Cabrillo Again Stands Watch at Point Loma

Times Staff Writer

The visage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Portuguese explorer and first European to sail into San Diego Bay, once again overlooks the Point Loma peninsula he discovered in 1542.

A new statue of the 16th-Century mariner who sailed for Spain was hoisted onto its base Saturday at Cabrillo National Monument, and will be officially unveiled at a 3 p.m. ceremony today.

The limestone statue replaces a weather-worn and vandalized limestone image of Cabrillo that was removed in November after gracing the bay’s entrance for almost 40 years. The current monument to Cabrillo is a copy of the original, which was given to the people of California by the Portuguese government in 1931.


The new statue was also sculpted in Portugal, completed late last year by noted Portuguese artist Joao Charters de Almeida e Silva. Former Cabrillo Monument Supt. Doris Omundsen commissioned it in 1985 after San Diegan Marion Reupsch donated $100,000 for the project in memory of her husband, Carl Reupsch, who had been planning director for the San Diego Unified Port District.

Almeida’s work arrived in San Diego Friday, encased in a wooden crate and lashed to the deck of the Portuguese Navy corvette NRP Joao Coutinho, which docked at the Broadway Pier. The ship’s visit to San Diego coincides with Portugal’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the nation’s “Golden Era of Discoveries,” which began with the voyage of Bartholomeu Dias around the tip of Africa in 1488.

Almeida will be at this afternoon’s ceremony, along with the Portuguese ambassador to the United States, Joao Pereira Bastos,

and U.S. National Park Service Director William Penn Mott Jr. The monument grounds are expected to be very crowded and visitors are asked to car pool because of limited parking.

“This statue carries on the unique set of circumstances that Cabrillo represented,” park Supt. Gary Cummins said Saturday as he watched while the 7,000-pound artwork was placed on its permanent pedestal. “Cabrillo (Joao Rodrigues Cabrilho in Portuguese) was a Portuguese who sailed for Spain and foundedwhat is now part of the United States, and this statue ties together the efforts of a private citizen, the Park Service and the Portuguese government in cooperating to make an ordinary event into something special.”

Trucked to Monument

The statue was trucked from the ship to the monument on Friday, with water sloshing out of the crate at each traffic stop, Cummins said laughingly. The corvette is a small warship and some of the high waves encountered during its trip to San Diego left water inside the crate. However, Cummins said there was no damage to the statue.

The first deterioration of the old statue began as a consequence of people climbing on it, Cummins said, and the salt-laced marine air of Point Loma accelerated the damage. Cummins said park rangers will be vigilant in keeping visitors from climbing the new statue and will experiment with ways to wash salts and other pollutants off.

In addition, fine arts consultant Scott Atthowe of Oakland, who handled placement of the statue at the monument, is experimenting with chemical treatments that could retard weather-related problems, Cummins said.

The new statue also symbolizes an expansion of educational programs at the monument. Cummins has plans to begin an educational program for schoolchildren, as well as increase the nature and historical tours now offered on a monthly basis.