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Old Highway 395, Part 2: Old US 395 (1935-1947) Fairmount Avenue and Murphy Canyon Road in San Diego

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Before the Cabrillo Freeway was constructed in 1947, US 395 continued on a long lazy stroll through and across Mission Valley and up to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Although this routing into modern Kearny Mesa is no longer continuous, there are still many old pieces of the route worth looking for.

As a bonus, we will stop by the old Mission as a Detour in this Part since it's so close to the old highway, and at the same time engage in some discussion of its history and how it relates to San Diego.


Having turned left on Fairmount Avenue from El Cajon Blvd, we leave US 80 to continue east and proceed north.

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Note that Fairmount is one-way, and the reason is that north of Meade Avenue Fairmount Ave suddenly turns into expressway. It is tempting to call this an early US 395 expressway alignment, but this construction was actually done as part of a large set of upgrades to Fairmount Ave, College Ave, Waring Road and 70th St in 1960.

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Several interchanges were built, including this one (now looking SB) at Aldine Drive. This is roughly the original configuration of the expressway interchange with minor refurbishments.

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Most of the signage is original too.

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This interchange is incomplete and only has northbound access back to Fairmount; there is also no northbound exit to Aldine.

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Just to complete the loop, if we turn back and end the expressway ...

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... we turn into 43rd St, passing Meade Avenue with this wonderful old button copy ONE WAY sign ...

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... back to El Cajon Blvd and US 80.

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Back on Fairmount Avenue NB.

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The Montezuma Rd exit was also built in the 1960 upgrade, and was subsequently widened into the new interchange here.

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Advance signage for Interstate 8.

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Coming up on the Interstate 8 junction as the Trolley snakes overhead.

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This is a fairly awkward arrangement as Fairmount Avenue does not continue straight, but branches off left along with (the just barely signed) Camino del Rio S, and I-8 to the right. Interstate 8 here is the inheritor of the old US 80 Camino del Rio freeway, built originally as an FAS expressway project by the city and county of San Diego in the early 1950s. It was later adopted by the Division of Highways as state highway (replacing the former LRN 12 on El Cajon Blvd) and officially designated as US 80 in 1955, with the old routing becoming Business US 80. The Camino del Rio/Alvarado Freeway alignments were then upgraded to freeway in 1960 from US 101 (I-5) to El Cajon. In 1964, US 80 was decommissioned in California, yielding I-8 (and El Cajon Blvd becoming Business I-8).

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Passing under the Interstate and turning left onto Camino del Rio N, which is not original asphalt (now under Interstate 8), but close enough to approximate the route.

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WB Camino del Rio N. The Interstate 8/Interstate 15 interchange (the southern terminus of Interstate 15, south of which being CA 15) is in the background west of us.

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Just shortly after is Ward Rd, where we pick up more or less the original alignment again. We turn right.

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Once again, the San Diego River (Part 1).

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Unlike the large channel dumping into Mission Bay, the river here is a trickle under the trolley tracks overhead.

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Ward Rd doesn't last long before changing names to Rancho Mission Rd, but it is still part of our old alignment.

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Qualcomm Stadium is to the west. If our through route weren't obliterated (I'll talk about this in a moment) we'd be going almost right past it.

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Signage for Mission San Diego.

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And this is about as far as we go. North of here, new construction, plus the expansion of Interstate 15, mean the old route is buried and we don't pick it up again until we go around to the other side of the Interstate. So, as a consolation prize, we'll go look at the Mission just a short jog down San Diego Mission Rd.

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Detour: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala is today designated an ecclesiastical minor basilica by the Roman Catholic Church, one of only four of the California missions to be so honoured as decreed in 1976 by Pope Paul VI. Besides being San Diego's most famous landmark and the one the city is named for, it was California's first mission, officially established 16 July 1769, and despite many centuries lain fallow is once again an active parish in the Diocese of San Diego since 1941. It was founded by Father Junipero Serra, whom we will talk about presently.

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Order of services sign in the parking lot. This is in fact the sixth Mission San Diego, and the fifth on this site, the various versions of which were expanded and renovated both to accommodate newly baptized Kumeyaay Indians (Diegueño) and repel attacks from their former tribal confederates. The original church sat near the bay at roughly what is Presidio Hill today, but the water supply was poor and crops found the soil infertile (and the Indians and military presence did not get along), so young Fr Luis Jayme determined an inland site six miles east along the San Diego River in 1774 which was approved by Fr Serra. This second mission met with tragedy when two disaffected mission Indians incited a riot in 1775, torching the church and murdering Fr Jayme, making him California's first Christian martyr (he is still buried beneath the chapel).

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Fr Serra took no chances with the mission's third incarnation (the second on this site), building it more to the specifications of a fort than a church. This decision rendered it considerably more resistant to hostile attack and allowed it to slowly flourish despite being one of the poorest of the missions. Two more rebuildings occurred to expand the growing mission, in addition to the periodic and ongoing smaller expansions, including an 1812-3 rebuild that also added buttress wings to secure the facade against earthquakes.

In 1826, the end of the mission era in Mexican Alta California came with the passage of the Prevenciónes de Emancipación by Governor José María de Echeandía, and subsequently the Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California in 1833 by the Mexican Congress, which ultimately resulted in the church's forfeiture of the missions and their holdings, and their being offered for sale to citizens and natives. Since the sums demanded could not be raised by the citizenry, possibly intentionally, the mission lands were instead divided into ranchos as rewards for military officers in the campaign against Spain. It was briefly in control of Captain Santiago Argüello in 1846 before being ceded to American control under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and used by the US Army as a base, first by the Mormon Volunteer Batallion in 1847 who added a second floor and performed minor upgrades, and then the Army of the Pacific until 1858 after which it was abandoned.

In 1862, the mission was in ruins upon its restoration to the Roman Catholic Church by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln. In the 1880s Fr Anthony Ubach was placed in charge of the mission and started a renovation campaign, yielding the modern church on this site and establishing a boarding school for American Indian children in 1886. This school would eventually be run by the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondolet in 1891, which continued to operate for another seventeen years and outlasted Fr Ubach himself, who died in 1907. Restoration work resumed in 1931 to restore the church to its 1813 facade, and in 1941 the church once again became an active parish within the Diocese.

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The belltower still features an original bell, dated 1802, identified by its crown as demanded by the King of Spain for all Spanish missions and on this view seen on the lower left. It weighs 805 pounds and is named Ave Maria Purisima ("Immaculate Mary"). The other large bell, Mater Dolorosa ("Our Lady of Sorrows") is partially made of fragments from other original bells and was recast in 1894, with a weight of 1200 pounds consistent with its heavy name. The uncrowned Mater bell at the bottom is rung twice a day, but all five bells are rung annually in unison on the mission's anniversary. The Campanario bell tower is 46'.

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Entrance to the main church sanctuary. We note for historical veracity that this sign was not erected by Fr Serra.

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Daughters of the American Revolution plaque, posted on the west side of the breezeway.

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Next to it is the California Registered Historical Landmark plaque for El Camino Real, the King's Highway linking the missions themselves. Despite its long history in California, the Highway was not designated an official Historical Landmark until 1963 and is #784. The Mission also has a marker, #242, awarded in 1936.

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Looking down the breezeway, with the cross glowing in the sunlight, and various busts of important persons in the history of the mission within the cages to the left.

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[Junipero Serra, age 61.] One of these, of course, is Fr Serra himself. Blessed Junipero Serra was born Miguel José Serra in Majorca, Spain in 1713, taking the name Junipero in honour of the Franciscan St. Juniper prior to entering the Order of Friars Minor in 1730. Serra was a learned man, who was appointed lector of philosophy prior to his ordination and later receiving his doctorate in theology.

In 1749, Serra joined the missionary College of San Fernando de Mexico and travelled to North America. Initially Serra taught in Mexico City, but later felt the call for mission fields further out and requested a transfer to the Sierra Gorda Indian Mission in what is now central Mexico, spending nine years there and translating the Catholic catechism into the indigenous language. Recalled to Mexico City, his reputation as a missionary and speaker grew and he was appointed superior of the Franciscan group charged with the Indian Missions of Lower California in 1767; Fr Serra was officially designated Fr Presidente when King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from the holdings of New Spain and gave their missions to the Franciscans in 1768. As we read above, the first of Serra's missions was established in San Diego in 1769; under his presidency, Fr Serra would be involved with the founding of eight more all the way to San Francisco.

Fr Serra's presidency earned him the ire of competing interests, particularly Governor Felipe de Neve, who asserted Serra was not authorized to administer the sacrament of confirmation in 1779 (overturned by the Viceroy in 1781) and later clashed with Serra over the founding of the Presidio in Santa Barbara in 1782, as well as military commander and governor Pedro Fages, whom Serra removed in 1774 only to see him return as Governor after de Neve in 1782. Serra also suffered from an leg injury he sustained in Mexico City riding a mule that left him crippled for life although he patently insisted on walking and refused any remedy.

In 1784, Fr Serra was bitten by a snake in Carmel and died; his grave remains there, under the Mission Carmel sanctuary floor. He is credited with the confirmation of 5,309 believers, most of them occurring during his time in California. In recognition of his work and historical importance, he was beatified by Pope John II in 1988, and monuments to him exist not only here but in Monterey, at the U.S. Capitol, the Mission de San Juan Capistrano (the only remaining building where Serra was known to have performed rites), and Golden Gate Park. Both Interstate 280 in the Bay Area (the Junipero Serra Freeway) and Alameda Padre Serra in Santa Barbara are named for him. A plaque from Petra de Mallorca, Serra's home town, was presented to the City of San Diego in 1969 on its 'bicentennial' and was mounted in the breezeway.

Serra remains a controversial figure to the native American community which has objected to his honour (in particular the beatification, being part of the ascent to sainthood), asserting that the missions were responsible for significant mistreatment of the Indians and Serra therefore by proxy. There is no evidence, however, that Serra was either directly responsible for such treatment or decreed any institutional policy directing it; furthermore, charges that Mission San Diego imprisoned Indians as slaves are almost certainly false, as the mission was so poor that in 1775 then-pastor Fr Lasuen implemented a rotating system where half of the Native Americans lived on the grounds and half remained in their villages, rotating back and forth periodically, a system that would not have been possible if the mission were not open to allow its residents and workers to come and go freely.

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Active archaelogical projects remain at the mission, with the current investigation in progress since 2002 and performed by volunteers. This dig is occurring on the old convento (the rectory/friary), part of which still survives and we'll look at presently. For the grave robbers in the audience, please note that there is no gold or valuables left save what is in the church, and the valuable historical information, of course. Most of the money went directly into the operations of the mission and the religious valuables used for church services were taken for safekeeping by the friars after the missions were secularized. Also, burials were strictly on holy ground in areas designated for that purpose, not in the areas being excavated. Artifacts found go directly back to the Mission.

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The beautiful fountain in the centre of the courtyard.

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Facing the courtyard is part of the rectory (or "friary"), where the priests lived and today designated La Casa del Padre Serra ('the house of Father Serra'). It is believed that this is the only building from the original construction in 1774 that survived the later attacks and military occupation, part of the excavation site above, originally constructed in a long chamber used for the padres' quarters.

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The adobe walls and wooden beams are original construction and still survive, although the other construction and overall furnishing is contrived in the fashion of how it was believed the padres, including Serra himself, would have lived. Typically two priests were assigned to the mission, one as chief educator, and the other as administrator.

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The main church is 150' long, 35' wide and 29' high, its long and narrow layout a consequence of the trees available to use for its beams (the doorway beams are original, dating back to the 1813 reconstruction). The original windows were built high to retard attack, covered with treated rawhides instead of glass. This is not the chapel, which was built in 1977.

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A dramatic shot of the crucifix and confessional near the main doors.

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The beautiful garden was not part of the original church, instead introduced as part of the post-1931 rebuilding. It is decorated by a statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the expedition to San Diego who is believed to have saved the mission after prayers for a supply ship were answered; St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order to which all the padres who worked in the Alta California missions belonged; ...

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... and this one, of a younger Junipero Serra himself.

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Outside the church sits a marker for the La Playa Trail. The trail was established first between the old mission site on Presidio Hill and the beach (la playa) where the Spanish vessels captained by Don Gaspar Portola were anchored (Portolá commanding the San Antonio and San Carlos). The trail was travelled daily by the soldiers to bring supplies to and from the mission, and when the mission was moved inland by Frs Jayme and Serra, the trail extended inland with it. Becoming an important corridor of trade even as the missions sank in prominence, it is rightfully designated as "the oldest commercial trail in the Western United States." These markers were placed starting in 1932 along the route of the trail, mostly paralleled by the route of old US 80/old CA 209 today (one at Fort Rosecrans, then Roseville [in Point Loma], then at the corner of Lytton and Rosecrans, the corner of Midway and Rosecrans and finally the base of Presidio Hill), and then this last one at the current Mission itself. Over 67 landmarks today dot the approximate course of the trail. One of the markers remains in the Smithsonian Institution.

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Leaving the mission as the bell towers send us off on our way north.

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End Detour

US 395 then proceeded due north from that intersection connecting here to the end of Murphy Canyon Road. As we mentioned, this routing is completely obliterated by new construction and Interstate 15, which we are facing near the Friars Rd exit. We turn around and continue north, paralleling the Interstate nearly completely. This routing more or less was that of CA 103, although this alignment was probably not used by CA 103 for long if at all.

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Junction I-15 south. Murphy Canyon was originally la Cañada de la Soledad (the canyon of solitude), a far more poetic name, of unclear origin. There are many famous Murphys in San Diego, such as Jack Murphy Stadium (now renamed, dismally, Qualcomm Stadium), named for the famous San Diego Union sports editor in 1981 and of course Mayor Dick Murphy, but the name precedes all of them. It is possibly named for Robert Cushman Murphy, a naturalist and ornithologist with a long career spanning 600 articles, who during his time with the Brooklyn Museum scoured and catalogued many species in the region as far south as Baja California. His connection to San Diego seems to be through Captain Edward Funcke, who guided local hunting and sighting parties (including R. C. Murphy) and collected specimens for natural history museums.

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Stonecrest Blvd, which goes to the Fry's Electronics next door, like I ever go there, spend lots of money, and eat their delicious club sandwiches in the cafeteria. As I write this, though, I realize I need a new serial cable for one of the servers.

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Aero Drive, named for nearby Montgomery Field.

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Descending back into the Canyon.

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This area is heavily populated by industrial parks and small business concerns.

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Murphy Canyon ends at Clairemont Mesa Blvd, but that's not where US 395 ends. We park and hop the barrier.

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Fair warning, but unnecessary -- I don't think many cars are getting over the K-rail.

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Probably original striping and asphalt as the I-15 and CA 52 interchange snakes overhead in the background.

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One of the small little creeks on an old undated crossing.

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A closer look at the underside of the culvert and some very brackish water.

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Continuing along the overgrown road.

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The asphalt and striping are in considerably worse repair here.

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Road's end with one of the flyovers straight ahead. Old US 395/Murphy Canyon Rd proceeded up to Linda Vista Rd and proceeded north from there; after the Cabrillo Pkwy was built, this connector was not direct but survived even through the various upgrades to CA 103 and then I-15 until it was fully obliterated in the 1970s. Speaking of the Cabrillo Pkwy, that's next.

Continue to Part 3

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