The Junípero Serra Museum is one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego. As a major symbol of the city, it stands atop the hill recognized as the site where California began, and where San Diego was born.
It was on this hill in 1769 that Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Junípero Serra, along with a group of soldiers led by Gaspar de Portolá, established California’s first mission and presidio (fort). A settlement was created at the base of the hill at a spot known today as "Old Town San Diego". In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and took control of the area. In 1848, this area of Mexico was ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War. With a dwindling population, a "New San Diego" was created in the mid 1850s closer to San Diego Bay. That new city area became known today as the "Gaslamp Quarter".
In 1907, businessman and civic leader George White Marston purchased Presidio Hill, intending to develop it into a commercial center. Unable to raise the needed funding he converted it into a private park and eventually donated it to the city of San Diego. It became "Presidio Park." The original mission, built by Juniper Serra, was moved six miles away to Mission valley, a few years after its construction. The Serra Museum is often mistaken for the original mission.
George Marston commissioned architect William Templeton Johnson to create a building that would invoke the spirit of the Spanish colonial era in San Diego. He used Spanish Revival architecture to resemble the early missions that once dominated the landscape of Southern California. The museum commemorates Father Serra and houses historical collections of the San Diego Historical Society. Standing on the top of the hill you can see why Father Serra and Captain de Portolá chose this spot to build the original settlement in 1769. It has a high vantage point with views of the valley below and San Diego Bay.