Ray Brandes – Island Icon

Written by the Coronado Historical Association


Ray Brandes was an influential San Diego historian, who, over his 30-plus year career, surveyed historic buildings that covered every corner of the county, from Rancho Santa Fe and El Cajon to downtown San Diego and Coronado.

Born on January 2, 1924 in Coronado, Ray attended Coronado schools and graduated from CHS in 1941. In his early years, his family lived in Barrio Logan and Old Town. He was proud of his Mexican heritage as a descendant of the Machado family, founders of Old Town.

During World War II, Ray was an Army technician, serving six years with the 95th and 35th Infantry Divisions including combat in five European countries. Following his discharge as Master Sergeant, he worked for the U.S. National Park Service in Globe, Arizona, where his archaeological survey of the San Carlos Indian Reservation uncovered one of the earliest ball courts of the Hohokam people – dated to 700-1200 AD.

In 1958, at age 33, Ray enrolled at the University of Arizona, obtaining his B.A. and Ph.D. in seven years with degrees in historic site archaeology and Western American history. He became Arizona’s second state historian and Assistant Director of the Arizona Historical Society.

Dr. Brandes became a professor at the University of San Diego in the mid-1960s. He taught graduate students how to analyze the historical resources of more than 300 buildings, and directed over 125 Master’s theses relating to the American West and San Diego. After 31 years, Dr. Brandes retired as dean of the graduate school.

In addition to publishing hundreds of reports and articles about San Diego’s historic buildings, Dr. Brandes authored more than 21 books, including Coronado: We Remember, San Diego: An Illustrated History, and Coronado: The Enchanted Island.

In 1966, Dr. Brandes founded the San Diego Congress of History and in 1996 he established the San Diego Baseball Historical Society. He was also a member of the Western Historical Association, the Western Writers of America, and the Coronado Historical Association. Dr. Brandes has received many accolades, including the “Distinguished Historian Medal” from the University of Arizona and the “Medal of San Diego de Alcala” from USD. He passed away on April 16, 2014.


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