Replica of San Diego's Original City Hall-Courthouse to Open

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A newly built replica of San Diego's first courthouse and City Hall opens this morning, hosting an exhibit taking California law back more than 140 years.

This newest addition to Old Town State Historical Park has taken eight years of work, spearheaded and financed by a nonprofit group of local historians and several retired San Diego judges. The dedication ceremonies begin at 10 a.m., featuring old stories and songs.

"We got the original plans and built it as the Mormons had," said retired San Diego court administrator Jesse Osuna, explaining that a battalion of Mormon soldiers had literally carved through desert rock to get here and fight in the war against Mexico in the 1840s.

"We even used the same type of brick--had it especially made in Arizona, so it's as authentic as we could make it," Osuna said.

Nestled in Old Town's pedestrian-only area, the replica is also built in the same spot the original was in 1847. It burned in 1872, along with most of the town of the time. Court arraignments, trials and meetings of county supervisors all used the building, fitting into a space about as big as a two-car garage.

The building was also used by the Common Council--an elected body much like the City Council of today, said retired Judge Earl Cantos.

The three-room courthouse housed the mayor, judge and board of supervisors; was rented by Masonic Lodge No. 35, and held San Diego's first Protestant church meetings. The dirt roads of Old Town once skirted mud flats and wetlands where Interstate 5 is today, the judge said.

The replica will house the state exhibit, "Gold, Land and the Law," which is in town for three months. It includes copies of the Constitution of 1879, the declaration of war with Mexico in 1846 and the first state constitution, in English and Spanish, when California joined the Union as its 31st state.

There are also lithographs, photos and stories about the differing legal systems of mining camps, the San Diego Rangers vigilante group and land disputes.

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