An amazing urban transformation in City Heights!

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…

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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The extraordinary mosaics of Azalea Park!

Some of the most extraordinary public art in San Diego can be found in Azalea Park, a neighborhood at the south end of City Heights. Walk or drive along the streets of Azalea Park and you’ll discover unexpected mosaics decorating the sides of trashcans and round sidewalk benches.

When you stop to look closely at these mosaics, it becomes evident that a great deal of effort, thought and artistry was involved in their making. The beautiful designs are truly stunning. Look at the coming photographs and see for yourself.

I was surprised to learn that all of these fantastic mosaics were created by a volunteer group of Azalea Park residents! The team of community beautifiers call themselves the Azalea Park Mosaic League!

Led by local artist Vicki Leon, members of the Azalea Park Mosaic League continue to make their neighborhood a more attractive and welcoming place.

A couple days ago I posted photos of their Art’s Popping Up mosaic sculpture on Poplar Street. If you haven’t seen that yet, click here!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Vicki Leon’s art studio in Azalea Park. The following two photographs show beautiful lotus mosaics that will be installed in Little Saigon, and how she is helping friends and neighbors to create their own mosaic street address signs! Check our her website here.

Her work, and the volunteer efforts of the Azalea Park Mosaic League, can inspire us all to make our own neighborhoods more beautiful!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Art’s Popping Up in Azalea Park!

Art’s Popping Up in colorful Azalea Park!

It is quite literally!

That’s because Art’s Popping Up is the name of a welcoming mosaic sculpture in the median of Poplar Street, at the entrance to Azalea Park, a friendly community in south City Heights!

I enjoyed an inspiring tour around Azalea Park yesterday and will be blogging about lots of amazing artwork.

The bright mosaics on the four sides of Art’s Popping Up were created in 2018 by members of the community. The lead artist, Vicki Leon, has a nearby studio. A team of friends and neighbors, who go by the name Azalea Park Mosaic League, not only helped to create this fantastic sculpture, but with the help of Vicki Leon they’ve produced numerous mosaics throughout Azalea Park.

Several tiles on one side of Art’s Popping Up explain: “This mosaic celebrates art emerging from within our neighborhood. It follows the theme of the Pop Street mosaics on Poplar Street…Framed artworks pop out of an Art Nouveau background, a style of art inspired by the curved lines of plants and flowers, used here to reference Azalea Park’s botanical theme and natural canyons…The continuous rainbow of color is created from hand-cut stained glass and represents our unity and diversity…”

At the top of the tall sculpture are four words selected during meetings of community members. They are: Community, Diversity, Unity and Creativity.

I love how the rainbow of color seems to splash, curl and spurt upward along the four sides of Art’s Popping Up. The mosaic shines brilliantly in the San Diego sunshine as it greets residents going to and from their homes.

Two awesome members of the Azalea Park Mosaic League smile for a photograph of Art’s Popping Up!
Azalea Park is bounded by Manzanita Canyon and Hollywood Canyon. Trails from residential streets provide easy access to nature. Images of hiking, plants and other natural elements that have been sandblasted on colorful ceramic tiles add meaning to the community mosaic.

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Stars on colorful mosaic walls in National City.

A few weeks ago, as I waited for a Memorial Day ceremony at National City’s War Memorial and Veteran’s Wall of Honor, I walked around the nearby intersection of 12th Street and D Avenue, where there’s a traffic roundabout.

In the center of the roundabout I discovered five medallion-like plaques that honor five branches of the United States Armed Forces. But what really caught my eyes were the colorful red, white and blue star mosaics that decorate several walls surrounding the intersection!

I believe this public artwork was part of the 2015 improvement project that you can read about here.

I love the how the stars in the patriotic mosaics look like they’re flying, bouncing and dancing, or unspooling like musical notes. They also sort of appear like bursting fireworks!

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Closed school’s last students create mosaic wall!

Want to see something extraordinary and inspirational?

I had arrived yesterday at the 19th century schoolhouse now utilized by the Encinitas Historical Society, when I noticed a colorful tile mosaic mural wrapped around their dumpster enclosure wall.

When I asked about it, I learned the mosaics had been created by students from nearby Pacific View Elementary in 2003–the year that modern public school shut down. The final class of students produced this amazing artwork!

By looking carefully one can see the initials of students and simple images that record the experiences and desires of youth. You can see a love for art, friends, kindness, the ocean, sunshine, Encinitas and their Pacific View Elementary.

What a fine, enduring way to record important things in life.

Like the historic old schoolhouse that stands near this wall, the work of optimistic people in the past will continue to brighten our future.

If you’re curious about the old schoolhouse, which is headquarters of the Encinitas Historical Society, I’ll be posting lots of photos in the next day or two.

The historic 1883 schoolhouse, now home of the Encinitas Historical Society, can be seen just beyond that dumpster lid. The now closed Pacific View Elementary School can be glimpsed in the distance beyond the umbrellas.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Art at and near Hernandez Hideaway.

It seems Hernandez Hideaway has been serving Mexican food by the west shore of Lake Hodges forever. I know I went there as a child, even if I really don’t remember the experience. I do remember helping to inflate a small boat in the parking lot across the street back in middle school. My friend was really into bass fishing. (I even managed to catch a fish or two. When my red plastic worm didn’t snag.)

Before walking along the San Dieguito River Trail on Saturday, I checked out some colorful old artwork painted on the side of Hernandez Hideaway. Then I noticed a really cool “Del Dios” tile mosaic bench across Lake Drive at the North Shore Lake Hodges Trailhead.

I took photos…

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

San Diego library mosaic: To Light the Way Within.

An extraordinary work of public art welcomes curious eyes in southeast San Diego.

To Light the Way Within is a colorful glass mosaic mural that greets visitors as they approach the front entrance of the Malcom X Branch Library and Performing Arts Center in Valencia Park. It was created by local artist Jean Cornwell Wheat in 1995.

Last weekend I captured photographs of the 40-foot outdoor entry wall mural, working my way from left to right. The complex imagery relates the story of human language–its history and evolution. Ancient drawings, pictographs and symbols seem to mix and dance forward together when you examine the mural closely.

According to what I’ve read, the mural, created in collaboration with another San Diego artist, Raul Guerrero, incorporates a lantern, a symbol of enlightenment that lights up when it becomes dark. I’ll have to check that out one evening.

Learn more about artist Jean Cornwell Wheat at her website here.

A few days ago I posted photographs of her truly remarkable “hidden” public sculpture Dragonfly Dreams. See that here.

Several years ago I also blogged about an African American fine art exhibition at the San Diego History Center. Check that out here and you’ll see one of Jean Cornwell Wheat’s canvases, along with other great works by renowned San Diego artists!

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An octagonal Chinese-Mexican building in La Mesa.

One of the most distinctive buildings in La Mesa can be found in MacArthur Park. The designated historic landmark, located at 4910 Memorial Drive, is called Porter Hall.

This small octagonal building, built by the Porter family in the late 1920’s, has an unusual tile roof that appears a little Chinese and a little Mexican. The roof’s exotic contours are explained by the fact that Henry and Elizabeth Chapin Porter had previously lived in China.

From 1932 to 1957 Porter Hall served as a San Diego County library.

Prior to 1974 the original octagonal structure stood on the other side of University Avenue. It was moved when the street was widened. Today the enlarged building is home of the Foothills Art Association.

When I walked past Porter Hall a couple weekends ago, I took these photographs. Some artwork could be seen from the sidewalk, including a beautiful mosaic bench with a colorful parrot. A plaque dedicates the bench to Katherine Faulconer.

You can learn more about La Mesa’s influential Porter family by reading page 5 of an old La Mesa Historical Society publication here.

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Stunning mosaic at North Island Credit Union.

A colorful, truly stunning mosaic greets visitors arriving at the North Island Credit Union building in Kearny Mesa!

The large circular mosaic in the entrance plaza was created in 2008 and is titled Icons of San Diego. It was designed by artist Wick Alexander and installed using the LithoMosaic process.

The artwork pays tribute to iconic sights in San Diego, including the Coronado Bay Bridge, Balboa Park’s California Tower, the Santa Fe Depot and the Hotel del Coronado. Kids make a sandcastle on the beach, a surfer rides a wave, and hot air balloons float overhead!

If you’d like to read about the making of this very fine public art, click here!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Watermarks art at Mission Trails Regional Park.

Extraordinary public art can be found at one entrance to Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. Titled Watermarks, the long, curving mosaic wall stands adjacent to the water pump station at Mission Gorge Road and Deerfield Street. Hikers proceeding through a gate in the beautiful wall find themselves on the Deerfield Crossing Trail.

Watermarks was created in 2000 by Lynn Susholtz and Aida Mancillas of artist collaborative Stone Paper Scissors. According to this page of the San Diego Civic Art Collection website: “Applied to the wall is a highly detailed mosaic of tile, indigenous rock and metal pieces etched sporadically with petroglyphs, text and animal tracks…(the wall) serves to illustrate the ecological, historical and cultural importance of the park and the San Diego River. Once used by the Kumeyaay Indian tribe and the Spanish missionaries, the San Diego River connects our histories, cultures and lives.”

I took these photographs on a gray day between winter showers.

I love how the blue tile mosaic river flows and meanders along the earthy wall. Native plants like mesquite, wild onion, yucca and sage appear like fossils on river stones, each labeled with both their English and Kumeyaay names. On the ground and bench, you can see how nature’s fallen leaves, and rain water collected in the sculpted animal tracks, imbue this amazing artwork with even more life.

Six miles downstream, in 1769, the Spanish established the Misión San Diego de Alcalá, creating the demand for a mission waterworks system which was continually modified from 1775 through the 1830’s. The Old Mission Dam, located at the top of the gorge, was constructed of local stone, clay deposits from the river, and a cement mortar mixture over a solid foundation of bedrock. The dam provided a reliable water source for crops and livestock brought in by the Spanish. The dam and subsequent aqueduct connection were fully operational for less than twenty years.

(If you’d like to see photos of a hike to the Old Mission Dam, click here.)

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!