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The area of San Diego had been inhabited for more than 10,000 years by the Kumeyaay Indians. The first European to visit the region was Portuguese-born explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailing under the Spanish Flag, who sailed his flagship San Salvador from Navidad, New Spain. In 1542, Cabrillo claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire and named the site San Miguel. In November of 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving on his flagship San Diego, Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what are now Mission Bay and Point Loma and named the area for the Catholic Saint Didacus, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego. On November 12, 1602, the first Christian religious service of record in Alta California was conducted by Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, a member of Vizcaíno's expedition, to celebrate the feast day of San Diego.
In 1769, Gaspar de Portolà established the Fort Presidio of San Diego overlooking Old Town. Around the same time, Mission San Diego de Alcalá was founded by Franciscan friars under Father Junípero Serra. By 1797, the mission boasted the largest native population in Alta California, with over 1,400 Neophytes living in and around the mission proper. It is the southern end in California of the historic mission trail El Camino Real. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Mission San Diego de Alcalá's fortunes declined in the 1830s after the decree of secularization was enacted, as was the case with all of the missions under the control of Mexico. However, it remains an active Catholic church and is a National Historic Landmark.
In 1847 San Diego was a destination of the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) march of the Mormon Battalion, members of whom established a brickyard and built the city's first courthouse at the corner of San Diego Avenue and Mason Street in Old Town.
The Battle of San Pasqual, a battle of the Mexican-American War, was fought in the San Pasqual Valley, which is now part of the city of San Diego. With the end of that war and the great influx of Americans during the gold rush of 1848, California was admitted to the United States in 1850. San Diego was designated the seat of the newly established San Diego County and was incorporated as a city in 1850. The first city charter was adopted in 1889. The current city charter was adopted in 1931.
The original town of San Diego grew up at the foot of Presidio Hill, in the area, which is now Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The location was not ideal, being several miles away from navigable water. In the late 1860s Alonzo Horton promoted a move to "New Town", several miles south of the original settlement, in the area which became Downtown San Diego. People and businesses flocked to New Town because of its location on San Diego Bay convenient to shipping. New Town quickly eclipsed the original settlement, known to this day as Old Town, and became the economic and governmental heart of the city.
San Diego hosted two World's Fairs, the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 and the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. Many of the Spanish/Baroque-style buildings in the city's Balboa Park were built for these expositions, particularly the one in 1915. Intended to be temporary structures, most remained in continuous use until they progressively fell into disrepair. Most were eventually rebuilt using castings of the original façades to faithfully retain the architectural style.
Significant U.S. Naval presence began in 1901 with the establishment of the Navy Coaling Station in Point Loma, and expanded greatly during the 1920s. After World War II, the military played an increasing role in the local economy.
The large presence of the US Navy in San Diego made it a major military target. Primary targets in San Diego included Miramar NAS, Naval Base San Diego, Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station, and Point Loma . As a result, no other city on the West Coast suffered more direct hits than San Diego.
Most of the downtown area and central San Diego were destroyed. The Tijuana area, including the border crossing, was largely abandoned while some small groups of survivors managed to establish new settlements in the East County area. Most of San Diego’s survivors eventually made their way into Arizona, Nevada, and as far north as Idaho.
Isolation and Resettlement
Like New York City and Washington, San Diego was believed to have been rendered permanently uninhabitable for many years afterward. However, beginning in the early 1990s various survivor communities were reported in the East and North County areas, living mostly through sustenance farming and some light manufacturing, using solar energy panels as a power source. Beginning in the late 1990s, expeditions from Australia and Hawaii confirmed small but stable communities that had reverted to a nineteenth century level of technology. These communities were ruled by local “Bosses” or “Mayors” and tended to keep to themselves out of self-protection. The expeditions also reported that there was nothing left of downtown San Diego, while the rest of the immediate area appeared to be uninhabited.
Small farming communities continue to remain in the area. Through contact with representatives from the neighboring Republic of Riverside, they have formed a loose coalition, which is represented by Duncan D. Hunter, the son of a former local Congressman, who was elected the area’s “Governor” in 2008. The East County Coalition, as it is now known, has entered into talks with Riverside for a mutual defense treaty, although to date no formal agreement has yet been reached.