Mt. Soledad’s Mounting Controversy, Part I

Photo Credit: soledadmemorial.comThe 822-foot tall mountain known as Mount Soledad lies peacefully within La Jolla, CA. Atop the mountain rests a white concrete cross standing at 43 feet tall, last built in 1954. There have been two previous crosses in the same location, with the first being built in 1913. The cross became a topic of debate in the late 1980s because it stood as a representation of the Christian faith on public land, leaving opponents arguing that the symbol defied the separation of church and state. Some even pose that its original intent in the early 1900s was anti-Semitic in nature.

At La Jolla Blue Book, we wanted to take a look at this history of the historic cross, giving our readers a chance to learn about the San Diego landmark so they could form their own opinions.

  • 1954 – The Christian cross you see now, known to some as the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross, was built and dedicated as a tribute to WWI, WWII and Korean War veterans.
  • 1989 – Veteran War vet and atheist Phillip Paulson files the first lawsuit claiming that the cross violates the U.S. and California Constitutions and shows favoritism towards one particular religious organization. Shortly after, a small plaque was added to the sight officially recognizing it as a war memorial.
  • 1991 – Paulson wins a series of appeals. Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. says that since the cross is on public land and is maintained using tax payer money, it is in fact in violation of the “no preference clause” of the CA Constitution. The City of San Diego then proclaims this land to be a historical sight.
  • 1992 – Proposition F passes allowing the city to sell the land directly under the cross to MSMA, a pre-selected, private nonprofit organization in an attempt to keep the cross as part of the war memorial.
  • 1997 – After a series of court battles at the federal level, Judge Thompson rules that the sale was unconstitutional because outside bidders were not invited and because the main purpose of the transaction was to protect the cross.
  • 1998 – The city creates a new plan and puts the land up for bid again, allowing outside bidders, while requiring the purchaser to keep the memorial as is. The city received five bids with the MSMA winning and reclaiming ownership of the land.
  • 2000 – The American Civil Liberties Union joins Paulson in urging the courts to demand that the situation be remedied and that the previous removal ruling be enforced.  This is also the same year that the MSMA added small individual plaques, concrete walls and pillars, and an American flag to the memorial.

As you can see from this brief re-cap of Mt. Soledad’s beginning, it has been fraught with court battles, nation-wide discussions about the first amendment and separation of church and state. La Jolla churches, residents and visitors have long since been split on whether the cross should stay or go. If you want to find out what happens to Mt. Soledad next, check back to read Part II of La Jolla Blue Book’s Mt. Soledad cross series.

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Vanessa Turkeltaub
Vanessa Turkeltaub graduated from UC San Diego with a BA in Communication. She has been with Blue Book Publishers for over 5 years, and has written over five-hundred La Jolla related articles. She enjoys going to concerts, art, and traveling. (vanessa@lajollabluebook.com)

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