George Marston

San Diego’s First Citizen

The population of 1870’s San Diego was a mere 2,300 when George Marston arrived on a side-wheeler from San Francisco just two days before his twentieth birthday. His first job at the Horton House included dusting off the guests before they entered. From these humble beginnings he became a successful businessman and the founder of the city’s premier department store.

George met his wife, Anna, in our little frontier town, and together they raised a family of five and prospered. For over seven decades the couple influenced San Diego’s development from a town into a city. Lucky for us, he shared his wealth with the community — donating several hundred thousand dollars to public parklands, projects and museums. He ran for mayor in 1913 and 1917 on a platform of better city planning, more parks, water conservation and an improved waterfront — losing both times after critics promoted him as an environmentalist.

Visionary, politician, philanthropist, “Father of Balboa Park”— his list of accomplishments is long. Marston was also the spark behind the YMCA, serving on their board for sixty-two years, with twenty-two of those as its president. San Diego would be a much different city without George White Marston.

His greatest contribution to San Diego was the acquisition, development and maintenance of Presidio Park and the Serra Museum, operated by the San Diego Historical Society, which George also founded. When he died in 1946 at age 96, George Marston was truly regarded as “San Diego’s First Citizen.” He is buried with his family under a dark granite obelisk at Mount Hope Cemetery.