I’m sure that there are a number of us who can still remember the Euclid Tower before it was re-imagined with bright paint and a dazzling design. In 1988, when My Beloved and I moved into our little house on 45th street, the Euclid Tower jutted above the streetscape like a grey missile poised for launch. Its graceful art deco architecture and lovely leaded glass lotus windows couldn’t redeem it from a peeling cold war paint job.
I can also remember not only the grey paint job, but the smiling face of Old Saint Nick providing some inscrutable message of good cheer for a number of years over the neon signage of the Tower Bar. There was nothing quite like the 4th of July and looking up at the peeling Tower with Saint Nick beaming down upon us. This was how I knew I was home in my thoroughly mixed up community of City Heights. And stone cold sober.
By 1993 I had become a board member of the City Heights Community Development Corporation (CHCDC). Half of our board was committed to brick and mortar projects such as quality affordable housing; the other half was committed to the mortar of community organizing and exploring the possibilities that lay within us at the moment– a community garden and then the Euclid Tower art project.
When I raised the issue of sending out a CHCDC holiday card using the Euclid Tower as envisioned by local school children, I was met with unanimous support. It was then left up to me to do it. I made up generic silhouette postcards of the tower and took them to Central and Euclid Elementary Schools.
The teachers were completely supportive but informed me that I would have to provide the crayons, puffy paint pens and glitter. Their budget no longer included those means of creative expression. (That was 1993. I hope everyone sits up and takes notice of this dreary mind-numbing lack of art resources for our kids. Hopefully the arts budget has improved.)
It was important that year to bring the Euclid Tower to everyone’s attention. CHCDC board member Jim Bliesner and artist Gloria Poore had done a preliminary survey of the Euclid Tower that situated it as a historically noteworthy example of ZigZag Moderne Architecture in San Diego. They evaluated the current condition — filled with equal amounts of pigeon poop and termite damage. Most importantly– they said that it was a City Heights (and San Diego) landmark worth salvaging.
Jim and Gloria promulgated a report on behalf of Tierra Alta Gallery. Their report included a preliminary budget and recommendations which were presented to the CHCDC, which voted to support salvaging the landmark. Jim and Gloria took the project to the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which accepted the project for partial funding and a design process.
A group of City Heights residents that included artist Alexia Markarian and CHCDC board members Linda Pennington, John Stump, myself and I believe Valerie Hoffman, evaluated the design proposals with the assistance of the Commission’s Public Art Director Gail Goldman. (My apologies to any others who served on the design committee.)
We selected the design submitted by Cynthia Bechtel, Mark Messenger and Christina Montuouri. The design was colorful and included a number of interesting elements that all managed to work together. So long cold war missile grey- welcome bright bold City Heights!
The next step was to take the project to the City Heights Redevelopment Agency. At that time, redevelopment belonged to us–City Heights had its own agency and a Project Area Committee which provided input into its activities. ( A few years later it was turned over to the City of San Diego, which then acted as our redevelopment authority.) We asked the Redevelopment Agency to provide financial support for the Tower. A few members found the design ugly and the colors abominable. The process was an important reminder that everyone doesn’t have to agree on an action, only a majority. Support passed!
We held a big party on the second floor of the Silverado Ballroom across the street from the Tower. It is another architectural landmark that should be restored and re-imagined.
And then the Euclid Tower rose like a phoenix from its own ashes–energetic and bright and a crazy beacon of possibilities.
That of course is not the end of the story. In the intervening years, the Tower started to list thrillingly–and dangerously– to one side. The initial artistic treatment did not stave off further degradation by the termites or pigeons.
One day, a decade or so later, my favorite Number 7 bus driver Beverly asked me if I knew that the Tower was being dismantled. No, I didn’t know that. I raced home from work, grabbed a hammer, saw and My Beloved and rushed to the scene of this terrible crime. I babbled inconsolably that we had to take one of the pieces home with us and install it in our back yard–pigeon shit, termites and all. I was incredulous that no one had told me what was happening.
The death of the Tower was not the end of the story, of course. Phoenix-like it rose yet again from its own ashes. It doesn’t look a whole lot different from the original, but it has a new kind of skin that should hold up better and longer.
Euclid Tower Restoration Project Completed 2009
I applaud all of the people present and future who will continue to appreciate and maintain the Euclid Tower. I feel something deeper and even more keenly for the ghosts of Euclid Tower past, in the early to mid ’90’s. None of the events and people from that time can be “googled,” which means that this history is locked in individual memory and boxes of personal photographs and ephemera. Perhaps this history, now partially provided on the SanDiegoFreePress, has been saved from oblivion. It should be.
I have kept a handful of those postcards that the kids colored and embellished back in 1993. I bring them out every year at Christmas and decorate the side board with them. This year was no different.
Where are you now Melissa, Patrice, Guantana,Vien and Avery? These kids are now all young adults. Will any of them remember the Euclid Tower or City Heights?