The Mount Soledad Cross

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North of downtown San Diego, and just east of La Jolla, sits a prominent hill, 822 feet in height, known as Mount Soledad, a prominent feature in the San Diego landscape, a pleasant rambling mound of earth with commanding unparalleled views in every direction. When the Kumeyaay Nation controlled the hilltop, it was recognized as a place of solace or solitude; a place to reflect. Following American influence and occupation, the hill was renamed Mount Soledad and in 1913, local residents took it upon themselves to erect a tall wooden cross. Thereafter, the hilltop was used as a Memorial Park.

In the 1920s, Charles Lindbergh launched himself on gliders from atop the hill. A few years later, the cross was stolen and, after being replaced, it was burned down, reportedly by the San Diego Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

After World War One, as La Jolla began to develop, subdivisions sprang up on the rambling hills, many of which were governed by Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs), legally binding documents, establishing minimum standards of construction and prohibiting non-Caucasians and Jews from owning homes. According to Mary Ellen Stratthaus, in an article published in the San Diego Jewish Journal, "homeowners and realtors developed a quiet system of marking Jewish buyers: when realtors drove by with potential clients, if the porch lights were left on during the day, it signified not to show the property to anyone who was suspected of being Jewish. And when realtors were driving prospective Jewish buyers around, they displayed a green card on their windshield that alerted the owners that the clients in their cars were Jewish. Stars of David scribbled on top of applications signaled to others in the office that the potential buyers were to be discouraged."

A second cross, made of stucco and wood, was erected in 1934 by a private group of Protestants and Christians. In the 1940s, the cross became part of the military’s early-warning defense system because of its unique location as a strategic vantage point. The cross lasted until 1952 when blustery winds toppled the tall and feebly built structure. A couple of years later, Architect Donald Campbell designed a new cross–a massive concrete structure 29-feet tall with a 12-foot arm spread. Combined with a new, 14-foot tall base, the cross rose 43-feet above the ground further enhancing its visibility. On Easter Sunday in 1954, the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross was dedicated to "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" by the grandmother of William J. Kellogg, President of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. In the years to follow, Easter holiday sunrise celebrations, on the mount, were an "intermittent" occasion for local Christian worship services.

Owing to the cross’s height, location, and unique shape, it proved to be a valuable point of orientation for naval and aerial navigation. Consequently, the federal government established geodetic values on the cross and it became one of San Diego’s most important triangulation stations as land surveyors and engineers began using the cross for local control and referencing.

After the Supreme Court ruled the CCRs illegal, the legality of the cross was questioned on grounds of separation of church and state leading to saber rattling in the halls of justice and by the mid-1980s, Easter sunrise gatherings were advertised as "interdenominational celebrations" rather than "services," all open to the public. In 1989, things heated up after an avowed atheist and Vietnam Veteran, Philip K. Paulson, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of the cross, arguing that the concrete edifice was a religious symbol located on public land–a violation of the legal precept of separation of church and state. He also argued that the cross violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the No Preference Clause of the California Constitution. In deference to the lawsuit, the hilltop was renamed the "Mt. Soledad Memorial."

Following the filing of Paulson’s lawsuit, I submitted one of the first declarations, on behalf of the land surveying community, in support of protecting the cross because of its value as a geodetic triangulation station. In my efforts to assist the City of San Diego, I prepared a legal declaration that served as the foundation for the initial round of legal challenges. Therein I argued:

"The Mt. Soledad Memorial Cross is one of several primary geodetic control stations in the City of San Diego, along with the Point Loma Lighthouse. The marker is of the highest geodetic order in San Diego and is described as a `survey and engineering monument.’ It exceeds all parameters in geodetic importance. The marker is part of the National Network of Geodetic Positions which controls the location of properties within San Diego, Southern California and the United States of America.

The United States Department of Commerce has used the Mt. Soledad Cross itself as a marker since its erection in 1955. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers, the United States Navy, and other agencies would be concerned with any activity relating to this matter . . . Any construction that disturbed the monument would seriously compromise the accuracy of existing survey information that had utilized the marker as a geodetic reference point. The marker is used to survey land and to orient other objects within the California Coordinate System (Zone 6). The California Public Resources Code has been amended to require the California State Plane Coordinates be included within and new subdivision project. In order to reference points, one needs to be able to see the sight point and set on it with a transit or a GPS (Geographic Positioning System). The particular shape of the memorial is vital for this purpose. The cross piece makes location and exact positioning possible from great distances. (The cross on Mt. Helix is also important for this reason.) Another shape would be possible to use; however, a "straight up" or vertical marker would be difficult to discern. The cross piece of this marker makes location and exact positioning possible from long distances–vertically and horizontally. A transit itself has `cross hairs’ to assist in the sighting and calculating of positions."

A similar cross on Mount Helix, to the east, and an old lighthouse on Point Loma, served as the backbone of the regional geodetic network, long before modern GPS technology had been introduced for commercial use.

Over the course of time, as the lawsuit wound its way through the courts, my arguments were eventually rendered irrelevant once GPS technology was assimilated by the local surveying community. The notion that the cross was a necessary component of San Diego’s control network did nothing to preserve the cross. Nonetheless, many surveyors still use the cross as it has immense value in reconstructing old control. In my own work, I have established a massive control network along the California shoreline, using the cross as the primary control station. With the evolution of geodetic surveying and through GPS value assignments, the cross remains an excellent point of reference for periodic back sites and the truthing of field positions; there is still nothing better than a good old fashioned back site.

For additional information about the Mount Soledad Memorial Park, please go to

Note: An exhaustive timeline of events, beginning in 1848, can be found HERE. Also, the deed for the cross is HERE, the Supreme Court Writ of Certiorari is HERE, and the City of San Diego Proposition K is HERE.

Michael Pallamary, PS, is the author of several books and numerous articles. He is a frequent lecturer at conferences and seminars and he teaches real property to attorneys and other members of the legal profession. He has been in the surveying profession since 1971.

Quiet Heroes Amongst Us

Several years ago, I made arrangements for a formal ceremony wherein I had a plaque placed in honor of my late father-in-law, Maurice Smiddy. It was a moving celebration as I had also made arrangements for a full military procession including a raising of a flag and a presentation of the colors. Since then, my wife and I go by the memorial every now and then to pay our respects to her father and also to seek solace while honoring those that made the supreme sacrifice.

During one of our more recent visits, my wife came across a plaque alongside one honoring President Ronald Reagan and, to my surprise, she said, "Isn’t that Herm?"

I looked and, before me was a striking image of a handsome soldier and, as is not uncommon when visiting the memorial, a surge of emotions ran through me for Herman "Herm" Bateman is a dear friend and a professional Land Survey I have known for many years. He and his son Robert own and operate "San Diego Land Surveying," and they specialize in condominium work, boundary work, and urban development projects.

I immediately took a picture and sent it to Herm asking him, "Is this you?" A day or two later he replied, saying yes. I asked him several questions and, as it is with good men like Herm, he was humble and reserved for unlike others, Herm is not one to boast or brag about his accomplishments. He is a good man.

Herman Wesley Bateman, Staff Sargent, United States Air Force, enlisted in the Air Force in 1948 for a three-year hitch. After the Korean War broke out, he was not discharged until 1952. He was assigned to Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas for basic training and from there, to Aircraft and Engine Mechanics School in Biloxi Mississippi where he had an exciting job, flying freight, personal and VIPs all over the Country. He also flew a number of celebrities to Travis Air Force Base to entertain the wounded back from Korea, reminding me a great deal about Bob Hope and his admirable efforts over the years, supporting our troops.

When preparing this story, Herm and his son Robert met with me and my wife Maureen and she recorded our conversation atop Mount Soledad. This recording can be seen at

Today, there are over 4,000 plaques honoring veterans, living and deceased, from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in the Middle East. Thanks to the efforts of folks like Bill Kellogg and my friend Chuck Limandri, the cross remains one of the most visited memorial parks in the country and, its geodetic value, albeit outdated, remains. It is still one of the best triangulation stations in the United States.

For information regarding Charles LiMandri:

A 4.005Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE