Did you notice that all the posts at Cabrillo are round and not square? Did you know that was purposely done?
Did you know that the theme of the Visitor Center complex represents an ocean pier and a cobblestone beach?
Did you know that the Visitor Center complex was modeled after buildings at Cabrillo College?
Did you know that the Kumeyaay Garden outside the Admin building used to be a reflecting pool?
This document describes the history of the Visitor Center complex at Cabrillo National Monument. How it started inside the lighthouse with the Cabrillo Historical Association (now the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation), outgrew that area and as part of the Mission 66 program within NPS, built the historical Visitor Center complex we have today. Most of this information is excerpted from the Cultural Landscapes Inventory for Cabrillo National Monument, 2009.
Significance of the Mission 66 Program
Mission 66 was the last major period of intense activity and profoundly new ideas to find expression in a system-wide program of national park development. The end of World War II in 1945 brought unprecedented prosperity to middle-class Americans, who spent increasing amounts of time and money on leisure activities. This, combined with an explosion in the number of personal automobiles and the development of the nation’s highway system, gave the country unprecedented mobility. National parks began experiencing visitation numbers that seriously taxed their aging infrastructure, leading to concerns for the impact these visitors were having on park resources. Roads and parking lots were choked with vehicles, causing accelerated wear and damage and encouraging drivers to drive off the roads. Developed areas and the services they provided were inadequate for the number of people using them. The large crowds, traffic, and condition of the parks in the early 1950s had significantly diminished the visitor experience.
In response, and in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service in 1966, NPS administrators developed a plan to completely overhaul the park system’s facilities, with an emphasis on improving roads and parking, visitor facilities, and administration, housing areas, and concessionaire areas. Conrad Wirth, NPS director during the Mission 66 era, believed that intensive development in contained areas would control public access and prevent deterioration of park resources, promoting a policy that some historians have called the “paradox of protection by development.”  Planners modeled the program on national highway and urban renewal programs, believing the solution lay in the modernization of the infrastructure. Characterized by wider roads and larger parking lots, integrated visitor center complexes, a modernist architectural style, and extensive new construction, Mission 66 embraced the latest technologies, materials, and building styles, while moving away from the rustic style that had defined park development for nearly fifty years.
Mission 66 changed the form and appearance of the national park units. The modern architectural style, the extensive use of modern materials such as concrete, and the often intense development that was concentrated in front-country areas significantly altered what had been a well-established aesthetic of national parks. Similarly, the construction of visitor centers and the expansion and consolidation of visitor services in and around them fundamentally altered the way visitors experienced their national parks. Services such as museum displays, interpretive services, ranger stations, administrative offices, restrooms, and concessionaire services were centralized, often into single buildings or building clusters, with emphasis on convenience and access. Services that had previously been dispersed throughout park villages in separate buildings were consolidated into a centralized location where all visitor amenities were located. This new model could accommodate much larger numbers of visitors with efficiency and minimal disturbance to park resources.
The scale of the Mission 66 effort was such that the majority of park units within the park system incorporated at least part of this new model. As the image of the national park changed to fit the Mission 66 model, its influence spread beyond the NPS. The major concepts of Mission 66, including the embrace of modern architecture, the establishment of multi-function visitor centers, and the concentration of convenient and efficient development were emulated in state parks around the country and in national parks of other countries.  Not since the Park Rustic movement of the 1920s and 1930s had a unified design philosophy had such a transforming effect on our national parks.
Significance of the Cabrillo Visitor Center as an Embodiment of the Mission 66 Program at the Cabrillo National Monument
The Cabrillo National Monument was one of the parks in the National Park System that would undergo extensive changes during Mission 66. The effect on the Cabrillo National Monument was critical in the development of the site into a modern and fully accessible park. Prior to Mission 66, the monument was not fully utilized as a commemorative site. Additionally, the small size of the monument (only half an acre) and the fact that it was surrounded by land controlled by the military were major impediments to any real development of the park. The Park Service used the Mission 66 program and its extensive funding as leverage to extend Cabrillo’s boundaries in 1959. The expanded boundaries, which included 80 acres of land transferred from the military, provided the Park Service with more control over the development of the site.
Additionally, up until the Mission 66 program and its infusion of funding, the Cabrillo National Monument had been a second-tier site within the National Park System. Despite its large number of yearly visitors, the park’s administration worked with local interested parties in order to gather support for more park amenities and services. All this changed during the Mission 66 program. The Mission 66 visitor center concept was the result of a thorough plan and funds which were not available to the Cabrillo National Monument before this period. Furthermore, as a result of the increased commitment and funding during Mission 66, new interpretation programs and scientific activities were developed that expanded the park’s identity within the local community.
Initial Planning and Program for the Mission 66 Visitor Center Complex
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse served as the visitor center, museum, and bookstore (for the Cabrillo Historical Association, the non-profit organization that was set up in 1956, now known as the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation, and was modeled after other cooperating organizations within the National Park Service). The lighthouse and its minimal facilities (a comfort station and parking lot) could not adequately accommodate the heavy visitation to the monument. By 1963, park visitation was over one million annually, and the park envisioned a visitor center as a place to tell the story of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and other early explorers. To tell this story, the park proposed a museum where the visitor would find exhibits on this subject so they could understand the true significance of this area. To further educate the visitor of this story, an auditorium was needed where audio/visual programs could be presented. An enclosed auditorium was determined necessary because of airplane noise (the monument was in the flight path of the nearby United States Naval Air Station), as well as the strong westerly winds prevalent across Point Loma which made outdoor programs uncomfortable to visitors.
The new building was planned to direct the visitor’s movement in keeping with the characteristics associated with the new visitor center building type (the hallmark building in the Mission 66 program). The lobby of the new building would provide a central location for the key information sources at the park including, an information desk, the bookstore for the Cabrillo Historical Association, and exhibits telling the story of the monument’s significance.
The 350-seat auditorium was to be located adjacent to and accessible from this central lobby.
The layout of the building was planned so that the visitor would go first to the exhibit area and then to the auditorium for interpretive programs. From the auditorium, the visitor would pass the bookstore before exiting the building. A ramp or stairs, located near the exit, would provide access to the observation platform on the top of the Visitor Center.
Additionally, the auditorium was to have an outside entrance that would permit visitors to enter without having to pass through the lobby and exhibit area. There was to be a large patio or terrace at this outside entrance to the auditorium to provide a visitor waiting area (during the times of year of heavy visitation) so that the lobby and exhibit area would not become congested with visitors waiting to see the audio/visual program.
The Visitor Center was envisioned as a multi-story building with a basement. The basement would provide a storage area for the monument’s museum items and other interpretive supplies; an interpretive workshop; and a storage area for ranger material and supplies, as well as for administrative supplies. The main floor of the Visitor Center in addition to housing interpretive facilities would also contain visitor restrooms, the historian’s office and library, and, off of the bookstore, a small room for the office and storeroom of the Cabrillo Historical Association. The second floor would house the administrative offices (the Superintendent’s office, the administrative assistant’s office and file room, and the chief ranger’s office and ranger operating room) and would also contain the observation deck. 
From this program, the preliminary plans for the Visitor Center were prepared by staff at the Park Service Western Office of Design and Construction (WODC). In the final plans prepared by architects Frank L. Hope and Associates, the multi-story aspects of the program were abandoned, but the concepts for visitor movement through the facility and the arrangement of the various uses or functions were still evident in the final design for the Visitor Center.
Preliminary Plans Prepared by NPS Architect Cecil Doty
The first plans for the new Visitor Center were prepared by WODC architect Cecil Doty.  Doty’s project construction proposal, submitted in February 1963, called for a multi-story structure that would house a bookstore, interpretive facilities, a library and administrative offices. Space in an adjoining building was to be used for a museum and an auditorium. 
Doty designed a modernist facility with an observation deck that features a band of windows surrounded by concrete (similar in appearance to a control tower). Sarah Allaback, in her discussion of Cecil Doty’s work on Mission 66 visitor centers, noted that the Cabrillo Visitor Center was designed as the Mission 66 program was entering its final years and was one of a group of visitor centers (that included the Canyon de Chelly and Cedar Breaks National Monument Visitor Centers) that demonstrated Doty’s increasing comfort with the modern style. She noted that these designs did not have major changes in terms of plan or circulation but that there was a significant adjustment of aesthetics because the modernist style was no longer covered with a “rustic” veneer or tempered by natural wood details. In the Cabrillo design, the “mission tile color” clay grills provided one of the few concessions to this previous aesthetic.  According to park historian F. Ross Holland, Doty prepared the plans without ever having seen the site. The design showed two buildings on separate mounds of land connected by a passageway. However, in reality there was a large depression or valley between the two mounds that evidently was not shown on the maps Doty was working from and which made his design problematic. 
His plan ran into other problems as well. According to Superintendent Tom Tucker, the Under Secretary of the Interior, James Carr, and other park service officials had seen the drawings and felt the building’s massive fort-like appearance completely inappropriate to the landscape of Point Loma. Sure the San Diego city officials would object to the design of the Visitor Center, he requested a meeting with the WODC and city and county officials to review the plans. A meeting held on December 11, 1963, in the city manager’s office was attended by WODC chief architect Jerry Riddle, the city manager of San Diego, representatives of the mayor, the city planning department, county officials, and the chamber of commerce, as well as the city lobbyist in Sacramento and members of the press. The group was presented with a model of the proposed structure, and the officials voiced their concern with its massive appearance and the lack of reference to San Diego’s Spanish heritage and mission architecture. The group agreed that “this appearance should not reflect radical changes in the buildings such as a tiled roof or small Spanish type windows but rather it should be brought out in softer angles and by coloration of exterior materials,” and Doty’s design was described as “very competent and an imaginative solution to a very difficult problem.” 
Doty revised the plans for the Visitor Center in January 1964 (Revised Preliminary Drawing NM-CAB-30l2-B) to reflect the comments and recommendations reached at the December 11, 1963 meeting with San Diego officials. The revised plans were approved by the Regional Director, Edward A. Hummel. These plans, however, did not reflect any changes to the architectural style or character of the building from the previous design that had been presented, and basically rejected, by local concerns at the December 11 meeting. Doty may have assumed that changes would be made by the contract architect during the development of the final drawings, specifications, and details. 
Final Plans Prepared by Frank L. Hope and Associates
In February 1964, Frank L. Hope and Associates  , a San Diego architectural firm, was given the contract to provide final plans and specifications for the building.  This well-known and respected firm had over thirty years experience designing religious and institutional buildings throughout the greater San Diego area. Additionally, the firm had already designed some notable local modernist buildings. 
A list of Frank L. Hope and Associates’ institutional projects in the San Diego area included the following:
- St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in East San Diego, 1928;
- Carmelite Monastery in Normal Heights, 1930;
- Custom homes on Point Loma, 1930s;
- Dana Junior High School, Point Loma, 1941;
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Ocean Beach, 1946;
- Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, City Heights, 1947;
- San Diego College for Women; 1950 (Now University of San Diego);
- Aquarium, Scripp’s Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, 1951 (Demolished);
- Palomar Hospital, Escondido, 1953;
- Various buildings at the University of California, San Diego’s Scripp’s Institute of Oceanography, beginning in 1954;
- The original building for Children’s Hospital, Kearny Mesa, 1954;
- San Diego City College’s first campus, mid-1950s;
- The Hope firm’s five-story headquarters on Beech Street, 1957 (The largest single investment in downtown San Diego real estate since the Depression);
- County Courthouse in downtown San Diego, 1961 (Hope was one of five partners who built the structure);
- Home Tower, 1963;
- The lmmaculata on the campus of the University of San Diego, 1964;
- Mesa College, beginning in 1964;
- Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park, 1965;
- Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center Historic District, 1966;
- San Diego Stadium (1967), 2nd AIA National Honor Award for San Diego project.
Frank L. Hope and Associates prepared a new design, and Cecil Doty’s original design scheme was totally scrapped. In Frank L. Hope and Associates’ new design, the Visitor Center’s functions were contained in a single complex that did not necessitate an elevated walkway.  These plans were presented on April 30, 1964 to a much smaller audience, than had been present at the original meeting to discuss Doty’s initial plans. The new plans were presented as a solution to the city officials’ comments (suggesting the importance of preserving the character of Point Loma and conveying the spirit of San Diego’s Spanish colonial past). Architect Frank Hope pointed out that, although their plans were notably lacking in the Spanish arches and red tile roofs (that the local representatives may have envisioned), the use of stone on the building’s facade and copper roofing would echo features already present in the monument area. Apparently satisfied with what Hope called the “Spanish Fort influence,” the plans were approved by the local civic interests present. 
After realizing that the architect’s estimate for the new Visitor Center Complex was considerably higher than the allotted budget, certain elements were ultimately cut from the design. The stone and copper details were eliminated to reduce the center’s cost. (There was great concern from the park that this deletion would disappoint the local community because they approved the buildings largely because of its stone facades and Spanish influences.) Hope and Associates’ preliminary plans (NM-CAB-30l2D) were approved by the Park Service on March 31, 1965.  The modified plans (without stone and copper details) were reviewed again by local officials, and their responses were supportive and enthusiastic. 
The final Visitor Center plan consisted of three one-story buildings: the View Building, the Exhibit/Auditorium Building. and the Administration Building. The three buildings were sited around a central courtyard and were connected by covered walkways. The Visitor Center was sited to overlook (to the north) Point Guijarros. the site where Fort Guijarros, a Spanish fort, stood in 1792 (today known as Ballast Point).
Drawing upon regional influences, Hope and Associates used a California modern architectural vocabulary to create a one-story complex that is compatible with the Pacific Coast setting of the park. The landscape design developed by landscape architects in the Park Service Western Office of Design and Construction reflects the use of modernist forms and ideals that dominated landscape design in California during this period: a straightforward spatial organization, an empathy for the site (its views, topography, surroundings, plant materials), and a concern with functionalism. The original plant palette consisted of exotic species suitable to the southern California Mediterranean climate planted around the parking lots, walkways, and overlooks in a way that was meant to visually integrate the designed areas with the native setting. By the careful placement of the raised planters, terraces, pool and covered walkway, the designers effectively created a seemingly harmonious exterior space that served as an extension of the interior spaces. The landscape features further articulated the complex’s regional design context: the pool referenced the ocean: the posts and flat roof of the pergola reflected the rhythm and form of an ocean pier or dock: and the rough texture of the exposed aggregate paving recalled the cobblestone appearance of nearby Ballast Point.
(Around 1989-1990, the reflecting pool was filled with dirt to create a planter. There were three primary reasons for eliminating the reflecting pool.
- It was expensive to maintain. The pumps and filters were a constant problem and the pool often leaked.
- People threw coins in the pool constantly. It was time-consuming to take out the coins, spread them out to dry, and sort them. Often, the bank was reluctant to take the corroded coins.
- California had a severe drought 1987-1992. In the interest of saving water, the pool was filled in.
The pool was filled in and made into what is now the Kumeyaay Garden, filled with native plants.)
According to personal communication with Thomas Tucker (former Cabrillo National Monument Superintendent) on February 16, 2000, Hope and Associates’ final design was influenced by the buildings on the Cabrillo College campus in Aptos, California. Cabrillo College was completed in 1965 and designed by architect Ernest J. Kump, whom was noted for his campus and institutional buildings. Kump developed complexes that were characterized by a system of room-sized distinct interconnected units that enclosed interior/exterior space and were integrated into the surrounding landscape. At Cabrillo College, Kump used sloping, shingled roofs, and deep porches to recapture the feeling and look of early Spanish adobe buildings. The Cabrillo College complex won the American Institute of Architects Award in 1964.
Construction Process for the Mission 66 Visitor Center Complex
The construction process for the new Visitor Center Complex was undertaken in three phases over a four year period.
The first phase, completed in 1963, included grading, the realignment of the entrance road, and construction of the parking area and adjacent pedestrian pathways. The level area for the parking area and the Visitor Center was created from land fill that was supplied from the construction of a sewage plant on the ocean side of the park. The new parking lot was designed to accommodate 300 automobiles and was consistent in design with other large-scale parking lots constructed during the Mission 66 Program.
The second phase was the construction of the actual Visitor Center buildings, designed by Frank L. Hope and Associates, in 1965-1966. Superintendent Thomas Tucker announced in late May 1965 that bids for the construction of the buildings would be opened on June 17. The winning bid of $250,550 was submitted by Gussa Construction of El Cajon, California. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the project were held on July 19, 1965, and the buildings were completed and official occupancy occurred on March 17, 1966.
The final phase was the site development contract which included the overlook structures, pergola, grading. automatic irrigation system, walks, walls, steps, a pool, benches, paving, and plantings adjacent to the existing Visitor Center structures and
surrounding areas (approximately 2 acres of around area). The development of these areas was deferred until after the building complex was completed. Funding for the landscaping was cut to accommodate the higher than expected costs of the complex: $128,200 was programmed from the fiscal year 1967 budget. The actual cost of the site development was $118,010. The site development was completed and accepted by the park on March 7, 1967.
Dedication of the Visitor Center
Originally, the dedication was scheduled to take place on August 25, 1966, to correspond to the National Park Service 50th anniversary. However, the landscaping for the site could not be completed by that date, and so the ceremonies were postponed until late October 1966 (although the site development work was not accepted as complete by the park until March 7, 1967). Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall served as keynote speaker at the dedication. Udall dedicated the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center Historic District “to the memory of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and those of all lands who will come here in search of history.” In his remarks, the Secretary emphasized the “million dollar view.” “And now,” he said, “we have a splendid million-dollar visitor center to go with it.” 
Additions to the exterior of the building include a 330-square-foot addition constructed in 1986 at the north end of the building to provide separate office space for the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation. In 1996, the maintenance staff constructed a 385-square-foot addition on the east side of the building adjacent to the existing ranger office and library. The Law Enforcement Building was built in 2007.
- Information in the history is taken from Sarah Collins Lehmann, An Embarrassment of Riches: The Administrative History of Cabrillo National Monument ( San Diego, CA: Cabrillo National Monument, 1987), and cited from online source
- Lehmann, 1987, Chapter II.
- “Project Construction Proposal,” September 26, 1963 (File D3415), Cabrillo National Monument cited in Lehmann 1987, Chapter VIII.
- One of the most prolific designers in Park Service history, Cecil John Doty (1907-1990), is also one of the least known. Doty’s absence in the annals of Park Service history reflects both the nature of architectural collaboration and the fact that he never entered the supervisory ranks of the Park Service. However, Doty worked with some of the Park Service’s most famous designers and created many of the buildings park employees use every day. Doty grew up on a farm in May, Oklahoma and graduated from Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University) with a degree in architectural engineering in 1928. He began public service work during the Depression when he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Oklahoma and transferred to the Park Service’s San Francisco Regional Office in 1940.
During the Mission 66 program, Doty designed visitor centers for a range of climates and locations, according to varying needs and anticipated visitation. His level of involvement also varied. In some cases, he never visited the site (as seems to have been the case at Cabrillo); in some he designed the building and then contract architects prepared the construction drawings (this was what was intended at Cabrillo); and in others, his involvement continued through the final working drawings. At the official conclusion of the Mission 66 program in 1966, Doty received the Department of the Interior’s distinguished service award. He transferred to the Eastern Office of Design and Construction in 1966, where he spent the final two years of his career. (His main project during this time involved working with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill on the fountains around the Mall.). Doty retired from the Park Service in 1968. He died in 1990 (Allaback 2000, Chapter 6).
- Lehmann 1987, Chapter VIII.
- Allaback 2000, Chapter 6.
- Lehmann 1987, Chapter VIII.
- Memorandum from Acting Regional Director, November 2, 1963 (File D34l5 -Visitor Center Construction), Cabrillo National Monument files.
- Memorandum from Regional Director, February 3, 1964 (File D34l5 -Visitor Center Construction), Cabrillo National Monument files.
- Frank L. Hope (1901-1994) was born in San Bernardino but moved to San Diego with his family in 1913. Hope quit San Diego High School as a sophomore to go to work in the naval shipyards during World War I, and it was during his service with the Navy that he became interested in architecture. After leaving the Navy, he attended the University of California at Berkeley where he studied architecture. After receiving his degree, Hope returned home with architectural ideals that reflected not only the Beaux Arts philosophy then popular in Berkeley, but a philosophy that was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement which called for structures to be in harmony with their environment and constructed of indigenous natural materials. He worked with a number of firms before opening his own practice, Frank L. Hope and Associates, in 1928. By the 1960s, when his firm received the contract for the Cabrillo Visitor Center, Frank L. Hope and Associates was considered one of San Diego’s most prominent and influential architectural firms, and Frank Hope was considered by colleagues to be the grandfather of architecture in San Diego.
Hope served as the San Diego Planning Commission director in 1955 and was president of the local and the state chapters of the American Institute of Architects. In 1965, he received one of the organization’s highest national honors when he was named a Fellow. Hope’s many accomplishments led to his appointment by Governor Ronald Reagan to a four-year term on the State Board of Architectural Examiners, a group responsible for registering architects throughout California. He continued to design projects into the late 1970s (San Diego Union Tribune, October 6, 1994 and Hope Engineering Web site).
After he retired, his sons Frank Hope Jr. and Charles, and later a grandson Lee, continued the practice (known under a variety of names, the Hope Consulting Group and the Hope Design Group) until 1993. Their work included San Diego Stadium, the Marriott Hotel and Marina on San Diego Bay, and the Union Tribune Publishing Company building in the Mission Hills district of San Diego. The firm became one of the largest architectural companies on the West Coast, tackling projects as far ranging as the Middle East. The firm had offices in San Diego, San Francisco, Riyad, Saudi Arabia, and a liaison office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Today, the Frank L. Hope’s legacy is still evident in San Diego in the buildings that remain a part of the city’s fabric and in Hope Engineering, an engineering firm established in 1993 by his grandson Charles (Chuck) Hope Jr.
- Frank L. Hope Jr. (?) was the project manager, and Jame [sic?] Pettaway was responsible for the architectural design (Personal communication with Frank L. Hope, Jr., February 14, 2000).
- They designed a private residence in La Mesa, published in San Diego & Point (March 1959) that is credited as being the “first light-steel house in San Diego” (San Diego Modern Website).
- According to personal communication with Thomas Tucker (former Cabrillo National Monument Superintendent) on February 16, 2000, Hope and Associates’ final design was influenced by the buildings on the Cabrillo College campus in Aptos, California. Cabrillo College was completed in 1965 and designed by architect Ernest J. Kump, whom was noted for his campus and institutional buildings. Kump developed complexes that were characterized by a system of room-sized distinct interconnected units that enclosed interior/exterior space and were integrated into the surrounding landscape. At Cabrillo College, Kump used sloping, shingled roofs, and deep porches to recapture the feeling and look of early Spanish adobe buildings (Emanuel 1997, p. 547).
- Meeting with Civic Representatives Concerning Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center, (no date [ca. April 1964]), File D3415, Cabrillo National Monument.
- Preliminary Drawings, Visitor Center, Cabrillo National Monument, March 26, 1965 (File D34l5-Visitor Center Construction).
- Review of the Visitor Center Plans by Local Officials, April 1, 1965 (File D34l5-Visitor Center Construction). Hope’s active involvement in community planning issues and his reputation as a leader within the architectural community may explain the positive reception his plan for the Cabrillo Visitor Center (even lacking the obvious references to Spanish revival architecture that had been requested) found with local interests who were involved in the review process.
- Lehmann 1987, Chapter VIII.
An Embarrasment of Riches – https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/cabr2/index.htm
Last revised 20-Jun-18