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  Walking Tour - Old Town San Diego

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Old Town San Diego Jewish 
History and Walking Tour

A feature of
Updated October 30, 2006



By Donald H. Harrison

Our tour begins at the large flagpole in the Plaza of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

This large flagpole stands on the spot where the American flag was first raised following the capture of San Diego from its Mexican defenders in 1846 by a detachment of Marines and sailors who had sailed into San Diego Bay aboard the U.S.S Cyane.

If you look to the north, atop the hill, you will note another flagpole.  It stands amid an area overlooking the city that was called Fort Stockton.  Although Old Town San Diego was surrendered peacefully, some Californios took up positions above the city and had to be driven off by American forces.  Then the Americans took over the hillside and named their fort for Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who commanded the Pacific Fleet then engaging the Mexicans.

Not far from that flag is the site of the original Presidio — or fort — that the Spanish built in 1769 upon the establishment of a settlement at San Diego by Father Junipero Serra and Governor Gaspar de Portola. Why did the Spanish choose Presidio Hill for their fort?   Because it met three major requirements:  First, being up high, it was in a defensible position against attack.  Second, the San Diego River then ran nearby, although its channel has long since been diverted.   And third, the Kumeyaay Indian village of Cosoy was close at hand, providing an opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church that Serra represented to spread Christianity.

The soldiers of the Presidio were permitted to have gardens down here in the Old Town area, but it was not until 1821—when Mexico declared its independence from Spain—that they were permitted to build houses just below the fort.  From 1821 to 1846 was the Mexican period of this settlement, when the plaza was an integral part of the pueblo's social life. Following Spanish custom, the corners of the plaza faced the cardinal directions of the compass.  On Sundays, there would be a promenade, when single women would walk around the plaza in one direction and men would stroll around it in the other direction, guaranteeing that men and women could observe each other closely at least twice during every circuit.  Sometimes the women would lower their fans so that a man— if he were daring — might look directly into her eyes, if only for a split second. 
As the town grew, wealthy families built ever more grand homes or casas.

The house on the southeast side of this plaza—the one with the small belltower— is known as the Casa de Estudillo, after one of early San Diego's most prominent families. This family also owned the Cajon Rancho, where Louis Rose,  the first Jewish settler in San Diego, was  welcomed in 1850 before his arrival in San Diego.  The gracious California family gave the weary traveler a meal, then pointed him on the right direction to Old Town, where he settled.

           Flagpole and Casa de Estudillo
Rose had traveled most of the way from Texas with James W. Robinson, who once had served as the acting provisional governor of that state in the days leading up to Texas's Declaration of Independence from Mexico.  You might think that Rose, a German Jew with a pronounced accent, or a former governor of Texas might have been the center of attention and curious stares on their arrival in Old Town.  But, in truth, Robinson's wife, Sarah, was the real attraction.  She was the first Anglo woman to come to this area, and everything about her — her skin, her hair, her features — attracted attention from both the California men and women. The Robinsons' 10-year-old son, William, also was the subject of curiosity.

Robinson and Rose had become good friends over the long and arduous wagon train journey, which they had begun in El Paso.  Several  years after they arrived, Robinson set about building his own home on the northwest side of the Plaza—the two-story building that contrasts as clearly with the Casa de Estudillo as did the American and Mexican lifestyles.  Whereas the Casa de Estudillo looks inward around its central courtyard, the house built by Robinson— today called the Robinson-Rose House— featured a second-floor balcony from which Robinson could both observe the town and be observed by its residents.

Little did Rose and Robinson  realize that by 1853— less than three years after their arrival in San Diego— that they literally would be running the town as well as the surrounding county.

At the southeast corner of the plaza is a small building identified as San Diego's first courthouse.  Let's walk there to continue our tour.   (Go inside courthouse and read the various plaques, including one that mentions the Board of Supervisors on which Rose served in 1853 as an original member.)  Shortly after Robinson and Rose arrived in San Diego, the small city  received its charter and later California was granted admission as the 31st state of the United States. 
The first Common Council met in the front part of this building.  In the back of the building was a small office for the mayor and across the hall a tiny office for the sheriff.  It was all very cozy.  Perhaps too cozy.   The sheriff persuaded the Common Council, on which his father served, that one of San Diego's first civic projects ought to be a jail. The sheriff said he could build the jail, provided he was paid for his labors.  The Common Council agreed. 
Old City Hall, Old Town San Diego State Park
However, when the jail was built it left something to be desired.  San Diego Mayor Joshua Bean had a younger brother who was something of a rascal, which is surprising because he later moved to Texas where he became known as the no-nonsense Judge Roy Bean, "the Law West of the Pecos."  As the story goes, Roy Bean got himself into some trouble and was a  guest in the city hoosegaw.  But the building was so poorly constructed he was able to dig himself out — using a spoon. So poor was the construction that the jail nearly fell apart in the first rain after construction.

Of course, repairs were demanded, but the sheriff was able to persuade the friendly council that it needed to provide him with more money so he could purchase better building materials.  The council agreed, notwithstanding the fact that because of the new government's free-spending ways, the city was broke.  Not having money to pay for the project, the council issued IOU's which could be redeemed at 8 percent interest.  That would have been a generous rate of return on an annual basis in those days, but the council was even more generous.  It promised to pay the 8 percent interest compounded each  month.

Soon the interest on San Diego's debts became completely unmanageable. In 1852, the city went bankrupt..  The state Legislature, to which Sheriff Agoston Haraszthy meanwhile had been elected,  revoked San Diego's charter as an autonomous city.  In place of a Common  Council, the Legislature decided to appoint a  three-member Board of Trustees to run San Diego's affairs.  The first such board resigned  in despair,  failing to devise some strategy for handling the city's debts.  Robinson and Rose were elected to the second three-member board along with former district attorney William Ferrell.  As the two friends tended to think alike, and they only needed two votes to make a majority of three members, they pretty much got to run the town.

They tried to declare the 8 percent interest per month owed on the bonds to be null and void, but the bondholders sued. The case went to trial in this very courthouse, but after two jurors became ill a mistrial was declared. Robinson and Rose  began negotiating with bondholders, and finally persuaded them for the good of the city to accept only 4 percent a month, which still was exorbitant. Then they had to figure out a way to pay the bonds off.  Eventually, they decided to auction off the only real asset the city had— its lands.   Anyone and everyone was free to bid on certain lands that would be sold to raise the money to pay off the bondholders.

Most people wanted land parcels  right around here in Old Town. However,  Louis Rose also decided to bid at auction for lots along the San Diego Bay.   Born in Neuhaus-an-der-Oste, a small German city near the North Sea, Rose figured that a better place for a city to be located than under a presidio was alongside the bay, where a good port could attract commercial shipping. He knew all about ports. Neuhaus is located between Germany's two major ports of Bremen and Hamburg.  And when he came to the United States as an immigrant, he was naturalized as a citizen in the Port of New Orleans.

Rose, who had many careers in San Diego— including those as a tanner, butcher, hotel keeper, and miner — never believed in putting all his eggs in one basket.  He didn't only purchase land on San Diego Bay; he also purchased land on the road between Old Town San Diego and another small pueblo to the north— Los Angeles.  He figured that travelers might stop on the land that became known as Rose Canyon to change their horses, or to take refreshments.  What he didn't know — and as it turned out, he didn't have to— was that Rose Canyon was located on a small earthquake fault line that today is identified with his name.  No earthquake of consequence is known to have occurred during Rose's lifetime.

About the time that Rose and Robinson were rescuing the city from its fiscal debt, the state of California created Boards of Supervisors to govern the various counties.  By virtue of being a member of the city Board of Trustees, Rose also became a member of the first San Diego County Board of Supervisors.  So it is fair to say that right from the beginning of the American period in San Diego, Jews were active in its civic life. 
The next building west of the old courthouse is a reproduction of the Colorado House, where today there is a museum operated by Wells Fargo.  Among the exhibits inside is one recalling prominent citizens who served as station masters for Wells Fargo. Among them was another German Jewish immigrant by the name of Joseph Mannasse. 

Like Rose, Mannasse became a successful businessman and served as a member of the city Board of Trustees.

Up on the back wall is a mural showing Old Town during the early American period. See if you can pick out both the court house and the Colorado House.  Note that in the painting, there is another building—a three-story affair, which then was San Diego's skyscraper. The Franklin House is not standing today; the lot next to this building is vacant. The Franklin House was built by Lewis Franklin, an English Jew who had a brief, and not altogether popular, career in San 

Colorado House in Old San Diego 
Diego. Franklin was a merchant who came to San Diego from San Francisco in 1851. Franklin was an observant Jew who was credited with hosting in his tent the first High Holiday services held in Gold Rush San Francisco. In the second year of High Holiday services there, Franklin delivered the sermon. In San Diego, in 1851, he also hosted High Holiday services, but besides himself, Charles Fletcher and Jacobs Marks (who later changed his name back to Marks Jacobs)  were the only two other men present. The whereabouts of  Rose that day are unknown. Notwithstanding the absence of a minyan, historians mark this as the first known Jewish religious service in Southern California.

Like Rose, Franklin was a prominent citizen in Old San Diego. Once he served as a grand jury foreman and managed to cause no little ire when he suggested that the town had far too many saloons and that the saloons had an inordinate number of customers. But it was not only with the local citizenry that Lewis Franklin became unpopular. He later would have a celebrated feud with his brother, Maurice, resulting in a trial concerning the division of the assets from the hotel, saloon and store run in the Franklin House.

In the trial, testimony indicated that Lewis Franklin had gotten along so poorly with Maurice's young wife, Victoria Jacobs Franklin, that she often ate in her room rather than have to suffer sharing a meal with him at the common dining table.

Another famous trial in San Diego involved Moses Mannasse— the cousin of Joseph Mannasse — who was called as a witness in a case involving a knife fight between two San Diego citizens.  Moses Mannasse had lived in San Diego's back country but he had come into town in the fall of 1859 to attend High Holy Day services which Lewis Franklin had organized at the Franklin House  As the services were proceeding, a representative from the sheriff's office came in to serve a subpoena on Mannasse.  He was ordered to leave the service immediately and to give testimony in the case, which was being tried that very minute at the courthouse. 

Mannasse refused to leave, explaining that High Holy Day services were sacred for Jews, and that as there were only nine other men present, he was required for the minyan necessary to pray.  He told the messenger that he would readily testify on another day.  The messenger returned a second time, saying that Mannasse was ordered by the court to come.  Again he refused.  Finally a posse came and dragged Mannasse to court.  On the witness stand, Moses sat in silence, refusing to testify until after sundown when the holy day ended.

This sequence of events became known both as the "San Diego incident" and the "Yom Kippur incident."  Lewis Franklin was particularly enraged and denounced the treatment of Mannasse and the disrespect shown to the Jewish community.  He called the whole episode a despicable instance of anti-Jewish bias.

The incident touched off a debate in the Jewish world, with commentators in Anglo-Jewish newspapers around the country divided in their opinion.  Some said Mannasse was right; that he should not have testified.  Others said that he was wrong; that he should have done his duty as a citizen.  Today, American courts would honor the High Holy Day and simply reschedule the hearing, but the issue obviously was not so clear in those days.

Walk west to the end of the plaza to the two-story reproduction of the Robinson-Rose building.

This building is a reproduction of the Robinson-Rose House.  It was not simply a home. Here San Diego's first Masonic Lodge held many of  its meetings — a lodge in which Louis Rose was a charter member.  Here too was organized by Robinson and Rose one of the  first companies to promote San Diego as the west coast  destination for a transcontinental railroad.  That was a dream that was not to be, as the railroad companies decided to choose Los Angeles as the terminus.  But in those heady days, when San Diegans believed nothing was impossible for their city, Rose and Robinson were helping to lead the charge. 
After Robinson died, Rose— who had become a wealthy man through various business enterprises — purchased the house from Robinson's widow.  Thus the house is named the Robinson-Rose house.  You will find that the state Parks Department has placed a mezuzah just inside the northern front door of the house as part of its mission to interpret what life was like during the 1820-1870 period.  The intent is to show that Old Town San Diego was a place of several religions.  In other buildings around the park— such as the 
Robinson-Rose House in Old Town San Diego 
Casa de Estudillo—there are symbols representing the Roman Catholic religion of most of the Mexican-born residents.  In fact, there is a small chapel inside the Casa de Estudillo which the family outfitted for the visiting priests after whom the City of San Diego later named its baseball team —the San Diego Padres.  During the winter holidays, when other buildings are utilized for Christmas celebrations, there are nightly  lightings of the Chanukah menorah at the Robinson-Rose House. People in various period costumes help to interpret the park, including one man who portrays Louis Rose.

You might wonder about Louis Rose's family, and therein lies a sad tale.  After he arrived in New Orleans from Germany, Rose married a woman named Caroline Marks. At first, Rose worked in the jewelry business in New Orleans.  But he did not fare well financially, so he arranged to take a job in San Antonio, Texas,  as a real estate salesman. Caroline stayed behind. While he was in San Antonio, excited word came from California about the discovery of gold in California.  Rose arranged to go by wagon train to El Paso and from there by another wagon train to California.  The only problem was that he failed to tell Caroline about his new travel plans.

Some time after arrival in San Diego, having made some money,  Rose sent word to Caroline to come and join him.   She was not interested.  In fact, after receiving the letter,  she became pregnant by a man named Depanier.  Rose filed in San Diego for divorce—and the messy details of his marriage gone sour can be found in the archives of the San Diego Historical Society, which is located in Balboa Park.  For many years, Rose remained unmarried until Matilda (Mathilde) Newman — the widow of another Jewish merchant, Jacob Newman— became his wife in 1869.  They lived together at the Robinson-Rose house as well as at a hotel that Rose built along the bay in an area of the city that became known as Roseville, which is today a portion of Point Loma.  They had two daughters, one of whom died in infancy, and the other who lived to become a well-known teacher at San Diego High School.  But Henrietta Rose never married, so San Diego's first Jewish settler is without descendants.

Walk to the north to the entrance of the Paseo del Pasado.  Once inside, navigate your way to the southeastern side and look at the pathway leading from the Paseo to a two story building called the Casa de Bandini.
Today this walkway between the Paseo del Pasado. and the Casa de Bandini goes without a name but in the 1850s and 1860s, it was known as "Judeo" Street because it was lined with the stores of Jewish merchants.  The Jewish population of San Diego at the time was approximately 10 percent, although some speculation suggests it was even higher.  Merchants generally spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. 

About one-third the way to the Casa de Bandini, you can see a signboard outside El Fandango 

In early San Diego, this pathway was known as
Judeo Street after its many Jewish merchants. 
Restaurant. Stories about the residents of Old Town are posted on this signboard on a rotating basis.  One of the stories frequently displayed there is about Victoria Jacobs, whose diary of her life as a young woman provides historians with considerable insight into day-to-day life on the frontier. Victoria tells about taking rides out to Ballast Point near the entrance of San Diego Bay, and also tells about other innocent activities during her courtship with Maurice Franklin.

Make your way through the Paseo del Pasado to the Juan Street exit, then cross the street to the  9-hole pitch and putt  golf course.  Go to the small building which is identified as the Casa de Carrillo on the edge of the golf course.

If any of you were watching television in the 1950s, you might remember a series called the "Cisco Kid."  Actor Leo Carrillo played Cisco's sidekick Pancho.  He was a descendant of the family which once owned this small adobe, which was part of the Carrillo's larger estate. 
During the Mexican period, there was a love story involving Josefa Carrillo, who lived here and who fell in love with a Yankee sea captain who put into our port — Henry Fitch.  Although Josefa loved him, her family was less than enamored with him because he was not a Catholic, but a Protestant. So in love was Fitch that he promptly went through a conversion ceremony.  That accomplished, the wedding ceremony was about to occur on April 14, 1829 when a representative of Gov. Jose Maria Echeandia suddenly announced  that the 
Louis Rose obtained  the Casa de Carrillo
proceedings had been declared illegal. Echeandia, you see, was also in love with the lovely Josefa.   Heart-broken, Josefa suggested to her would-be bridegroom, "Why don't you carry me off, Don Enrique?" That evening, a friend, who was a  future governor of California, Pio Pico, arranged to meet Josefa in the pear garden located close to the house, somewhere on the grounds of the present day golf course.  At the appointed hour, Pico appeared with two horses — one for him and one for her.  They rode off together to a ship that was waiting at anchor in San Diego Bay. Fitch was aboard.  But the couple's problems were not yet solved.   They worried whether their ship would  be able to sneak  past the guns of Fort Guijarros at the mouth of the bay.  If he learned of their elopement and was angry enough, Governor Echeandia could order the guns to be fired and Fitch's ship to be scuttled.

The couple held their breath as they sailed to the point, and one can visualize them embracing in relief after the ship sailed apparently unnoticed under the guns.  They headed south and kept right on going until they reached Valparaiso, Chile, where they arranged to be formally married.   They returned to San Diego after they had a child, Josefa rightly concluding that her parents could not resist being close to their grandchildren.

The Carrillos subsequently sold the casa and after several changes of ownership Louis Rose purchased it as a romantic present for his wife Matilda. The pear garden and the house came into Rose's possession, and just as this casa became known as the  Rose house, the orchard became known, confusingly, as the Rose Garden. The garden apparently reminded Rose of the well-tended gardens of his boyhood Germany.  According to his daughter, Henrietta, it was his favorite place.  Nearby, on land that is now part of the 9-hole golf course, Joseph Mannasse and his partner Marcus Schiller owned stables and a corral.  From their store on the other side of Juan Street, one could catch the stagecoach for the two-day ride to Los Angeles.

Before we take leave of Rose in his garden, there are a few postscripts to this Jewish pioneer's  story.   In a full life, there were at least two dreams he never realized.   First, a mattress company which he created in Roseville never became successful.  Somehow, potential customers didn't cotton to the feel of his mattresses which he stuffed with local seaweed.   Second, his dream of Roseville becoming San Diego's commercial hub was never to be. A younger, more ambitious entrepreneur — Alonzo Horton — came to San Diego and promoted another undeveloped stretch of  land near the bay for a commercial center.  The competition between the two men was fierce, but in the end Rose was outgunned. 

From the Casa de Carrillo return to Juan Street,  Turn west (left) and walk several blocks to Heritage Park, to see old Temple Beth Israel, the last stop of the walking tour.

San Diego's Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) arranged for the 19th century structures gracing Heritage Park to be moved here from locations throughout the City of San Diego.  Among the buildings they chose to save for their architectural importance was Temple Beth Israel's first home, which originally sat at the corner of Second and Beech Streets a bit north of downtown San Diego in an area known as "Bankers Hill." The building is considered a fine example of late 19th century Gothic Revival-style religious architecture. 
The Ten Commandments atop the building and the six-pointed Stars of David on the windows identify this building as Jewish in origin, but today the structure is rented out for all sorts of occasions, some religious, some secular.. 

In 1861, San Diego Jews  formed their first official congregation called Adath Jeshurun.   The congregation, which was then Orthodox, met in people's homes or in rented facilities.  Louis Rose 

Former Temple Beth Israel in Heritage Park
provided to this congregation  property near his Roseville settlement  to be used as a cemetery.  In February of 1887, Congregation Beth Israel was incorporated with 16 male members who dropped the name Adath Yeshurun. Marcus Schiller, who had served as Adath Jeshurun's president, became founding president of Beth Israel.

Many people mistakenly believe that the balcony of this temple was to provide separate seating for women as is required by Orthodox Judaism.  But such was never the case.  Before the very first services were held in this building, for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 25, 1889, the congregation had embraced Reform Judaism.  The balcony simply was for the choir and for overflow seating.   The interior of this building was reconstructed on the basis of newspaper accounts of the first service.  The ner tamid or eternal light hanging from the ceiling by the aron kodesh (holy ark) was part of the original temple.

The congregation had to struggle to make ends meet and occasionally rented out the building to church groups.  When enough Orthodox Jews immigrated to this area from Eastern Europe, they established a separate minyan (prayer group) sharing  this building for services until creating  their own Congregation Tifereth Israel Synagogue in 1905.  That congregation in 1939 chose to become Conservative.  Meanwhile, a third congregation, Beth Jacob, formed, which started with a Conservative rabbi but which is Orthodox today. 

By 1926, Congregation Beth Israel outgrew its original building and sold it, moving to a grand new building at Third and Laurel Streets, which it occupied through the balance of the 20th century.  But as more and more Jews moved to the northern portion of the San Diego, the congregation moved to La Jolla early in the 21st Century. Not long afterwards, Ohr Shalom Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, moved into the structure at Third and Laurel.

The original Beth Israel building was occupied after its sale by a variety of religious groups, including Spiritualists.  During the 1970s, however, with SOHO's restorations much in the public's attention, Congregation Beth Israel re-purchased the building and then donated it to the county of San Diego for inclusion in this park.  The building was rededicated in 1989 to mark its centennial.   Whereas it cost  only $8,500 to build in 1889, cutting the building in half for its move to Heritage Park, reassembling it and refurbishing it cost about $350,000 a century later.

Related Sites
Rose Canyon Marker — On the UCSD campus (9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla), on the lawn in front of the Applied Physics and Mathematics Building, is a monument originally placed in 1934 (several decades before the campus was built) to mark the top of Rose Canyon.  The plaque was placed by the San Diego Historical Society, Congregations Beth Israel and Tifereth Israel, and San Diego Lodge 35 of the Free and Accepted Masons, which Rose helped to found.  It describes Rose, who died in 1888 at the age of 81, as a "brickmaker, tanner, outstanding citizen." The "brickmaker" citation was in error, apparently an allusion to a large brickmaking operation that began in Rose Canyon after Rose sold the property.

Rose Canyon Business Park — This commercial development at 4901 Morena Blvd and other nearby businesses take their names from the canyon named for Louis Rose, San Diego's pioneer Jewish settler.

Rose Canyon Open Space Park —A system of undeveloped land is preserved by the City of San Diego including acreage in Rose Canyon

Plaque at UCSD honors Louis Rose
 in the University City area north of the intersection of state Route 52 and Genesee Avenue.

Louis Rose Point—San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and City Councilman Michael Zucchet dedicated a piece of land at the foot of Womble Street on the site of the old Naval Training Center in memory of Louis Rose, whose Roseville settlement overlapped the NTC boundaries.  The ceremony in 2004 coincided with the 350th anniversary of Jewish settlement in North America.

Roseville Ferry Model— At the Maritime Museum (1492 N. Harbor Drive, downtown San Diego) aboard the Ferry Boat Berkeley, a display case includes models of various vessels, including the ferryboat Roseville which used to ply San  Diego Bay.  Roseville was the name given to a bayside portion of San Diego after the community's founder, Louis Rose.  Today the name has been subsumed under that of Point Loma. 

Site of Original Jewish Cemetery— The original cemetery was located where Sharp Cabrillo Hospital stands today at 3475 Kenyon in the Point Loma area.  The bodies of San Diego's Jewish pioneers were exhumed and moved to the Home of Peace Cemetery. 
Home of Peace CemeteryLouis Rose and other pioneer Jewish settlers lie with many Jews who followed them to San Diego at this all-Jewish cemetery at 3668 Imperial Avenue, about two blocks west of the Imperial Avenue exit from Interstate 805.

Congregation Adat Yeshurun— A modern Orthodox congregation at 8950 Villa La Jolla Drive in La Jolla, it took the original name of San Diego's first congregation. 

Memorial stone at Home of Peace Cemetery

Congregation Beth IsraelThe third and present home of San Diego's oldest Jewish congregation is located at 9001 Towne Center in La Jolla on a campus invoking the architecture of Jerusalem.

Ohr Shalom SynagogueThe second home of Congregation Beth Israel now houses this Conservative congregation at 2512 Third Avenue in San Diego.

Tifereth Israel SynagogueThis Conservative congregation at 6660 Cowles Mountain Boulevard in the San Carlos area of San Diego began life as an Orthodox congregation in 1905, but later embraced the Conservative movement.

Beth Jacob CongregationThis Orthodox congregation at 4855 College Avenue, near San Diego State University, is home to the College Avenue Jewish Senior Center, operated by Jewish Family Service

For many years in San Diego, there were just three synagogues: Congregation Beth Israel, which was reform; Beth Jacob which was Orthodox, and Tifereth Israel which was conservative..