In November 2013 an incredible thing happened. Over a hundred volunteers from several neighborhoods in City Heights–Castle, Swan Canyon, Fairmount Village and Azalea Park–came together to transform a dangerous, trash-filled vacant lot into a beautiful community gathering place.
In a matter of only a few days, the Manzanita Gathering Place, which you can see in the following photographs, was born.
I was introduced to the Manzanita Gathering Place in the northeast corner of Azalea Park last weekend and was absolutely amazed. The tranquil, rustic, art-filled spot, overlooking Manzanita Canyon, made me feel as if I’d traveled faraway, to the top of a mountain crowned with ancient magic.
Four columns around a stone sitting area are covered with mosaics. About 1500 square feet of mosaic art! The columns represent the four elements: earth, air, water and fire. They also represent the hearts of the many hands that made them–community members from four adjoining urban neighborhoods.
I was told the Manzanita Gathering Place is the perfect place to watch a sunset. I did see the Ocean Discovery Institute across the canyon below. Students often walk from there into the canyon to learn about nature.
A collaboration of community organizers, government, artists, business owners, schools and diverse neighborhood residents, the Manzanita Gathering Place was a Pomegranate Project. According to the Pomegranate Center’s website, the organization helps “communities design and build art-filled gathering places. In sometimes as little as four months from first community meeting to completion of the gathering place, hundreds of volunteers would give thousands of hours planning, designing and building their park. Between 1990 and 2017, Pomegranate Center created some 60 such projects in multiple cities, states, and countries…”
The Manzanita Gathering Place design team consisted of Brennan Hubbell, Ilisa Goldman, Vicki Leon, and mentor Milenko Matanovic, founder of the Pomegranate Center. In 2015 this truly amazing project received a Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
A very beautiful nearby mural was painted in 2018 by San Diego artists Gloria Muriel and Alexander Banach…
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