in something of a San Diego mood today, I did a search for “Occupy San Diego.” enjoy and/or bear with me.
on a whim, I searched for “Occupy San Diego” to see if there were any protests organized for this week. I was somewhat skeptical of finding anything. whether because the radical polarization of the last nine months has changed my perspective on activism in Madison, because of the vicissitudes of memory, or because issues inspiring political activism didn’t engender this degree of passion while I lived there, I never felt like San Diego could generate much enthusiasm for protest. as I’ve said many times, despite popular perception of California, San Diego is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. even though the city went blue in the 2008 election, the county is still red, and that reality came across in the limited size and scope of Democratic (much less progressive) mobilization.
even though the weather would make for great “Occupying”, I don’t know how many San Diegans feel passionately enough to challenge the establishment and do so. perhaps there’s a greater degree of ambivalence or apprehension about how the San Diego Police Department would react to protesters. seeing how some NYPD officers have reacted to Occupy Wall Street I am even more impressed with how law enforcement officers treated the #wiunion. weeks of protest; people taking up residence in the rotunda to protest the shady way in which Republican lawmakers called and held meetings; hundreds, then thousands of people marching around the capitol day after day, week after week. and no police-protester altercations like those that have come out of New York. would the actions of the San Diego PD be more like in Madison, or New York? if the protests become large enough, how might the strapped resources of the SDPD come into play?
the behavior of the law enforcement officers combines with the real dangers of a city as large and (comparatively) troubled as San Diego. New York City might share many of those problems, but geography changes things, too; in an already more-ambivalent San Diego populace, how are you going to inspire people to drive miles and miles to participate in something that, at least at this point, is largely symbolic? there have been insightful commentaries unpacking the genesis of this protest movement and I’m inclined to agree that the mobilization of the last several months will prove a turning point in our history. my generation is finally mobilizing on a broad scale to affect societal change and we’re using the tools of the 21st century to do it. it’s about time.
though initially designed to get people across the canyon to the museums of the Exhibition, the bridge has been used for many other purposes. not surprisingly, the height of the bridge proved attractive for despondent visitors and residents, including sailors. in it’s first 16 years, some seventeen people took advantage of the bridge for suicide, prompting the mayor and city officials to campaign to add some sort of preventative barrier. nothing came of it until 1950, when city workers installed wrought iron fencing on the parapets on both sides of the bridge. that didn’t stop people entirely from using it for suicidal purposes, though the completion of the Coronado Bay Bridge in 1970 provided a more effective means to that end. additionally, in 2008, a group of transients managed to penetrate an opening in the base of the bridge (for rainwater) on the north-facing side of the western edge of the bridge and constructed elaborate, multi-level housing structure inside the bridge. (very much like that episode of This American Life, “The Bridge“.) they’ve closed up the holes now. don’t want to freak out drivers on the 163 or pedestrians on the bridge, I suppose — people use cars to avoid the problem of homelessness in San Diego, right?
the only time I ever walked over the bridge was when I went to visit last May and went on a rather sweeping walk from near the hospital in Hillcrest, through the park, past the zoo, and back over the Robinson Avenue Bridge. I made an effort to explore all kinds of “touristy” things while I was living in San Diego, but this walk was the kind of thing that you can only really appreciate once you’ve known a place and come back. (why would you take such along wander around Hillcrest on foot while you live there and could just as easily take your car?!) it was a lovely walk, as one would expect of San Diego in early May.
beginning in 1855, what is now known as the “Old” Point Loma Lighthouse was a beacon over San Diego Bay for 36 years. the year after California became a state, a coastal commission selected this location for its seemingly convenient and useful vantage point, 422 feet above sea level on a peninsula that overlooks both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and construction began three years later (in 1854). workers used sandstone from the surrounding hills for walls and tiles from a nearby abandoned Spanish fort to cover the floor. the 3rd-order Fresnel lens (cutting-edge technology at the time; Fresnel lenses now go up to the 6th order) didn’t arrive from France until almost a year after the Lighthouse building was completed.
after illuminating the light for the first time in November 1885, however, it quickly became apparent that the position of the light at some 462 feet from sea level was rather less than ideal. on clear nights, the beacon could be seen some 25 miles out to sea. on foggy nights (of which there are plenty in San Diego, no matter what you hear about the weather), the light was in the middle of the cloud bank and useless to sailors navigating into San Diego Bay or up the coast. to compound the situation, there was no foghorn so, on foggy nights, the Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, would stand outside firing a shotgun into the sky to warn off ships.
while it operated, the Point Loma Lighthouse was home to a bustling family, whose quarters are recreated in the building as part of the museum. the tablecloth folded back on the table to make room for a game of solitaire, instruments propped against the wall in the children’s bedroom upstairs, a glimpse of the root cellar out back. access to the lantern room is restricted, but you can climb up those last few steps anyway and peek up into the space where the lens once resided. the light was extinguished for the last time on 23 March 1891 and duties were transferred to the “New” Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the bottom of the hill a mere 88 feet above the water.
Point Loma was one of the first places that I visited when I went to San Diego the first time in April of 2006. resting as it does on the ridge of the peninsula, the cemetery has spectacular views of both the San Diego Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. the cemetery and military base of which it is a part were named after a Union general from the Civil War, William Starke Rosecrans. the cemetery has a surprisingly long history — participants in the Battle of San Pasqual (about which more later) were re-interred (after initially being buried where they fell) at the military cemetery in 1874.
some other notable residents of the cemetery include a slew of Medal of Honor recipients (the most recent of which received the honor in 2006, but the last one before that was in the 1960s). also, a Major Reuben Fleet, a WWI aviator and perhaps now best known as patron of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center in Balboa Park. another well-known name in San Diego: Major General Joseph H. Pendleton is buried at Fort Rosecrans. he graduated from the US Naval Academy and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1884. he rose to the rank of colonel and, in mid-1914 after arriving in San Diego, began advocating for the establishment of a major Marine Corps installation in the area due to the weather and harbor. he retired in 1924 and settled in Coronado, where he served as mayor for a time. he died in 1942 and later the same year, construction began on the Pendleton Marine Corps Base outside of Oceanside.
the grounds became a National Cemetery in 1934 and, while they still have room for cremated remains, the only room for caskets is in sites shared by previously interred family members.