Yard art found to be historic cannon
San Diego historian finds missing piece of San Diego's past
Written by Diane Bell
7/3/13 - San Diego Union Tribune - Original article
Photo believed to be from 1930s of historic cannon on wheeled mount as it used to be in Horton Plaza. - David Marshall Collection
When local historian Bruce Coons was invited to a home in Pacific Beach Sunday to look at an old cannon before owners sent it to recycling, he hardly expected he'd soon be announcing "a find of historic proportions!"
While initially not overly impressed with the stubby 300-pound yard artifact, something about it triggered his photographic memory. Engraving on the cast iron cannon said, "1776 - San Diego - 1876." A little digging through historic files confirmed that this was the cannon cast by the San Diego Foundry to celebrate our nation's first centennial anniversary at Horton Plaza.
"The timing of this historic find just two days before the 4th of July is truly astounding," said Coons, who heads San Diego's Save Our Heritage Organisation.
When it was cast, San Diego had only 900 homes, but its 2,500 residents had big celebration plans that were recalled in a 1974 Journal of San Diego History article that quoted the July 6, 1876 San Diego Union:
"At five o'clock the Silver Cornet Band announced the dawn of the Centennial Fourth by a medley of national airs from the cupola of the Horton House, while the sharp-voiced little gun which City Father Begole has recently had made, boomed away briskly with a national salute. Everybody was soon stirring and for the next two hours there was a carnival of noise - cannon, small arms and every description of fire cracker and Chinese bomb."
The "city father" referred to was William Augustus Begole, a tinsmith and active Masonic lodge leader. There are additional historic references to the cannon's voice being heard at other significant occasions. One was voter approval of a new state constitution in 1879. It was still visible on its wagon mount on the western side of Horton Plaza in a 1942 Horton Plaza picture, but disappeared after the plaza underwent a postwar renovation in 1945.
No one knows where it went or how it got in the Pacific Beach yard of Leonard Earl Zink, who worked for the California highway department and recently died. His daughter, Barbara Rowland, said he loved to collect memorabilia.
Iron cannon made by San Diego Foundry for San Diego's July 4, 1876 centennial celebration had been hidden in plain sight in the front yard of a Pacific Beach home. - Save Our Heritage Organisation
Even SOHO had second thoughts about accepting the weighty donation because the cannon wasn't aesthetically charming. In fact, it was so short and plain that Coons remarked, "I think I have seen this ugly mug before... It clicked all at once for me, this may just be the Horton Plaza cannon."
He calls it a great find because "there are so few significant artifacts from the 1870s San Diego. We had no idea what we were digging up."
What's in the cannon's future? "We want to restore it (and recreate its carriage mount)," said Coons. "We hope it plays a part in future celebrations all over town."
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