several years as a quarterly publication until it was discontinued in favor of publishing papers in conjunction with an annual historical seminar.
As part of his duties, Holland was sent by the Regional Office to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to research West Coast lighthouses in general and the old Point Loma light in particular. His extensive findings were eventually published by the Park Service in 1981 as part of a historic structures report and also formed the basis of reconstruction work on the building.
According to Holland, however, the most important contribution he made to the monument was his work on the initial interpretive and master plans. Although he essentially agreed with the Regional Office's emphasis on Cabrillo the explorer, he sought to expand and elaborate on the thememaking it part of a larger historical context. Attempting to base the events commemorated by the monument on firm historical ground, Holland wrote:
Although the main emphasis was to be on the period of Spanish exploration, the prospectus, for the first time, attempted to tie together the disparate elements that made up the varied history of Point Loma. In his plan for an extensive museum display, Holland outlined the area's later developments. The Spanish-Mexican period and the building of Fort Guijarros, the establishment of the lighthouse, whaling, the coastal defenses and the development of Fort Rosecrans, and finally the establishment of the monument were all to be dealt with as part of the continuum of history. On the other hand, the scenic view, the Naval installations and the contemporary harbor were not to be emphasized as part of the interpretive process since they would take the focus of attention away from the historical themes. In keeping with Holland's strong feelings about overemphasis on natural history, the interpretive prospectus included only a self-guided tour of trailside and wayside exhibits of local flora and fauna as well as seasonal displays relating to whale migration. 
The final master plan now in use for the monument has changed from the original prospectus somewhat. However, the reasoning on which the initial plan was based remains the same. By emphasizing several strong themes in the historical evolution of the monument, the way was cleared for future administrations to develop their own variations according to the changing interests of both the public and the monument personnel.
Administration of the Monument Under Donald Robinson
While F. Ross Holland devoted his energy to working on a master plan and other administrative details, Robinson spent much of his time with the day-to-day running of the facility. In keeping with the precedent, set in 1935, of involving the Portuguese community in the monument, Robinson took an active part in the celebration of Cabrillo Day and other related activities. He soon discovered that the "Portuguese community" did not exist as one entity but was divided into two primary groups represented by separate organizations, the Cabrillo Civic Club of Califomia and the Portuguese American Social and Civic Club. Since there was considerable rivalry between the two groups, the functions they sponsored occurred at different times and Robinson had to represent the monument at each:
The first combined ceremony took place at the monument on September 28, 1958 with Joseph Segal, Portuguese Consulate, San Diego Mayor Charles Dail and Admiral Charles C. Hartman as speakers. A single banquet sponsored by the two clubs followed the ceremony. 
In addition to becoming involved with the Portuguese-American groups of San Diego, Cabrillo often played host to visiting dignitaries from Portugal. The monument became a routine stop for Portuguese ships coming into San Diego harbor. Each ship brought a gift, a gesture that, in one instance at least, brought problems to the Superintendent. In 1957, a delegation from the Portuguese Navy represented by Commodore Manuel Rodrigues, officer in charge of the Portuguese mission in the United States, announced that it would present a plaque to the monument honoring Cabrillo. According to Robinson:
After consulting with U.S. Naval authorities, Robinson agreed to accept the plaque, with the provision that "we wouldn't promise what we'd do with it." Further complicating the problem was the fact that the Portuguese wanted to unveil the plaque by draping it with the Portuguese and American flags. "Well," said Robinson, "we are not allowed to use the American flag to drape over anything except coffins."  The Navy came to the rescue by providing red, white and blue bunting and the ceremony proceeded smoothly, attended by: "267 crew members of the recently-commissioned Portuguese destroyer escorts, an honor guard and band from the San Diego Naval Training Center and more than 100 San Diegans of Portuguese ancestry."  Commodore Manuel Rodrigues, Rear Admiral C.C. Hartman, and De Graff Austin, chairman of the the county board of supervisors, all spoke at the ceremony. 
Spanish interests were represented at the monument as well. In March 1957, the Spanish ambassador to the United States came to San Diego to present to the city reproductions of charts made by early Spanish explorers. As part of accompanying ceremonies, the ambassador laid a wreath at the monument where he said that, "Spain early was spurred to exploration and conquest of Califomia by the threat of Russian invasion." 
Aside from his ceremonial duties, Superintendent Robinson had other problems to deal with. When the concession ceased operation at Cabrillo, it became necessary to create a replacement facility that would provide tourists with books, publications and other items related to the monument. In 1956, Robinson, with the aid of a seven-member group interested in the project, set up the Cabrillo Historical Association. The non-profit organization, modeled after other cooperating organizations within the National Park Service, had as its long range goals the building of a research library, a museum and outdoor exhibits at the monument.  Its more immediate function, however, was to continue to provide service to the public at the lighthouse. Members of the original board of directors included Ethel M. Skinner, who had worked for the concessioner Clifford Rock, and Rock's wife, Mildred.  In addition to providing personnel to the monument, the association, in 1959, also agreed to sponsor The Western Explorer, the publication to be edited by Ross Holland. 
Land acquisition and right-of-way through the monument again became issues to be dealt with in 1959. Ironically, the monument found itself on a different side of these issues than previously. Instead of attempting to convince the military to increase Cabrillo's land, administrators were now in the position of protecting their own from incursions by the city of San Diego and the Federal Government. Plans for two projects developed almost simultaneously: a sewer treatment facility for the city and a Federal saline water conversion plant, both adjacent to and requiring access through monument lands.
In the case of the sewer treatment plant, Cabrillo's old ally, Bob Wilson came out in favor of the city acquiring 40 acres of surplus land for the construction of its facility. In spite of the monument's own claim to a need for the land, Wilson introduced a bill in Congress in September of 1959, authorizing the Navy to sell the parcel, located just north of Cabrillo, to the city. 
At the same time, the Interior Department proposed acquiring a plot of land southwest of the monument boundaries to be used to construct an "atomic powered salt water conversion plant."  Early opposition to the plant centered on its having a nuclear power source. The Atomic Energy Commission issued a recommendation in 1960 that the plant use conventional power since "an atomic accident...might affect visitors to the Monument."  As a result, the facility was constructed to operate without nuclear power.
In July 1960, the city made application for a right-of-way through Cabrillo's western boundary for a road and utility lines to the sewage treatment plant. Part of the road would also give right-of-way to the saline water plant. In spite of the monument administration's objections, a twenty-year special use permit was issued to the City of San Diego on October 1, 1960.  Ground-breaking ceremonies for the Saline Water Plant were held on January 7, 1961, and the facility was dedicated on March 10, 1962, with Secretary of the Interior Udall and Governor Brown participating in the festivities. 
Strangely enough, in spite of the monument administration's initial opposition to these projects, both worked out to their advantage. In 1963, according to Tom Tucker, who was then superintendent, the entire saline conversion plant was airlifted to Guantanamo Naval Station to provide water to military personnel in the event that their water supply was cut off by the Cuban government. As a result, the facility's Point Loma office space was offered to the monument until its own administrative offices could be built.  Likewise, through the efforts of Don Robinson, dirt removed in constructing the San Diego's sewage plant became the fill dirt on which Cabrillo's expanded parking lot was constructed. 
In assuming the role of superintendent in 1956, Robinson took on other duties besides that of managing the affairs of Cabrillo. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt had named the two smallest of Southern California's Channel Islands as a national monument.  Jurisdiction of Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands was transferred from Sequoia National Park to Cabrillo after the latter became a separate entity. Up until that time, virtually nothing had been done to provide services of any kind to the islands. Because the Park Service had only a small boat capable of making the trip to Anacapa, the closer of the two islands to the harbor at Oxnard, patrols of the area were sporadic at best.  Given the limitations of budget and personnel, the most that could be done was to provide limited ranger service to Anacapa beginning in the summer of 1959. 
Having responsibility for the Channel Islands was a problem for Ross Holland as well. In addition to developing a master plan for Cabrillo, he had to develop a similar plan for Channel Islandswithout ever having seen the area. Said Holland:
In addition to dealing with the daily responsibilities of running the monument, the staff of Cabrillo had, as part of their publicity duties, the task of keeping before the public the aims and general plans of the Park Service. Although Cabrillo would not see many tangible results of Mission 66 until after 1963, Robinson often made discussions of planned projects the subject of speeches and presentations to civic groups. 
Newspaper articles appeared regularly in the local press, explaining Mission 66 and how it would affect the monument. In 1958, the Evening Tribune carried a long article with the banner headline, "Cabrillo Statue to Have 5th Home." The article explained how, as part of the development program for the monument, the statue would be moved from its location near the lighthouse to a new spot overlooking the place on Ballast Point where it was believed the explorer had landed. 
In November, 1958, a similar article explained how the monument's attractions would be divided into three areas with the Cabrillo statue in one place, the lighthouse in another and the natural history aspects of the area developed through exhibits and trails.  By 1962, details revealed to the press by Robinson were even more elaborate, as he explained plans and drawings of a two-story museum complete with a promised diorama highlighting the voyage of Cabrillo and featuring exhibits that "the Park Service hopes to obtain from Spain and Portugal."  Though not a shovel full of dirt had yet been turned to augment these plans, the people of San Diego were being constantly reminded of the great things in store when the money was finally appropriated.
Increases in Personnel Thomas Tucker Becomes Chief Ranger
As more land under the monument's jurisdiction became available for public use, additional personnel was required to provide services. On January 20, 1962, District Park Ranger Thomas Tucker of Yosemite National Park reported to Cabrillo on temporary assignment. As part of his duties, Tucker had to reorganize the ranger staff in order to provide visitor protection for the recently opened tidepool area of the monument. 
Besides administrating these newly accessible public areas, Tucker was in charge of ranger operations at Anacapa Island. This, according to Tucker, was his most time-consuming and difficult assignment. Previous to his taking over operations there, rangers assigned to the island lived in the most primitive conditions imaginable. Said Tucker:
To help alleviate the situation, Tucker made arrangements with the Civil Engineering Laboratory at Point Magu to obtain surplus equipment. An Atwell Shelter, approximately 32 feet long and 14 feet across and shaped like a Quonset hut, was transported in sections and erected on the island. In addition, chemical toilets and a fifty gallon water drum were assembled.  Patrolling of the islands was also improved by a cooperative arrangement with the California Fish and Game department. By coordinating their patrols, rangers at least had access to boat transportation on a regular basis. 
It soon became obvious that Tucker's temporary position should became permanent and in May 1962 he was named chief ranger.  With the transfer of Donald Robinson to Crater Lake National Park in August 1963,  Tucker was made first acting, then permanent superintendent of Cabrillo.
Tucker's superintendency would usher in a new age for Cabrillo. From its shaky beginnings as a memorial to a little known explorer, the monument had had difficulty being taken seriously by regional and national Park Service officials. Depending largely on community interest and local pressure, Cabrillo had struggled through its early years with only a concessioner in charge of day-to-day operations. Long range planning was almost non-existent and policy decisions were made on a situational basis.
After the war, a great deal of emphasis was placed on acquiring more land and on attracting additional visitors to the site. Under Donald Robinson, both goals were achieved. With the aid of strong local support, the monument acquired vitally needed land from the military. Robinson's emphasis on natural history, specifically the whale migration, offered tourists another reason to visit the area. As a result of these efforts, visitation increased from 419,820 in 1948 to a high of 1,063,700 in 1961. 
The addition of professional historian Ross Holland to the staff provided another dimension to the monument. For the first time, a serious attempt was made to place the memorial aspect of the monument on firm historical ground and to integrate the event commemorated there into a larger context. His research efforts were also to provide the basis for the development of a workable interpretive plan.
With its independent status, its increased acreage, and tangible plans for expansion, Cabrillo began by the mid-1960's to be perceived as less of a local attraction and more the fully equipped Park Service operation it was to become. It would be through the funds provided by Mission 66 program, an increase in staffing, and the creative and enthusiastic administration of Tom Tucker that the promise would be fulfilled.
Last Updated: 02-Mar-2005