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Adjacent to the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the Old Town Community exudes colonial beauty and the flavors and heritage of its early settlers. Several restaurants serve up Mexican and Californian cuisine, while quaint stores and boutiques provide unique shopping experiences. Up the hill is Heritage Park, a protected county park and the setting for seven of San Diego’s most splendid Victorian homes that were relocated and restored to their original grandeur.
Temple Beth Israel was built by the Congregation Beth Israel, and was used temporarily by many other religions before they established their own churches. The first services were held here in 1889 and today the Temple hosts weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other festivities.
Also within the Old Town Community, the Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitors Center serves as a tribute to the 500 Mormon soldiers and numerous women and children who arrived in San Diego in 1846. Making an arduous, 2,000 mile march to support the United States during the Mexican-American War, these valiant Americans were the first religious military unit in American history. They traveled from Iowa to San Diego in search of religious freedom. Today the Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitors Center hosts visitors to the Old Town Community and provides a look into the diversity of San Diego’s past.
The Church of Immaculate Conception was to be a brick building that would replace the Old Adobe Church in Old Town. The construction began in 1868, yet was stopped because of the focus of new development in New Town. In 1914, Father Mesny began work to carry out the plans for the new church. The original brick walls had been exposed to the elements for 67 years. Father Mesny had the walls torn down and the bricks cleaned for reuse in building the present Church. Because of financial difficulties, the interior and altar for the church were not immediately completed and Holy Mass was held at the Old Adobe Church for three more years. Then, through the generosity of Ellen Scripps, who donated $1000, along with other contributions, the interior and the altar were completed. On July 22, 1917, Immaculate Conception Church was opened for worship. The Church has continuously welcomed worshipers since that time and guests can hear the ringing of the original mission bells from the first mission of San Diego.
At the Whaley House, just steps away, the spirits of many original Old Town San Diego citizens are said to roam from room to room and through many of the hallways. Known as the Most Haunted House in America, the Whaley House was the family home of Thomas Whaley and the location of various Old Town organizations including San Diego’s first theater, the county courthouse, a school and the Whaley General Store. The Whaley House became a historic house museum on May 25, 1960 and has been “spooking” and thrilling guests ever since. Some report seeing the ghost of Jim Robinson who was hung in 1852 behind where the house was built.
There have also been numerous reports of sightings of Thomas Whaley, his wife Anna and various other Historic Old Town citizens. Is the house truly haunted? One can only determine that for oneself. But the allure of this most significant San Diego landmark beckons more than 100,000 people every year.
The El Campo Santo Cemetery was opened in 1849 and was used until 1887. It is the final resting place of many of San Diego’s most well-known early residents, and infamous for ghostly sightings and supernatural experiences. As it is known, approximately 477 former Old Town inhabitants are buried in the El Campo Santo Cemetery. When the horse drawn streetcar line was paved over in 1942, several of the graves were also paved over and still exist under what is now San Diego Avenue. Some of El Campo’s more famous residents include Yankee Jim Robinson, a thief who was hung at the Whaley House, and Antonio Garra, a Native American chief who led a coalition to drive settlers out of California.