SILVAS FAMILY INVOLVEMENT
The discovery of foundations and artifacts representing early uses of the property eventually stimulated public controversy as well as community interest. The Silvas family's ties to the site led them to question the rationale for reconstructing the McCoy House rather than the earlier buildings (Silvas and Needham 1996), and the issue soon became a topic of interest beyond the Silvas family.
A number of archaeologists, historians and others joined Silvas family members to form Protectors of Historic Sites, an advocacy group that is trying to persuade the Department of Parks and Recreation to revise Old Town development and interpretive plans. They contend the Department has long neglected the Mexican Republic era in its interpretive efforts in Old Town, and suggest that the McCoy House be built off its original site to allow for eventual reconstruction of the earlier buildings (e.g. Protectors of Historic Sites 1996; Williams and Newlands 1996).
The Department of Parks and Recreation is still pursuing the original development plan (California Department of Parks and Recreation 1997). The Department believes the McCoy House is historically significant in its own right, and will better meet park operational needs than would the smaller, earlier buildings. The Department also contends that there is inadequate information on the early buildings to design an accurate reconstruction with minimal conjecture.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that it was the McCoy House, and not the earlier buildings, that was identified for reconstruction in the Old Town San Diego General Plan, approved in 1977 (California Department of Parks and Recreation 1977). A General Plan is the policy document that sets guidelines for development in a state park. Although no archaeological work had yet been conducted on the site in 1977, the General Plan preparers were obviously aware of both the McCoy and earlier Silvas buildings from historical records. They chose the McCoy House for reconstruction, based on their assumptions at that time about historical significance and park needs.
RE-ASSESSING HISTORICAL RELEVANCE
Critics of the McCoy House reconstruction point out that the General Plan is 20 years old, and argue that its conclusions no longer reflect the needs of the communities they represent. Many, including the authors of this paper, believe that the study of history is in part a continual process of re-evaluating our common heritage to meet a variety of modern community needs. Subsequent generations re-assess those needs, and make decisions about the appropriate treatment of historical properties based current perceptions.
Every generation disposes its own legacy, choosing what to discard, ignore, tolerate, or treasure, and how to treat what is kept. Such choices are not unconstrained: decisions to remember or forget, preserve or destroy, largely depend on forces beyond our control, often beyond conscious awareness. But current feelings about the past largely determine what becomes of its residues (Lowenthal 1985:363).
The belief that each generation legitimately re-interprets its history leads logically to the conclusion that General Plans do not have an indefinite shelf life, but must be re-evaluated frequently if they are to reflect current community needs and sentiments. The problem with attaining that goal is that the general planning process is complex, expensive and time consuming, and there is still a serious backlog of state parks that have no General Plans. It is not currently feasible to re-open this process every time there are conflicting opinions about appropriate treatments for historic properties in state parks that already have approved General Plans.
The public controversy over appropriate treatment of the Silvas-McCoy Site has not yet been resolved. We suggest that the long term challenge to park management is not so much how this specific dispute is remedied, but whether methods can be devised to make General Plans more responsive to evolving community needs and perceptions. We believe that General Plans should provide a mechanism whereby changing perceptions of history and modern community needs can be given meaningful consideration as opportunities for future development and interpretation become available.