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What follows is a synopsis of the history of Point Loma; for more detailed information, please see the publications sited in the endnotes.


Exploration - 1542-1602

Before the 1542 arrival of wealthy encomendero Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to Point Loma, the Kumeyaay Indians lived at Totakamiam village near La Playa. [1] Cabrillo, a navigator in the service of the King of Spain, set sail from Navidad, on Mexico's west coast, on June 27, 1542. [2] On September 28, the flagship San Salvador and the frigate Victoria entered the harbor Cabrillo later named Puerto de San Miguel, [3] for Saint Michael the Archangel. [4] Cabrillo claimed the area for the King of Spain and the Viceroy of Mexico. [5]

On November 10, 1602, [6] a Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaíno [7] arrived at San Miguel Bay with two ships (one had been lost at sea). [8] He renamed the port "San Diego" for his patron San Diego de Alcala, [9] and christened the finger of land where Cabrillo first landed "La Punta de Guijarros" - the Point of Cobblestones. [10] It would be another 167 years before the Spaniards would come to the area to stay. [11]

Settlement - 1769-1846

Although Cabrillo and Vizcaíno discovered Point Loma in the 16th and 17th centuries, [12] it was not until 1769 that Captain Gaspar de Portolá, accompanied by the Franciscan Father Junipero Serra established the first presidio and mission in California at San Diego. They constructed the presidio five miles inland, atop a hill overlooking the San Diego River delta. The presidio, garrisoned by sixty soldiers and three small cannons, was too far from the harbor to deter the entry of an enemy vessel. Therefore, in 1795, the Spanish began constructing a fort at the base of Point Guijarros (Ballast Point). [13] El Castillo de San Joaquin, commonly referred to as Guijarros, was dedicated in 1796, although not completed until 1798. [14] By then, the fort included a battery, a wooden casemate, magazine, barracks, flagstaff, and a flatboat. [15]

In the early-to-mid-1800s, several incidents occurred involving the fort and American merchant vessels attempting to smuggle goods. [16] These incidents marked the end of military activity on San Diego Bay until the Mexican-American war. Alta California became a province of Mexico after Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. The presidio and the castillo deteriorated rapidly in the 1830s, and the garrison departed in 1835. [17] In 1840, local resident Don Juan Machado purchased the buildings as salvage for forty dollars. [18]

Capture of San Diego - 1846

In 1846 war was declared between the United States and Mexico. [19] In July, the USS Cyane war sloop, commanded by Captain Samuel E. Du Pont, entered San Diego Bay. There was now no fort on Point Loma to resist its approach. Du Pont, a contingent of Marines, and a battalion of volunteers, all under the leadership of Major John C. Fremont, raised the American flag in the town plaza on July 29, 1846. This ended the Mexican period in San Diego. [20] A strong point was established on top of Presidio Hill first called Fort Dupont in honor of the Cyane captain. Its name soon changed to Fort Stockton. [21] In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed ending the war. As a part of California, La Punta de Los Guijarros or "Ballast Point," and all of Point Loma passed into the hands of the United States. [22] This treaty, which also included New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona and Colorado, gave the United States all military reservations in the former Mexican territories. [23]

With California's 1850 admission to the Union, Point Loma became part of the 31st state. [24] At this time, harbor traffic had increased dramatically as ships made their way north toward California's goldfields. [25] On February 26, 1852, [26] the President signed an Executive Order creating the 1,300 acre [27] Point Loma Military Reservation, [28] separate from the public domain that included most of Point Loma. [29]


First Point Loma Lighthouse, 1854 and Second Point Loma Lighthouse, 1891

In 1852, Congress authorized the first eight lighthouses for the Pacific Coast. [30] Point Loma Lighthouse was constructed in 1854. Located at the top of Point Loma, it was the highest light in the United States. Beginning in 1855, the lighthouse remained in service for thirty-six years. [31] In 1891, high-fog caused the structure to be abandoned. A new light situated below the fog was erected that same year at the tip of Point Loma. The original lighthouse, later known as "the old Spanish lighthouse," became a favorite tourist destination because of its magnificent views. [32]

The First Battery Construction, 1870s

In 1870, the U.S. Army took possession of Ballast Point and the Point Loma Military Reservation. [33] In 1871, San Diego was designated the western terminus of the future Texas & Pacific Railroad, bringing San Diego to the attention of the U.S. Board of Engineers. The Board recognized San Diego's potential as a deep-water port warranting defense. Plans were drawn for a fifteen gun, wedge-shaped, battery to include large 15-inch Rodman smoothbore Civil War cannons. Following a fifty thousand dollar appropriation in 1873, work began on a new fort along the neck of Ballast Point. Work halted a year later, when no further funds were appropriated. [34] In 1897, the incomplete and unnamed battery was obliterated by the construction of a new battery. [35]

FORT ROSECRANS - 1898-1920

In the 1880s, the United States resumed construction of coastal defenses and the Endicott Board made sweeping recommendations to strengthen the nation's harbor defenses. [36] Four sites were selected by the 1895 board for possible defense construction, including one at Ballast Point. Engineers constructed a battery consisting of four 10-inch guns on disappearing carriages. [37] In 1898 Battery Wilkeson was completed, named for an artilleryman killed at Gettysburg in 1863. [38] Located at Ballast Point, the battery included four 10-inch disappearing rifles and a mine-storage casemate, state-of-the-art in military ordnance. [39] The destruction of the battleship USS Maine in La Habana Harbor on February 15, 1898, clarified the need to provide additional defenses on all coasts. The Spanish-American War began in April of that year. [40]

In the 1880s, the Army had perfected a system of electrically controlled submarine mines (torpedos) for mining harbor entrances. The mines required a bombproof mining casemate, one of which was constructed in 1897 north of Battery Wilkeson. Two million dollars were set aside for mine defenses at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. Fifteen mines were eventually planted in 1898. [41] By 1900, three additional harbor entrance batteries were completed: Battery McGrath, two 5-inch rapid-fire guns on balanced pillar mounts to the right of Battery Wilkeson, used for the defense of the minefield; Battery Fetterman, two 3-inch guns on Wilkeson's left for sweeping the channel in case of attack by boats or small vessels; and Battery James Mead, two 3-inch guns across the channel on North Island (Fort Pio Pico). [42]

60-inch Searchlight No. 5
Figure 1. The 60-inch Searchlight No. 5 (later numbered 18) moves on narrow-gauge rail.

Fort Rosecrans Established - 1898-1917

In February 1898, the military reservation at Point Loma was finally occupied, with twenty-two enlisted men sent to Ballast Point to man the new coastal defense fortifications. On July 22, 1899, the War Department named the Ballast Point fortification Fort Rosecrans in honor of the recently deceased (1898) Civil War Major General William Starke Rosecrans. [43] The Coast Guard commissioned the Ballast Point Light Station in 1898. [44]

Activity at Fort Rosecrans included road construction, designation of an historic landmark, and the gradual improvement of the fire control stations during this period. In 1910, a decomposed granite-surfaced road was built along the lighthouse crest point. In 1913, the original Point Loma Lighthouse and its surrounding land was set aside as an historic landmark to commemorate the landing of Cabrillo. [45] The fire control stations transitioned from temporary structures to permanent stations with concrete walls and tar and gravel roofs. [46]

Advances in Coastal Defense, San Diego Harbor, 1901-1920

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the Taft Board to review the Endicott program and update its proposals. The Taft Board made several recommendations including the need for batteries of coastal searchlights to illuminate harbor entrances and approaches; electrification of fortifications to include lighting, communications and ammunition handling; and a modern system of aiming. [47] In September of 1905, a committee of officers sent to address Endicott Board recommendations for San Diego Harbor recommended additional searchlights on Point Loma, but no additional artillery. [48] The searchlights would provide protection by illuminating and sweeping San Diego Harbor at night, preventing enemy activity.

Prior to World War I, Fort Rosecrans had only a few small coastal searchlights. From 1918-1919, the searchlight project was completely revised with the construction of eight 60-inch searchlights grouped into four batteries. Each of the four batteries contained a pair of 60-inch lights (Searchlights 1-8). [49] Concrete shelters containing lights No. 5 and No. 6 (later renamed No. 18 and No. 19) and their concrete generator plant, remained in operation until the end of the harbor defenses (figure 1). [50]

World War I, 1915-1918

By World War I, all the batteries had base-end stations that provided for a modern aiming system. Battery Wilkeson was divided into two batteries, Wilkeson and Calef, [51] each with a base-end station on property later added to the national monument. These stations, on the east side of Point Loma, served the batteries until 1942 when the harbor defenses were modernized. They remain within the national monument. Battery McGrath was served by base-end station O9HS-10 on the east side of Point Loma (now under the Cabrillo statue). Battery McGrath remained in the modernization program, protecting the harbor entrance through World War II. [52]

In 1915, work began on two mortar batteries, each with two mortars in two pits. Battery John White was constructed at Power House Canyon behind the post, and Battery Whistler was constructed near the reservation's northern boundary. Construction was completed in 1916, but the mortars and their carriages were delayed in arriving. They were transferred to the Coast Defenses in August 1919. [53] World War I brought Fort Rosecrans' first radio station (O3HS-2). [54] Built in 1918, it later served as the Cabrillo National Monument's first superintendents' office. [55] According to the National Register of Historic Places Nomination, the radio station remained in active service from World War I to the eve of World War II, when the station became the coast artillery's meteorological station. [56] In 1918, the Army also constructed Sylvester Road [57] on the east side of Point Loma, accessing the fire control station sites and the searchlight shelters built at that time. [58] Early in 1918, the guns from Battery Mead on North Island were installed in Battery McGrath. Batteries Mead and Fetterman were abandoned. The guns of Batteries Fetterman and McGrath were dismantled and sent to Europe for use during WWI. [59] By 1920, eight base-end stations, four on Point Loma and four at Fort Pio Pico were in operation. [60]

BETWEEN THE WARS - 1920-1935

In 1925, the Coast Defenses of San Diego were renamed the Harbor Defenses of San Diego. Defense activities at San Diego declined rapidly after the war and the garrison was reduced to one company of Coast Artillery. In 1932, the Army considered disposing of the fort but quickly reconsidered, retaining the fort for military purposes. [61] That same year, the National Harbor Defense Board's examination of San Diego's harbor defenses showed that the five existing batteries at the fort were inadequate and new seacoast guns had to be added and the 10-inch guns removed. The new project called for two 8-inch (Navy) guns on barbette carriages, two 8-inch (Navy) guns on railway mounts, and eight 155mm guns in two batteries. It was also decided that some railroad guns stored on the Atlantic seaboard should be moved to the Pacific Coast. [62] For Fort Rosecrans, engineers were directed to prepare plans for six 3-inch antiaircraft gun blocks, an 8-inch fixed battery, four fire control stations, and four Panama mount firing platforms for 155mm guns. Construction funds were not available and the project was not completed. [63] Also in 1932, the Fort Guijarros site became California Registered Landmark #69. [64]

In 1933, the War Department transferred the one-half acre Cabrillo National Monument to the Department of the Interior [65] and the original Point Loma Lighthouse was restored. [66] In 1935, the Fort Rosecrans Post Cemetery (also known as the Bennington Cemetery), became a National Cemetery. [67]


In 1936 the War Department again reviewed the country's coastal defense system and found that San Diego needed a major modernization. It was found that the Ballast Point 10-inch and 3-inch guns were antiquated and that the 12-inch mortars lacked the range to hold off attacks. It was recommended that new batteries be built on the western slopes of Point Loma to engage vessels far out to sea. [68]

As a result, in 1937, construction began on Battery Strong at Fort Rosecrans, located on the ocean side of Point Loma on the north end of the reservation. It was named in honor of the late Major General Frederick S. Strong. The long manufacturing time of the 8 inch gun carriages delayed the battery's completion until 1941. [69]

Battery Point Loma
Figure 2. Battery Point Loma once featured 155 mm guns mounted on field carriages.

The War Department's recommendations also called for two 155mm batteries with four guns each, one to be emplaced at Fort Rosecrans (to be called Battery Point Loma) and one north of Imperial Beach (it was never emplaced) (figure 2). The 155mm gun was a modification of the French "Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF)," a tractor-drawn gun developed in World War I. The first plans called for only a 180-degree traverse emplacement, but it was eventually decided that 360-degree platforms should be installed. [70] The eight 155mm guns were emplaced without platforms at Fort Rosecrans in 1939, with a 60-degree traverse. [71] Battery Point Loma was in full operation by September 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, four of the 155s were moved to Battery Imperial. By January 1942, Batteries Point Loma and Imperial were completed. Eventually, a 90mm, anti-motor torpedo boat, four-gun battery arose in front of Battery Point Loma. No date has been found for the dismantling of the 155mm guns, although it probably was mid-1943 or later. [72] The emplacements remain at Cabrillo National Monument. Battery Point Loma was replaced by 6-inch Battery Humphreys in 1943. [73]

Battery Imperial's history is similar to Point Loma's. The War Department also called for four 155mm guns to be retained at Fort Rosecrans until there was an emergency. On December 9, 1941, they were moved to their permanent position directly north of Imperial Beach on the Coronado Heights Military Reservation, later named Fort Emory. Battery Imperial gave way to 6-inch Battery Grant in 1943. [74]

On May 28, 1940, Battery Fetterman at Ballast Point was demolished, as it was no longer part of the defense project and the site was needed to erect anti-aircraft sheds. [75] With Europe at war in 1939 and 1940, the War Department approved the combination of Batteries Wilkeson and Calef into the four-gun battery of Calef-Wilkeson. [76]

World War II: 1941-1945

In 1941, the Army and Navy debated the possibility of the old Cabrillo National Monument Lighthouse serving as the Harbor Entrance Control Post, as it commanded a complete view of the harbor. On May 17 of that year, the Secretary of the Interior issued a special use permit to the War Department, turning over Cabrillo National Monument for military use. [77] Later that year, the old lighthouse became the signal station and was equipped with a signaling searchlight, an observation instrument, and telephone communication to Battery McGrath. A temporary signal mast was installed with a set of flags to signal surface craft. [78]

Modernization Program - 1940

By 1940, with the war in Europe in full swing, new plans were initiated for the defense of San Diego Harbor. The plan called for a network of batteries and base-end stations to be installed along the 25 mile coast from the Mexican border to Cardiff. New Fort Rosecrans armament would include two 6-inch guns each for Batteries Humphreys and Woodward, and two 16-inch guns for Battery Ashburn. [79] Located above Point Loma and the new lighthouse, Battery Humphreys was completed on October 14, 1943. [80] Battery Ashburn, a two 16-inch gun battery, the largest type in the harbor defenses in the country, were the only ones in San Diego to be casemated. [81] The battery was completed in March 1944. Battery Ashburn served throughout World War II and was declared surplus in May 1948. [82]

Harbor Defense Construction and Modification

In December 1942, the War Department renamed the Coronado Heights Military Reservation Fort Emory, a sub-post of Fort Rosecrans. In June 1941, construction began on Battery Grant, a 6-inch, two-gun battery on Coronado Heights. The battery was completed in April 1943. Battery Woodward was the last of the 6-inch batteries to be constructed, with construction commencing in March 1943 and completion in August 1944. It was located in northwest Fort Rosecrans, replacing the two Marine Corps batteries. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Marines emplaced two gun batteries in the northwest area of the fort for training purposes. Battery Gillespie included three 5-inch navy guns and Battery Zeilin, two 7-inch navy guns. Both were named for Marine Corps officers involved in the American conquest of California. [83]

Early in World War II, the number of coastal searchlights in San Diego's harbor defenses increased greatly. On the west side of Point Loma, Searchlight No. 15 and a generator were installed in an underground shelter. During this time, a complex network of armored cable around Point Loma tied together the batteries, base-end stations, searchlights, radar sets, and command posts. Most of the network has been removed, but the electrical connection box remains. [84]

In August 1943, three, four-gun 90mm anti-motor torpedo boat (AMTB) batteries were completed. These included Battery Cabrillo at Point Loma, which inactivated Battery Point Loma's 155mm guns; Battery Fetterman at Ballast Point; and Battery Cortez on the Silver Strand. [85] To supplement these 90mm batteries, three 37 mm anti-aircraft weapon batteries were installed to protect the harbor entrance against motor torpedo boats. Battery Cliff was emplaced above the new lighthouse; Battery Bluff at Billy Goat Point; and Battery Channel, on the east side of Fort Rosecrans. [86]

In 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski, Japan and by the end of August, the San Diego Harbor Defense Post was closed. The war officially ended on September 2, 1945. [87] Fort Rosecrans underwent a quick and unceremonious loss of personnel after the war and by 1946, only a little over 100 men garrisoned the fort. In the meantime, the government returned Cabrillo National Monument to the National Park Service. Donald Robinson, who was hired in 1946 as the Park Custodian, petitioned to have some of the fort's ordnance's preserved, but they were cut and sold for scrap. [88] Robinson was the park's first full time employee and was promoted to park superintendent in 1956.


Activities never ceased at the fort, but it was the Navy and not the Army that continued operations at Point Loma. Since 1941, the University of California's Division of War Research had civilians, naval scientists and engineers conducting studies to develop new communications and weapons systems for the military. As postwar research and development expanded in the 1950s, the Navy acquired more and more of Point Loma's real estate from the Army. [89]

In 1959, the Army vacated Fort Rosecrans and transferred it to the United States Navy, except for 80.6 acres which were transferred to the National Park Service and added to Cabrillo National Monument. The Navy has continued to use the area for weapons development and communications research. Many of the old battery emplacements have been converted for new uses. Battery Ashburn's tunnels now house banks of microelectronics and communications equipment. Battery Woodward is a radio facility. Battery Strong is used to develop the latest in surveillance technology. Batteries White and Whistler, the old mortar emplacements, were also utilized, with Whistler having served as an Arctic Submarine Laboratory and White now used as a shop and storage facility. Battery Wilkeson is also a storage area and on the dunes of Imperial Beach, old Fort Emory has been converted into a naval radio station. Also, in the late 1950s, the Navy established a submarine base on Ballast Point, the site of the original series of forts dating back to 1796. [90]

Today, Cabrillo National Monument consists of 143 acres, located near the south end of Point Loma. The rugged terrain reaches from the sheer cliffs bordering the Pacific Ocean on both the east and west sides of the peninsula to an elevation of 422 feet, the highest point on Point Loma. [91] The Old Point Loma Lighthouse has gone through several phases of restoration, including extensive restoration in 1933 and further work in the 1980s. In 1995 it was furnished to approximate its 1887 appearance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [92] Sylvester Road still exists today, and the portion of it that is within the park is known as the Bayside Trail and serves as an interpretive trail for both the history of San Diego's harbor and Point Loma's natural history. [93]


Cabrillo National Monument consists of 143 acres formerly part of Fort Rosecrans, which served as the headquarters of the harbor defenses of San Diego. The period of significance of the military structures located within Cabrillo National Monument is thus the same as that previously defined for Fort Rosecrans, 1905 to 1945.

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Last Updated: 06-Apr-2005