Colonial Legacy: the Museum's facade

The facade of the California Building, where the Museum of Us operates, is intricate, ornate, and some would say beautiful. Additionally, the building's facade represents a complex history and has colonization etched into its skin.   

California Quadrangle (aerial view) (2014) by Chris SzwedoMuseum of Us

Acknowledging Indigenous Land

The Museum of Us recognizes that it has the privilege to reside, and operate, on the unceded ancestral homeland of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Indigenous people of San Diego, California, USA.  Kumeyaay peoples have lived in this area since time immemorial. The Kumeyaay Nation maintains its political sovereignty and cultural traditions, and its peoples are the stewards of this land.

California Building Facade (blue door) (2000/2015) by unknownMuseum of Us

Indigenous sovereignty, knowledge, and requests were largely silenced and ignored by the Museum during its first 100 years.

The Museum recognizes that throughout its history the voices and realities of Kumeyaay peoples, and over one thousand additional global Indigenous communities, were disregarded to perpetuate dominant historical narratives that upheld colonial and racist ways of thinking.

We have reinforced colonial power and prejudice by primarily including one-sided narratives grounded in centering Euro-American historiography.

Uplifting the dominant Euro-American narratives surrounding the nine men depicted on the building is but one of the many ways we have engaged in this practice, intentionally and unintentionally. We are committed to being a better museum for our community and for future generations.

Please join us as we talk more about the history of the California Building, and open a window into the histories of the nine colonizers etched into its’ façade.*

*additional educational resources, and several of our sources for this content, are present at the end of the exhibition

The California Quadrangle (aerial west) (2014) by Chris SzwedoMuseum of Us

The California Building is owned by the City of San Diego. The building is comprised of a main structure, with its ornately tiled dome and tower, and three wings which surround the California Plaza.

On May 17, 1974, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the California Quadrangle.

For more information on historical sites in California, please visit California Historical Resources  

Cabrillo Bridge Construction (1914) by UnknownMuseum of Us

The California Building was constructed as the primary entry point for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

The land was not barren or deserted. The development associated with the Panama-California Exposition dispossessed and displaced Indigenous communities living in the area to build Balboa Park.

For more information about the exposition please visit the San Diego History Center's website on the Panama-California Exposition.

Balboa Park (Northeast - Highlighted) (1915) by W.E. AverettMuseum of Us

The California Building is one of the four oldest structures in Balboa Park.

These four structures are...

1). Cabrillo Bridge,

2). the California Quadrangle (which includes the California Building),

3). the Botanical Building,

and 4). Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

California Building facade (West) (1915) by UnknownMuseum of Us

The California Building was designed by an architect named Bertram Goodhue.

For more information about his life as an architect please visit Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History's website on Bertram Goodhue.  

Bertram Goodhue was heavily influenced by the Spanish Colonial architecture of Mexico. As such, the structure was consciously designed to mimic a Roman Catholic cathedral.

California Tower and California Dome (west) (circa 1918 - 1935) by Herbert R. FitchMuseum of Us

Bertram Goodhue's design is a significant representation of structures that commemorate the Spanish colonial legacy of oppression in the Americas.

The Roman Catholic Church was one of the strongest leaders in perpetuating colonization in the Americas. Due to this history, Catholic structures symbolize colonial expansion fueled by the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery.

This religious policy established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for the colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians.

California Building Facade (front-edited) (1915) by unknownMuseum of Us

Bertram Goodhue included nine cast stone figures depicting European colonizers on the front of the building.

He specifically selected these nine men in an effort to uplift their legacies’ impact on the development of the Pacific coast.

They are...

Fray Luís Jayme (left)
Fray Antonio de la Ascensión (right)

George Vancouver (left)
Gaspar de Portolà (right)

Don Sebastián Vizcaíno (left)
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (right)

King Philip III (left)
Junípero Serra (center)
King Charles V of Spain (right)

However, the full impact of these nine European colonizers lies not in the development of the Pacific coast, but in the perpetuation of exploitation, genocide, and enslavement of Indigenous peoples.

Timeline of the life of the men on facade (2020) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

Before we begin, please take a moment to look at this timeline to get a better understanding around when these nine men lived.

Although there are several decades separating half of them, their impact on the Pacific coast and their colonial legacies are intertwined.


The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Junípero Serra, is depicted by the figure located at the top of the building.

Junípero Serra was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest who founded the first nine Spanish missions across California.

San Diego Mission of Alcala by Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (3/2/1934 - )Museum of Us

On July 16, 1769, with extreme force, he established the first San Diego Mission, the San Diego Mission de Alcalá.

Junípero Serra, with his allied missionaries and Spanish military, savagely forced Kumeyaay people to build the San Diego Mission de Alcalá.

Some Indigenous people came to the missions willingly, while others were relentlessly forced.

Indigenous peoples that lived in Junípero Serra’s mission were under authoritarian surveillance and control. Strict rules were imposed, Indigenous labor was sanctioned, and movement was restricted. Indigenous people were forbidden to leave the missions without the priests' permission.

The priests were encouraged to frequently inflict emotional and physical harm on the Indigenous people. Sexual assault and violence were prevalent and became commonplace.

Monterey, California, Statue of Father Junipero Serra (1934) by Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (3/2/1934 - )Museum of Us

Approximately six miles from this Junípero Serra statue in Monterey, California, Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo (also called Mission Carmel) was founded in 1770.

Mission Carmel was the second mission established by Junípero Serra. It was his personal favorite for its beauty and peaceful location.

However, peaceful was not the experience of every resident. French navigator, Jean-François de La Pérouse wrote about how the Carmel Mission resembled the grim slave plantations throughout the West Indies Islands. Indigenous men and women were in irons and locked in stocks. The violent sounds of punishing whip strikes were frequent.

Serra wrote frequently in his journals about how spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows.

Junipero Serra Statue (2020)Museum of Us

Junípero Serra’s singular purpose was to "save heathen souls." Once baptized, Indigenous people belonged to the church. The Church took ownership over their lives and future.

Junipero Serra (2014) by Scott BennionMuseum of Us

Franciscan missionaries could not legally buy and sell Indigenous people as enslaved property.

However, trading an Indigenous life for another Indigenous life to be used as exploited “unfree labors” was legal. Some scholars refer to this as “slavery without the monetary sell of the individual.”

Enslaved Indigenous people were beaten, tortured, traded, and forced to build and maintain the structures needed to advance the Franciscan's colonial endeavor.

Despite his genocidal actions, Junípero Serra was controversially canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, and is now listed as a Catholic Saint.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

King Charles V of Spain, is depicted by the bust located below Junípero Serra on the right.

King Charles V reigned was from 1519 - 1556. Due to ongoing Indigenous uprisings in the Americas, King Charles V passed the New Laws of the Indies in 1542.

The laws prohibited the buying and selling of Indigenous people, but trading an enslaved "converted Indian" for another was legally permitted.

Charles V Of Spain - Germany Holy Roman EmperorLIFE Photo Collection

During the reign of King Charles V, the Spanish territories in the Americas were considerably expanded by merciless conquistadores like Hernán Cortés and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.

Fulfilling King Charles V’s vision, and gaining fame and fortune fueled Conquistador Hernán Cortés.

Cortés was the first of many conquistadors who led expeditions into the Americas. The King's conquistadors barbarically conquered the Aztec and Inca empires in the 1500s.

Indigenous people were captured, skinned alive, publicly tortured, and burned at the stake – all were means the conquistadors used to convert them to Christianity.

California Building Facade (top) (2016)Museum of Us

Indigenous structures in the Americas were dismantled brick by brick by King Charles V’s conquistadors.

Before the conquistadors, Indigenous cities were filled with medical facilities, astronomical observatories, temples, libraries, and homes of various sizes. All were systematically demolished (stone by stone) within three decades.

The Spanish Catholic Church declared any aspect of “Indian culture” to be the work of demons and in need of destruction.

King Charles V deemed Islam and Indigenous communities threats to the Catholic Church. He focused the crown’s efforts on eradicating these threats by death or conversion.

The conquistadors' success in South and Central American led him to believe that it was his divine mission to colonize more land.

He expanded Spain’s colonial reach through kidnapping and selling enslaved people from Africa into the Americas, exponentially expanding the scale of the transatlantic slave trade.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, is depicted by the figure located in the middle section, just right of the elaborate turquoise green framed window.

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European to navigate the coast of present-day California. In 1524, he landed in present day Point Loma.

Kumeyaay people met Cabrillo and his men with distrust, due to previous violent and deadly interactions with Spanish conquistadors.

According to Spanish reports, Cabrillo’s sailors fought with Kumeyaay people in the area when they came ashore to fish, leaving three sailors wounded. This fight prompted Cabrillo to kidnap two Kumeyaay boys to use as interpreters as he traveled farther north.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (2020) by Alexander AdamsMuseum of Us

The encomienda system, which enslaved Indigenous peoples globally, made Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo one of the richest conquistadors.

As an example of this system, Indigenous men were kidnapped and enslaved to mine for silver and to build ships in Guatemala and Honduras.

In the case of Cabrillo, Indigenous women and young girls were kidnapped, enslaved, raped, and used as payment to his soldiers and sailors.

Cabrillo Bridge (1915) by unknownMuseum of Us

In 1915, the Cabrillo Bridge was named to honor Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s legacy.

Cabrillo Freeway and Balboa Park ("circa 1949") by Department of Commerce. Bureau of Public Roads. 8/20/1949-4/1/1967 (Most Recent)Museum of Us

Similarly, in 1948, the Cabrillo Freeway (which runs through Balboa Park, under the Cabrillo Bridge) was named to honor his legacy.

In the late 60s, the highway's name was changed to California State Route 163.

Most notably, the National Park Service operates Cabrillo National Monument which overlooks the ocean from Point Loma, commemorating his landing in California.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

King Philip III, of Spain is depicted by the bust below Junípero Serra on the left.

King Philip III was the King of Spain from 1598 to 1621, and was the grandson of King Charles V.

Philip Iii King Of SpainLIFE Photo Collection

King Philip III married the Austrian Archduchess Margaret, who was a devout Catholic and a lover of art.

Phillip III followed in King Charles V's footsteps, aiming to continue the growth and control of the Catholic Church in Spain and beyond.

Because of this, he expelled the Spanish Moriscos (Spanish Muslim) peoples from their homeland of Spain. Displacing them to Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.

King Phillip III (2020) by Alexander AdamsMuseum of Us

During the reign of Philip III, Indigenous peoples continued to revolt against Spanish oppression. In an effort to exert control, he lifted previous proscriptions against enslaving Indigenous peoples captured in war. Thus, enabling unrestricted kidnapping and enslavement of the Mapuche people of Chile.

He also commissioned the voyage of Don Sebastián Vizcaíno and Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, tasking them to return with detailed maps, charts, and journals of the Pacific coast north of Baja.

They were tasked to make minimal contact with the Indigenous peoples, unless the Natives presented as enemies to the Spanish Crown.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Don Sebastián Vizcaíno, is depicted by the figure in the center section, located just to the left of the elaborate turquoise green framed window

Don Sebastián Vizcaíno was a Spanish conquistador who coined the name San Diego Bay in 1602.

San Digeo Bay (2017) by Shelby Miller (photographer)Museum of Us

The name San Diego was chosen as the name of the port to honor both his flagship and the feast of San Diego de Alcalá.

Sebastián Vizcaíno changed the names of areas across the California coast from the Indigenous names, in order to exert Spanish colonial rule and erase the Indigenous peoples' territorial claim.

Don Sebastian Vizcaino (side) (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Sebastián Vizcaíno’s maps and charts of the California coast were very detailed, which paved the way for the Franciscan Missionary expansion led by Junípero Serra and Gaspar de Portolà.

These documents were also later used by the British and Dutch colonizers eager to settle and exploit Indigenous land.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, is depicted by the figure on the lower level to the right of the Museum’s entrance.

Antonio de la Ascensión was one of three friars to accompany Sebastian Vizcaíno on his 1602 expedition.

Antonio de la Ascension (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Antonio de la Ascensión's journals featured descriptions of the local Indigenous populations.

Antonio de la Ascensión wrote from a Spanish colonial perception (not from the Indigenous peoples perspective) on the beliefs and cultural practices of Luiseño, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Kumeyaay, Gabrielino-Tongva, Ajachemen, Northern Diegueño, and other Indigenous groups he encountered – many of these Indigenous communities continue to live in California today.

Antonio de la Ascension (2020)Museum of Us

Antonio de la Ascensión’s writings included an in-depth set of sailing directions, which were copied by map and chart makers in Amsterdam and London.

The maps and charts made from Antonio de la Ascensió’s journals, became a catalyst in expanding accessibility to the Americas for other European colonial settlers.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Fray Luís Jayme,
is depicted by the figure on the lower level to the left of the Museum’s entrance.

Luís Jayme was one of the lead priests at Mission San Diego (Mission Basilica San Diego De Alcalá).

San Diego Mission de Alcala (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Luís Jayme led the mission's efforts to capture and convert Indigenous communities in Southern California.

California Mountain Sunrise (2020) by Corey ChanMuseum of Us

Many Kumeyaay people began to move further inland in a concerted effort to get away from Mission San Diego’s kidnappings.

They were also trying to escape Spanish soldiers who were violently attacking and sexually assaulting Indigenous women and children in the villages.

Luís Jayme expanded their conversion efforts farther inland, following the Kumeyaay peoples.

Luis Jayme (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Jayme’s actions further enabled the kidnapping, rape, and enslavement of Kumeyaay peoples, and expanded the displacement of Kumeyaay families from their original homelands.

The actions of Luís Jayme and the Spanish military increased Kumeyaay anger towards the mission. As a result, Kumeyaay increasingly resisted baptism and attacked the colonizers.

San Diego Mission de Alcala (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

In 1775, six hundred Kumeyaay warriors attacked the Mission San Diego in resistance of the missions’ enslavement system, the perpetual sexual assaults on Indigenous women and children, and the relentless stealing of land by priests and soldiers.

Luis Jayme (2020)Museum of Us

During the revolt, Kumeyaay warriors seized Luís Jayme, and shot approximately eighteen arrows into his body. His face was smashed until it was unrecognizable.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

Gaspar de Portolà, is depicted by the bust on the lower section on the right, just above Antonio de la Ascensión.

Gaspar de Portolà is known for being the first military appointed Governor of California, and for his expeditions to establish missions with Junípero Serra along the Pacific coast.

Gaspar de Portolà (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

In 1768, Gaspar de Portolà led the expedition to establish Alta California, the Spanish mission settlements across California.

Junípero Serra envisioned Alta California as a means to accomplish the mission of saving heathen souls and claiming land for Spain.

Baja California (2017) by Corey ChanMuseum of Us

The expedition began in the Baja California area, continued up to San Diego, and ended in the San Francisco Bay area.

Gaspar de Portolà used Sebastián Vizcaíno's charts and maps to explore and gain control of the Pacific coast alongside Junípero Serra.

This statue, located in Pacifica, California, is one of several monuments across the state that honors Portolà colonial legacy.

Gaspar de Portolà (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Gaspar de Portolà partnered with Junípero Serra to convert and displace Indigenous peoples along the Pacific coast. Portolà was in charge of the military aspects of conquest, while Serra took the lead on the religious aspects of conquest.

Some of the Indigenous communities they encountered were (but not limited to) the Luiseño, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Kumeyaay, Tongva, Ajachemen, Serrano, Chumash, and Halchidhoma. Many of these communities continue to live on their traditional homelands to this day.

Gaspar de Portolà (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Under Gaspar de Portolà and Junípero Serra leadership, the priests used barbaric methods to forcibly convince Indigenous peoples to convert to Catholicism.

These methods consisted of sexual assault, body mutilation, starvation, whipping, killing a person's loved one, and burning homes or villages.

Indigenous men, women, and children were kidnapped from their homes and forced to live and work in the Spanish missions.

Under Gaspar de Portolà's leadership, Spanish soldiers would lasso Indigenous men, women, and children and drag them behind their horses until they were too weak to fight.

The California Building Facade (2020-08-23) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

George Vancouver, is depicted by the bust on the lower section above Fray Luís Jayme.

George Vancouver was a British officer in the Royal Navy, known for his 1791 – 1795 expedition along the Pacific coast.

He sailed from the Pacific Northwest down to the Hawaiian islands, claiming land for the British crown while establishing trading relationships with the Spanish, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and many other Indigenous peoples.

LIFE Photo Collection

George Vancouver capitalized off of the deaths of Indigenous people, by seizing land where the smallpox epidemic weakened and decimated Indigenous communities.

He claimed the Indigenous territory for the British Crown and created pathways for British colonial settlement.

George Vancouver (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

George Vancouver wrote detailed journals and surveys about Indigenous people along the Pacific coast.

From a British perspective, he described Indigenous trading routes, burial rituals, Spanish relationships, and cultural demeanor.

He also actively recorded the deadly effect that the smallpox epidemic had on Indigenous populations, ensuring to mark the locations of each community affected.

Pacific Coast (2020) by Corey ChanMuseum of Us

George Vancouver’s maps, charts, and various documents were later used by other European colonial settlers eager to claim Indigenous land and start a new life.

George Vancouver (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

George Vancouver believed the land along the Pacific coast was among the most beautiful and valuable in the world.

He wrote about how he felt it only needed “to be enriched by the industry of man with villages, mansions, cottages and other buildings.”

His propaganda further contributed to the displacement, dispossession, and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

The California Building (2014) by Scott BennionMuseum of Us

This is a small window into the colonial legacy that each of these nine men embody. Their impact on the lives of Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples in San Diego and beyond continues to this day.

Our hope is that you all will continue to learn more about the history of California and the resiliency of Indigenous peoples by engaging with the reflection questions and the resources on the next two slides.

The California Building and Tower (2020) by Brandie MacdonaldMuseum of Us

Five Reflection Questions:

1. (a) We all live on Indigenous peoples' land, and Indigenous peoples still live and steward these lands. What Indigenous tribe or nation’s traditional homeland do you live on?
*If you are unsure about where to find out whose Indigenous homeland you live on, please visit:

(b) What are some of the respectful ways that you, your friends, family, school, or workplace can acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of the land?

2. How do we continue to benefit from the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous communities?

3. (a) What buildings, place names, or statues in your area are named after people who have a colonial legacy?

(b) From what perspective has the stories about their lives been told?

(c) How do these stories primarily represent a positive portrayal and perspective of the colonizer?

(d) How do these stories acknowledge the truths and realities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)?

4. How has your understanding about the history in your area been shaped by dominate narratives that center colonization?

5. Now that you know more about colonization, how can you actively do better and uplift BIPOC’s histories and voices?

The California Building (2014)Museum of Us

For additional information and to review our sources please read:

1) A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions written by Elias Castillo (2015), Craven Street Books, Linden Publishing Inc.

2) California’s First Mass Incarceration System: Franciscan Missions, California Indians, and Penal Servitude, 1769 – 1836 written by Benjamin Madley (2019), Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 88.

3) Reconstructing the Past: Historical Interpretations and Native Experiences at Contemporary California Missions written by Michelle Lorimer (2013), UC Riverside, Electronic Dissertations.

4) Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions written by James Sandos (2008), Yale University Press.

5) Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir written by Deborah Miranda (2013), Hayday.

6) The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America written by Andrés Reséndez (2017), Mariner Books.

Credits: Story

Curated by the Museum's Decolonizing Initiatives Department, 2020

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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