Old Town State Historic Park

View to the East from the Desert View Tower

26 June 2005

Text and photos © John Kuraoka.

We hadn't been to Old Town State Historic Park since the recent takeover of the old Bazaar del Mundo by a company from Back East. So, having heard mixed reviews, we took the kids for an outing to Old Town.

Not much has changed down the main street. Old Town is known locally for having the worst and most-expensive “award-winning” Mexican restaurants. Sure, they might play as authentic to your aunt and uncle from Nebraska (maybe), but the truth is that almost any grubby taco stand in San Diego serves better Mexican food than can be found in the tourist-trap restaurants in Old Town.

On the plus side, there is something wonderful about fresh, hand-made tortillas hot off the griddle - yum! You can bring your own picnic lunch, and eat it on the lawn where there’s ample shade under the trees. There are plenty of free museums and attractions. The Wells Fargo History Museum, in the Colorado House (c. 1851), is a nice cool place to settle in for a short video.

It also features a restored stagecoach (c. 1867), copies of vintage newspapers to leaf through, and a working telegraph key with which you can send messages across the room. By the way, in a recent televised contest of message-sending speed, a Morse code operator soundly beat a teen using text-messaging.

Next door is the original courthouse (c. 1847), a tiny building which housed the judge, sheriff, county clerk, and mayor, all in a building the size of a large bathroom. It was the first fired-brick building in San Diego. The jail was outside, a freestanding iron cage. Here’s the sheriff’s gear.

La Casa de Estudillo is a walk into a dusty past; the former home of Capitán José María Estudillo, a retired commander of the San Diego Presidio and an early California mover and shaker. He died before the house was completed; his son, José Antonio Estudillo, completed it around 1830. The son managed to maintain wealth, prestige, and power under both Mexican and American rule. The house was restored around 1908; the furnishings are appropriate to the early California era, but are not original to the house or family.

This might be the place to put this 30-second video clip showing some musicians, and also Roy and Leo playing in the fountain in the central courtyard of La Casa de Estudillo. Note the docent in traditional early California garb watchfully ambling down the walkway toward the boys – we whisked them away before they could get into trouble.
Video clip of musicians, and Roy and Leo and a fountain (2.27 MB, mpg format)

Here is the kitchen, inaccurately placed in one end of the house. According to the free pamphlet, kitchens in the early days were typically separated from the house to reduce the risk of fire. Note the thick adobe walls, evident in the inset shelf on the left. Click on any photo to view it full-screen.

Here is the workroom. The floor tile is contemporary tile taken from the San Diego Mission dam.

Here is a bedroom. The canopy on the bed retained heat and kept nocturnally dropping pests at bay.

Here is the kid’s bedroom. Note the toy furniture on the floor. Apparently, some people claim to have seen the ghost of a sad young girl in Victorian dress in the rocking chair, but we just saw a chair.

Then, we spent some time in the Mason Street School (c. 1865), the first public schoolhouse in San Diego. Look at our boys – is this a glimpse into the past or the future?

We took turns checking out the new shops in the relatively new Plaza del Pasado. The merchandise mix is more like museum-shop stuff: unique, authentic, and pricey. But, the sales staff seemed well-versed in the history and local significance of the items in stock. Meanwhile, the boys played with this fountain, featuring spitting cats.

Finally, we headed for home. Here’s Roy (5), Leo (3), and Ondine. To see what we’re up to now, check out our Weekly Family Journal, updated at least once a week since 1998!

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