The Lost Spanish Fort on Naval Base Point Loma
by Ronald V. May, RPA and Seth Mallios, PhD - Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University
Under threat of the Building Industry lobbying the California Legislature to remove archaeology from environmental laws, members of the Society for California Archaeology met in the San Jose Airport in 1980 with the Ternes & Houston Lobbyists. Together, they hatched a plan to return home to generate newsworthy archaeology projects that would splash in newspapers; Ternes & Houston could hand these out to key legislators on committees considering the threat. Ronald V. May, SOPA, convinced Naval Base San Diego to apply for and they received an Antiquities Permit to look for a lost 18th century Spanish Fort on Naval Base Point Loma.
After posting strategic news releases that generated a series of stories of the search and placing the United States Navy in a positive light, May recruited university and private company archaeologists. He led a volunteer crew of 75 people on June 6, 1981. Within minutes of breaking ground, an excavator hit a water line that shot a geyser 75-feet in the air. The media rushed to shoot video of the crisis. When the water settled into a puddle two meters beneath the dirt parking lot, hundreds of 18th century Spanish tiles lay exposed in the trench. The exciting discovery immediately hit the airwaves and the story spread around the Nation.
Hundreds of copies of the San Diego Union, Evening Tribute, Los Angeles Times and other publications were strategically placed on the desks of California legislators. Assembly Bill 952 suddenly changed to a pro-archaeology law that endorsed provision of a portion of land development costs to conserving archaeology discovered on construction projects.
The 32-year public archaeology program explored the only known Spanish cannon battery on the California coast, a mid 19th century shore whaling station, a contemporary Chinese fishing camp, and an early 20th century United States Army post. The collections are now housed jointly at the San Diego Archaeological Center and San Diego State University, Anthropology Department. Results were published in various journals, including the San Diego State University, State Occasional Papers. The King of Spain, Juan Carlos III knighted Ronald V. May in 1989. The entire project closed in 2011.