San Diego Historical Resources Board: Save the Historic Caliente Mural
On Thursday, April 28 at 1 pm, San Diego's Historical Resources Board will hold a meeting to strip away any historical association to the Caliente mural located on the back wall of downtown's California Theatre (included San Diego's Register of Designated Historical Resources in 1990).
In December 2011, after news broke that a beer company was set to paint over the mural, a petition on Change.org garnered over 1,000 signatures and made sure city officials listened loud and clear. An independent historic report commissioned by the Save Our Heritage Organisation determined the mural itself was also of historical significance. Now, the city wants to make way for big development.
Let City of San Diego Planner Kelley Stanco, the 11 members of the Historical Resources Board (an organization with the mission of "helping San Diego protect its history"), Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer, Sloan Capital Partners LLC and AECOM developers know that San Diego indeed values its history.
Developers are using a Historical Resource Technical Report prepared by AECOM to say the mural does not meet the Historical Resources Board criteria. The report's findings are biased and false. "We must always maintain our commitment to acting ethically and with integrity—in all that we do, every day of the year," AECOM's "core values" section of its website reads.
Along with the findings of the SOHO's independent historical report, the Caliente mural fits the HRB's criteria to a T.
For example, Criterion A says: "Exemplifies or reflects special elements of the City’s, a community’s or a neighborhood’s historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping or architectural development."
The original racetrack was built by a trio known as the “Border Barons”: Baron Long (partial owner of downtown’s U.S. Grant), sports promoter James Coffroth (who was instrumental in bringing The Star of India to the SD Harbor in 1926), and Wirt G. Bowman (who at one time was the landowner of Rancho Peñasquitos). Later, it would become the brainchild of illustrious San Diegan John S. Alessio of “Mr. A’s” fame.
The Caliente mural is a throwback to a time gone by, when sister cities Tijuana and San Diego were just that. Caliente had a marketing office in downtown SD (on Broadway Street, not far from where the mural is located), and represented an economic and cultural boom to San Diego when it was known as "The Gateway to Old Mexico."
Criterion B is that the mural "is identified with persons or events significant in local, state or national history." See above.
Under Criterion D, AECOM's study says that "[r]esearch into the painted wall sign at the California Theatre at 1122 4th Avenue failed to conclusively identify an artist or designer."
As mentioned in this 2011 piece I wrote for San Diego CityBeat, José Jesus Moreno, a longtime artist with Pacific Outdoor Advertisement was responsible for painting the detailed flowers on the signature horseshoe-shaped letter "C" in Caliente. Moreno's history is tied to San Diego's further, given he also painted the signs along Interstate 8 before they were standardized.
As well as harkening to a time of cross-border economic and cultural symbiosis, the 40-by-80-foot sign is one of the boldest love letters in history—from John Alessio to his wife Edna. In April 1956, he unveiled Caliente's “Fabulous 5-10,” a precursor of the modern-day pick-six wager. When Alessio met Edna, she worked at Kress' five-and-dime store, a stone's throw from the iconic sign. Lore has it couple's song was Bing Crosby's' "I Found Million Dollar Baby (In A Five and Ten Cent Store)."
HRB: Don't be instrumental in rewriting history; AECOM: be true to those core values you proudly tout on your website; Mayor Faulconer: protect the character and historic nature of your downtown.
Why go against the 45 Year Rule and demolish the theatre and by default the mural your board deemed important enough to be considered for historic designation just a few years ago? Why not try to incorporate the existing structure and the mural onto the theatre's second act?
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