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What's Buried Under An Abandoned Caltrans Building In San Diego's Old Town?

December 3, 2013 1:26 p.m.

Bruce Coons, Executive Director, Save Our Heritage Organization

Clay Phillips, Superintendent, California State Parks

Related Story: What's Buried Under An Abandoned Caltrans Building In San Diego's Old Town?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.


ALISON ST. JOHN: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition, I am Alison St. John, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. There's a reason that Old Town is called Old Town. This was of the earliest settlers chose to live the country is such section. Many Native Americans lived by the San Diego River also. But if these summits are part of the Old Town. For decades that used to be the Caltrans headquarters building. We very nearly lost the chance to excavate this earliest evidence of how San Diego was settled and is now slated to become part of the state park system. In a minute will talk to the state superintendent who oversees the first Bruce Coons is on the line with us to talk about this. How important is the site here, where the old Caltrans building was several years ago, how important is that site in terms of the history of San Diego?

BRUCE COONS: It's kind of hard to understand why the old town is where it is, but the site is the riverbank. The river provides a water which provides life but more importantly parts the deli, where city was founded this goes on the cistern. This is also come with the earlier guardians in this area, on the riverbank sides and as we enter down there be a truck traffic new entrance of the very watered going in on, to give a chance to interpret the winter break and the reason for the counties of San Diego, but also occupies the site of California's first store had his connected with some the most famous love stories in California history.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Oh, tell us about this love story.

BRUCE COONS: He was the first American to live here. He went down and he was a friend to the governor of California and the fit of the love with him nearby at the golf course but in the Creole house and the eloped and he was put in jail for a little while but he is supposed to provide the bill for the news off on Los Angeles and they moved into the store building that he treated their on the site.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you expect that if they excavate the site they might find evidence of the jail that he was in or evidence of this?

BRUCE COONS: The jail was on the outskirts so no. But this is on the site and to three other of the buildings. And hopefully some remains of Native American village and was the traffic and a large piece of property that is added to the state parks since the creation and a terrific asset for San Diego.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It let's talk about the native Americans there and they were living there are tens of thousands of years before the early settlers came in the 1700s.

BRUCE COONS: Archaeology will tell this part of the village we know that we were to the point with the McCoy house which was to store all the way through Presidio Hill which is why we call the primitive poets walk of the West. The settlement on the West Coast, and had been there for thousands of years before that. Their tales about even during high water, bring a whale carcasses up the river and rendering them on that site, but before the white man came.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Tells a little about the story about the Native Americans and why they chose to live there pairwise the site such a popular site for people who are settling?

BRUCE COONS: Well because it had water and it was on the river, and they could see for a lot of distance and that it has is next to Mideast resources including from the sea, these they go down to the area and bring up share fish and they also had small animals in the Valley and they did do some small congregation cultivation and they bring in gypsum weed and silk weed and some of the other materials were there, but he was a wide standing plane that had little visibility for protection and everything you needed for mining.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I ought to bring in Clay Phillips who is the superintendent who oversees old town I spoke to him earlier about why he is so pleased to have the site. Clay, why is this an important addition to the state parks system to results part of town site in the Caltrans headquarters?

CLAY PHILLIPS: And rounds out our park ownership and this had this point it is we're based out of the northeast corner of that is part of a star part that gives also more visibility in the busiest road of Taylor Street, but it's also important for either those reasons is that the site will give us many opportunities to expand the storage we tell about over California. First and foremost, there is a reason why San Diego started where did hear in 1820, San Diego settlement came up through Presidio right next to door. He was the contents right now. The Riverbend ran right through this Caltrans site where it is and we're excited about this.

ALISON ST. JOHN: The thing is here's that the building was estimated to cost about $10 million, was the deal, we know that state parks is not have a lot of money and how did you manage to strike a deal to get this property?

CLAY PHILLIPS: Weird grateful to the Senators and the secretaries there because the three of them really worked hard to enact legislation that basically transferred from one agency to another and satisfied and basically dealt with some of the issues that Caltrans felt obligated to deal with this was getting what they termed as fair market value for the structure.

ALISON ST. JOHN: College of an attraction will it be for people visiting the park?

CLAY PHILLIPS: Ultimately it will really add to the stories that we tell, in time, we think that there is an opportunity to do some historic restoration of some of San Diego's earlier homes and payment treated by the fact that in nineteen century, within the footprint of that site, there was a bowling alley called fleshly and that was a fun item to re-create that this also be a great thing to allow it to be either nation to tell the story of Native American life along this part of the river, the community lived and their

ALISON ST. JOHN: They had lived there before the settlers arrived by boat, and you have you have a connection with them now to talk about this?

CLAY PHILLIPS: We don't but we hope to the future and we look for to working with them.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Is there a possibility would rather have remains remain buried?

CLAY PHILLIPS: Is there any it remains there is currently going to be the case, this is not a treasure hunt and this is not what we do, we're really in the business of not disturbing historic or prehistoric features, we know they're the nineteenth century and the historic accounts at photos and when we disturbed the earth as ability is being demolished will have trained monitors to make sure that special features are protected in any additional excavations that would like to would be found to the knowledge that we are to have about the site and the precise locations of the buildings and as far as the archaeological issues we're going to work very hard with them to make sure that there are no impacts to the surface resources.

ALISON ST. JOHN: When will excavations actually start?

CLAY PHILLIPS: Excavations will start when we start demolishing the buildings and we get to the foundations of the buildings and there's actually a basement in that Caltrans building, because of the fact that we have to do and I are for the demolition and that we were fairly confident that the building is riddled with hazardous materials and simply the state budget process in all three of those which means that we don't anticipate being able to begin demolition for at least another year and a half.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And how long will it be?

CLAY PHILLIPS: Once they demolished the site will have some kind of interim development on the site and short-term development and that is what we're pending the more long-term process working with our stakeholders and to develop the ultimate plan and I do to the paid ultimately the plan will be including things like frustration with some of the structures and some kind of opportunity for them to tell their story of the restoration of that river bank and pictures something that clearly. That said that the Rivertown and it was right next to the river and was once aware of her time and were so excited about being able to paint that picture for visitors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Thank you very much. That was Clay Phillips. Close at the center of San Diego moved from that location to wear to downtown now?

BRUCE COONS: The Township they thought that the town should be down near the port and they wanted to create a new port town to be arrival to San Francisco. Those efforts of agent of the field of the 1860s came of it again revive the idea that is where San Diego took off with the shipping industry. The Spanish Vanderbilt town, they were more interested in converting the native to Catholicism and creating a city where old town is, and so that is why changed.

ALISON ST. JOHN: What about the Caltrans building, it is fifty years old. Does it have any historical significance?

BRUCE COONS: We have reviewed material that I been working on this for twelve years, to get this to happen. The state parks is for the legislature. They been doing this a long time. The building is potentially historic and we go to the review, and though our old one it is the duty was significant process, the underlying for resources were more important than this case and the unfortunate siding of the building was built, for Caltrans account nice they had a proportional material of this opening.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Thank you for giving us the history, it looks like it is worth getting rid of one layer to identify the deeper layers of history. Thank you for joining us and thank you so much for listening to Midday Edition.