On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782, Spanish missionary, Father Junipero Serra, founded Mission San Buenaventura. On the beach south of the present-day mission church, he blessed an area of land and planted a wooden cross. Mission San Buenaventura was the ninth in the series of California Missions to be founded by Father Serra, and it was his last. Serra stayed only three weeks before leaving for Santa Barbara.
Shortly after the Mission’s founding, a large wooden cross was planted on top of a hill overlooking the Mission church. This highly visible cross served as a road sign for travelers in search of the Mission. The original cross was eventually lost to the elements and replaced in the 1860s. After the second cross blew down in a storm on November 5, 1875, it was not replaced for almost 40 years. Then, on Admissions Day, September 9, in 1912, members of the E.C.O. Club, a ladies service organization, erected a new wooden cross in the current location. The E.C.O. Club was dedicated to bringing culture and a historical perspective to the frontier.
The land on which the cross was erected did not become a city park until 1918 when Kenneth and Tonie Grant donated 107 hillside acres to the City of San Buenaventura. Over the years, there have been a number of improvements to the property surrounding the cross. The first roads leading up to the cross were built around 1920. As part of the festivities for the 150th anniversary mass on the site on March 31, 1932, the circular stone pedestal around the cross was built, as well as a concrete pathway up to the pedestal. Much of this is in place today with minor adjustments. In 1941, the city replaced the 1912 cross with the one that stands here today. The current park landscaping was installed by the Downtown Lions Club in the mid 1960s.
In the spring of 2003, the wooden cross located in Grant Park was threatened by a potential constitutional lawsuit charging that the principle of separation of church and state was being violated by the City of San Buenaventura’s ownership and maintenance of a cross. Similar lawsuits in other communities had resulted in those cities being forced by the courts to divest themselves of their crosses. The City of San Buenaventura City Council voted on July 31, 2003, to sell the cross and an acre of land surrounding it to the highest bidder. On September 22, 2003, the Serra Cross Park was sold to San Buenaventura Heritage, Inc., the highest bidder, for $104,216.87.