Origins of The San Diego Union Building and Its Restoration

In the heart of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park stands a remarkable piece of history, a building that witnessed the birth of one of Southern California’s most enduring institutions: The San Diego Union newspaper. Dating back to 1851, this prefabricated wood-frame structure, believed to have arrived from the East Coast by ship, holds a unique tale of resilience and transformation. Over the years, it has been a silent witness to significant events that have shaped not only the newspaper industry but also the city of San Diego itself.

The Birth of The San Diego Union

In 1868, Colonel William Jefferson “Jeff” Gatewood, Edward “Ned” Bushyhead, and José Narciso Briseño embarked on an ambitious endeavor within these weathered wooden walls. They chose this building in Old Town San Diego as the birthplace of The San Diego Union newspaper. In October of that year, the first edition of the newspaper rolled off the presses, marking the beginning of an enduring legacy.

For two years, this modest structure served as the headquarters for The San Diego Union. It was here that stories were written, typesetting was done, and the newspaper was printed for distribution to the growing population of the region. The San Diego Union played a crucial role in chronicling the history of the city and the broader region during this formative period.

A Shift to “New Town”

As the city of San Diego continued to grow and evolve, the newspaper outgrew its Old Town location. In 1870, The San Diego Union relocated to what is now known as Downtown San Diego, then referred to as “New Town.” This move marked a significant transition for the newspaper, but it did not diminish its enduring impact on the community it served.

Surviving the Test of Time

Despite the challenges and changes that have come its way, The San Diego Union, now known as The San Diego Union-Tribune, has managed to endure and thrive. It is a testament to the importance of a free press in a democratic society and the newspaper’s commitment to delivering news to the people of San Diego for over 150 years.

A Restoration Project

In 1967, James S. Copley, the publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune, recognized the historical significance of the original building in Old Town San Diego. He embarked on a restoration project with a mission to preserve and recreate the look and feel of the newspaper’s birthplace in 1868. The result was a meticulous restoration effort that not only honored the past but also allowed future generations to step back in time and experience the newspaper’s humble beginnings.

Today, visitors to Old Town San Diego can explore the restored building, which faithfully replicates the newsroom layout and editor’s office from 1868. Inside, a Washington Hand Press on display serves as a tangible connection to the past. This press is the same type of model that printed the very first edition of The San Diego Union, a reminder of the newspaper’s enduring legacy.

The building that once housed The San Diego Union in Old Town San Diego is more than just a historic structure; it is a symbol of resilience, adaptability, and the enduring power of the press. From its humble beginnings in 1868 to its continued presence in the 21st century as The San Diego Union-Tribune, this newspaper has played a vital role in documenting the history and progress of San Diego. Thanks to the dedication of individuals like James S. Copley, its legacy is not only preserved but also celebrated, allowing us to step back in time and appreciate the origins of a publication that has stood the test of time.

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