Stand on Broadway (originally Fort Street) just west of a parking lot for the old Plaza, just east of another parking lot, and stare straight up into the sky. Focus on the empty space about 80 feet over your head. There was a flagpole there once. It was ridiculously tall, two tree trunks joined together, jabbing another 120 feet into the sky.
The flagpole is gone. The fort around the flagpole is gone. The hill where the fort stood is gone. You are standing beneath their deepest foundations. The streets now flow through the absence of a hill, submerged roads settled on the floor of forgotten caverns.
Fort Moore was dedicated on July 4, 1847, and named after Capitan Benjamin Moore who was killed at the Battle of San Pasqual the previous December. In 1941, the LA Times falsified his death as a swashbuckling adventure:
“Moore engaged the general in a duel, but his sword snapped at the hilt after the first few parries. He was about to draw his revolver, when a nearby Californian plunged a lance into his heart.”
What actually happened was the Americans, mostly mounted on mules, were confused in the early morning fog. Capitan Moore thought he heard a charge called — he heard wrong. Galloping away from the rest of his troops, he was soon surrounded by
Californios, excellent horsemen armed with lances. San Pasqual was the bloodiest American defeat of the conquest of Alta California.
Looming over the church from its hill, Fort Moore’s eastward bastions held the city’s Plaza in a pincher of overlapping howitzer fire, yet its walls were completely open to the west. The fort was not built to protect the city—it was built to protect the American occupiers from their newly conquered city.
The only military action Fort Moore ever saw was on the night of December 7, 1847 when a stray cow wandered past the guards in the dark. They successfully repelled the cow’s attack, but in the confusion, someone tossed a still-smoldering fuse into a box of ammunition. Pieces of the exploding guardhouse landed three blocks away. Four soldiers were killed on the spot, and were buried on Fort Moore Hill.
The fort was abandoned soon after, and officially decommissioned a few years later. The site became an informal cemetery, which was also abandoned. And the city grew over the hill, streets and houses erasing the fort’s remains, basements and tunnels winding around forgotten bones.