On Loan To Library, But If Not Bought, Will Disappear
This map, part of the elaborate property Deed and abstract of Coronado, is the oldest map of Coronado known to exist. A version of it was used in the great land auction of 1886, when 6,000 people rushed to Coronado to purchase land. Photo by Joe Ditler.
CORONADO - It’s the ultimate Pink Slip, the Deed of Gift, the Holy Grail of this island community, and no one has stepped up to save it. The original property deed for Coronado Island is currently on display at the Coronado Public Library. It doesn’t start with Babcock and Story, it ends with them. It’s an historical find unlike any other.
If a major philanthropist doesn’t step forward soon, Coronado’s most valuable piece of history could disappear into a private collection, off island, never to be seen again.
In fact, Coronado’s Deed dates back to the original Spanish Land Grants in the year 1824 (think Pico, Carrillo, Arguello), and has a slew of previous owners’ names and signatures, unveiling a major slice of Coronado history that has been barely explored before now. Ownership of this once desolate piece of beach exchanged hands several times. Each time this happened it was documented on a Deed abstract, which is all part of this fascinating collection.
Original land grant, dating back to the Mexican Dons. This is just part of the incredible package of original Coronado Deed and ownership abstracts at the Coronado Public Library. Photo by Joe Ditler.
“The list of Coronado’s past owners sounds like a cast of characters from a Dickens novel,” said Christian Esquevin, executive director of the Coronado Public Library, the current and temporary home of Coronado’s Holy Grail.
“Bezer Simmons; Archibald Peachy; Henry Chauncey,” said Esquevin, reciting signatures from the Deed’s abstract. “Their back-story is as colorful as any fictional character, and in reality, their stories are intertwined with the birth of the state of California,” said the library’s popular director. He goes into greater detail on his blog.
“The land title abstract shows various transactions of sales of portions of Coronado, from Billings and Peachy, to various partners,” said Esquevin. “The transaction that historians cite the most is the 1885 sale, where Elisha Babcock, Hampton Story, and Jacob Greundike (soon to leave the partnership) buy all of Coronado for $110,000.”
This corner of a historic 1800s map of Coronado has wonderful descriptions of available lots for sale. Photo by Joe Ditler.
Historian and television show host Ken Kramer (“KPBS’ About San Diego”) has said many times, “There is more history per square foot in Coronado than any other part of our county.” This abstract and Deed have opened up much of that history for closer scrutiny.
To put this Deed in perspective, during the time this “two square leagues of land, more or less,” was changing hands, tribes of wandering Kumeyaay Indians lived and hunted on Coronado, the Mexican-American War was being fought, Mexico ceded Alta California to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo - 1848, and gold was discovered at Sutter's Creek.
The Holy Grail of Coronado is on display at the Coronado Public Library through mid-August as part of the 125th anniversary of the Hotel Del exhibit recently installed. That exhibit includes numerous artifacts from the Hotel Del’s collection, some private collectors, Love Library at San Diego State University, and others.
Christian Esquevin, executive director of the Coronado Public Library, holding a piece of the original Coronado Deed and abstract. The library is hoping someone will purchase the documents and donate them to the library. Photo by Joe Ditler.
The Deed, Coronado’s actual pedigree, will go away in a matter of weeks. If it is not purchased and claimed as a Coronado treasure, it could go away forever, ending up in a private collection off the island, never to be seen again.
“We perpetually look for, and find, and try to collect Coronado ephemera, photographs, and so forth, of all sorts,” said Esquevin. “But this is completely off the scale in terms of what we run across. Maybe an old menu from the Hotel Del, an old postcard or letter detailing aspects of Coronado history, rare photos, etc., but nothing even remotely approaching the importance of this document.”
The challenge is this: To find someone, possibly a Coronado resident or former resident, with the financial wherewithal to purchase this incredible document and donate it to the Coronado Public Library, where it belongs – to bring it home.
Potential property buyers in Coronado were given the loan of a horse and buggy for the day, free.
Short of the City of Coronado stepping up to protect this original document (which is unlikely), it is the extreme desire of the Coronado Public Library that someone come forward and make this possible, and quickly.
Such a philanthropic gesture would create a memorable exhibit in the name of the donor. The Deed would be safely placed in that exhibit, to forever preserve this incredible piece of ephemera – perhaps the most important artifact to ever be associated with Coronado. It is, in essence, Coronado’s birth certificate!
The price of this prime piece of history? $100,000 - $10,000 shy of what Babcock and Story paid for all of Coronado in 1885. Is it worth it? According to Esquevin, you can’t put a price on something so important and valuable.
The great land auction of 1886. A map not unlike the one on display at the Coronado Public Library was on display that day, where potential land owners would stake their claims and make their deposits.
The only ferryboat at that time, the little Coronado, carried most of the 6,000 people attending the great land auction of 1886. Photos courtesy Coronado Public Library.
The entire collection includes the main Deed and abstract document, of which there are several pages. The original cover and Articles of Incorporation for the Coronado Beach Company are included. The earliest Coronado map, which appears to date back to 1886/87, is a major piece of this find. The Deed also includes various, hand-written letters that correspond with information that went into the writing of the Deed – drafts the final Deed language was based upon.
The map was created by the Coronado Beach Company. It is as large as a dining room table and printed on both sides. Across the top exclaims, “The greatest seaside resort on the Pacific coast.” During the great land auction of 1886, a version of this map was placed on a large stand, and potential buyers could come and choose the lot or lots of their choice. Six thousand people traveled to the island that day, by ferryboat and by train, to stake their claims, their pieces of Coronado.
On the rear of the map are items about Coronado beach, hunting and fishing, climate, surf bathing, the water supply, cottages, the Hotel del Coronado, railroad and ferry access, and even hay fever.
Top and bottom ads are included on the backside of the Coronado map, part of the Deed and abstract package currently on display at the Coronado Public Library. All will be lost if someone doesn't come forward and purchase them, giving them a permanent home in Coronado, where they belong. Photos by Joe Ditler.
“This is the only map like this I’ve ever seen,” said Esquevin. “Such documents as are part of this archive provide a larger window in which to see the beginning of Coronado in the 19th century. Much has changed in the world, and especially in Coronado, since they were written. It is amazing that these fragile founding documents survive at all. It would be a blessing to have this loaned archive return to Coronado on a permanent basis, here to the Coronado Public Library.”
Anyone interested in financing the purchase and return of these historic documents to the Coronado Public Library is asked to contact Christian Esquevin at (619) 522-7395, or email him at, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coronado Public Library is a non-profit institution. Any and all donations are fully tax-deductible. A gift of this scale would secure someone’s place in history, right next to Coronado’s Holy Grail, for all time.