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New Project to Reconfigure Tank Farm

Threatens the last remains of Historic La Playa on Point Loma

By Bruce Coons

La Playa and particularly the Area of Potential Affects (APE) around the building known as Quarters "A" represent what is potentially one of the most important archeological sites on the West Coast of the United States. There was a broad mix of cultures here: Mexicans, Alaskans, Sandwich Islanders, Native Americans, Chinese, Americans, and others from around the Pacific Rim. I know of no other place where this type of diverse population living together occurred so early in the history of California. This is the second oldest town site in San Diego. The adobe Mexican Customs House, the town well, several other improved lots, and the plaza are all within the APE. San Diego, the "Plymouth Rock" of the West Coast, is where modern California began in 1769. Settlers arriving by ship first set foot on ground not far from Quarters "A" and the site has remained active since that time.

Quarters A and the site of old La Playa


We are making the following recommendations to the US Navy in order of preference to protect this resource and recover it's unique history.

  1. The best alternative by far is to avoid this site entirely and restore or adaptively reuse Quarters "A".
  2. Move Quarters "A". Do a research design for the potential archeological resources, including overlay of the maps, locating the cemetery, plaza, customs house, other dwellings, well, etc. Testing of those sites, after testing revise the research design, and perform 100% excavation of any resource encountered by testing. Monitoring before and during construction is essential. All materials recovered need to have a curation plan and the results of the excavation should be published in a timely manner. Any sites identified not part of the current project (such as the cemetery and Hide houses) need to be identified and marked for future reference.

Quarters "A" should be preserved if at all possible. Based on our inspection, the building was built in the 1890s. This conclusion is supported by the architecture, the methods of construction and materials used. The current construction date of post 1900 that the Navy is using is incorrect. More research needs to be completed before any action is taken. Additional research is also needed in determining the builder, its original use, and if it was present before the base was created. Additionally, an evaluation of the mature landscaping surrounding Quarters"A" needs to be completed and the landscaping preserved to the extent possible.

There are many research design questions for the archeology including, but not limited to:

  • How did these various cultures live together and how did they use the land?
  • What did they eat?
  • Is there evidence of their cultural practices?
  • What goods came through the Customs House?
  • How is the hide trade reflected in the cultural material remains?
  • Is there evidence of whaling at this site?
  • How did the Mexican government's distrust of foreign traders effect transactions between the Californios and Yankee traders engaged in the China trade?
  • When was the Customs House active? How did it function in relation to the one at Monterey?
  • How did the Quarantine Station and the Coaling Station change Old La Playa?
  • What is the history of the site from the Spanish Period to the present?
  • Who were the people that lived in Quarters "A" and what are their personal histories?

From The Silver Dons, by Richard F. Pourade, 1963


We cannot emphasize enough how important this site is. This site was Southern California's first and, for a long period of time, only connection with the world at large. It is also a site that has not received the attention it is due. The information this site can yield is the only chance we will ever have to add to our knowledge of this period and answer these questions; once disturbed the chance to recover this history will be lost forever. SOHO is also requesting that it continue to be consulted throughout this Section 106 process, including development of the research design, data recovery and disposition. We would also request that SOHO be a signer to the resulting Memorandum of Agreement. The Navy is the steward of one of the most important sites of early civilization on the West Coast of the U. S. and we expect that they will treat this site accordingly.

2006 - Volume 37, Issue 3

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