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Government sells Mt. Soledad cross land to La Jolla veterans group

Mt. Soledad Memorial Association now owns property where its memorial and Soledad cross are located

Mt. Soledad Memorial Association now owns property where its memorial and Soledad cross are located

The 29-foot Mt. Soledad cross has been the subject of more than 25 years of litigation over whether a religious symbol should remain on government land. With the $1.4 million sale transferring ownership of the land under the cross from public to private hands July 17, proponents of the cross and th
The 29-foot Mt. Soledad cross has been the subject of more than 25 years of litigation over whether a religious symbol should remain on government land. With the $1.4 million sale transferring ownership of the land under the cross from public to private hands July 17, proponents of the cross and the various religions represented at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial are hoping for an end to the controversy.
Ashley Mackin

The Department of Defense has sold the half-acre parcel atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, home of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, the nonprofit entity that has overseen the maintenance and administration of the memorial from its inception in 1954.

The sales price was $1.4 million with the all-cash transaction completed on Friday, July 17. It follows the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, signed into law by Congress and President Obama in December 2014, calling for the sale of the property by the federal government to the association.

“I am honored to be leading our association at this most significant time in our memorial’s history,” said Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of the association’s board of trustees. “It marks the first time where our membership can manage the memorial’s affairs from a place of ownership and accountability for the property, which is a new and welcomed step for the association.”

The association, in connection with American Foreign Legion Post 275 of La Jolla, established the memorial in 1954 with the building of a 29-foot Latin cross.

The original memorial honored veterans of the Korean War who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. In 2000, the association expanded the memorial with the installation of six curved walls with black granite plaques that pay tribute to individual veterans. An additional five walls were added in 2013 to form a complete circle at the apex of Soledad Natural Park.

To date, more than 3,700 individual plaques of veterans, both living and deceased, are mounted on the veterans walls, honoring veterans who have served from the time of the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in the Middle East. Honorees on the walls hail from across the country.

For the first years of its existence, the property was owned by the City of San Diego. In August 2006, the federal government obtained the property through eminent domain, with Navy Region Southwest charged as the managing entity. Throughout both ownerships, the association has been the custodian. Improvements have included a 35-foot flagpole (volunteers have raised the flag daily at daybreak and lowered it at sunset for the past 15 years); bollards surrounding the memorial; 11 walls covered with black granite plaques; brick steps and brass handrails. The site is handicapped accessible.

Electricity has recently been brought to the remote site to allow the American flag to be lit during nighttime hours and also bring power to an electronic information kiosk to be installed later this year; the kiosk will provide easy identification and location of individual plaques.

Docents work at the memorial, acquainting visitors and students participating in field trips with the backgrounds of veterans whose stories are found on the plaques at the mountaintop memorial.

The association has hosted two major events annually over the past 15 years: a Memorial Day commemoration and Veterans Week ceremony.

“We look forward to continuing to partner with the City of San Diego, our county and our military community,” Bailey said. “We’re looking forward to the day when visitors to San Diego have three ‘must see’s’ on their itinerary — they must visit the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway museum, and the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.”

The association recently hired an executive director, retired U.S. Navy Masterchief (SEAL) Larry Wilske who, with a combination of office staff and volunteers, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Memorial. soledadmemorial.com