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Time capsule revealing bits of San Diego history from 1961 is opened

Time capsule revealing bits of San Diego history from 1961 is opened
Unidentified workers prepare a niche for a time capsule at the San Diego Superior Court building, shortly after its opening in 1961. The capsule was removed recently, and opened Friday. (Courtesy of San Diego Superior Court)

Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh reached back in time as he pulled bits of San Diego history out of the narrow copper box.

Newspapers, coins, stamps, government documents, history books, audio tapes and microfilm were among the contents.

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The time capsule had been sealed for nearly 56 years, since shortly after the 1961 dedication of what was then a new, seven-story San Diego Superior Court building on West Broadway.

The building, with asbestos in the ceilings, failing utility systems and expensive maintenance problems, is due to be demolished.

The time capsule was removed from a niche in an exterior wall, near the front entrance, at the end of 2017. But the copper box was not opened until Friday.

The old courthouse closed to the public last year after the state opened its replacement, San Diego Central Court, at C and Union streets a block away. The old site is slated for commercial development.

Before a crowd of about 100 court employees, judges and sheriff's officials gathered in the jury room of the new courthouse, Deddeh displayed the items from the time capsule, including:

  • The dedication ceremony program dated Dec. 15, 1961
  • Copies of letters signed by presidents Harry Truman, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower congratulating the county on its modern facility
  • 4-cent Mercury Program postage stamps
  • A Feb. 20, 1962, extra edition of the Evening Tribune headlined, “3 Times Around, Glenn Safe,” after astronaut John Glenn orbited Earth three times, and a San Diego Union newspaper a day later headlined, “Glenn Triumph Hailed”
  • A Mar. 19, 1962, county Board of Supervisors agenda
  • A business card and photograph from Rufus Parks, chief of the county construction and repair division

While 1960s civic leaders thought they were being progressive by preserving history on reel-to-reel audio tape and microfilm, the new courthouse had no machinery on which to play them.

Bill Lawrence, executive director of the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, said his staff could handle both now-outdated media.

Lawrence told those gathered for the first look at the box contents that "time capsules are a touchstone to our past."

"We choose what we want our future community to know about us. ... History isn't boring. It is about who we are as a community."

The city's History Center will house most of the time capsule contents, said Superior Court spokeswoman Karen Dalton.

Deddeh noted how much has changed since 1961, when the city had a population of 573,000. Today, the population stands at 1.4 million.

"In 1960, the Chargers had just moved to San Diego," he added, to laughter in the crowd.

"From Los Angeles," he added, to even more laughs.

The new Central Court got its own time capsule after construction. Dalton said items placed in a 3-foot box include newspapers, a book on court operations, and a bit of current technology — an iPhone, with a charger. Sheriff's officials donated a photo of their court services staff. The Public Defender's Office added its own advice for the ages, a T-shirt with the logo: "You have the right to remain silent. Use it."

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