Sara Butler | Contributing Editor
An old building on the corner of Taylor and Juan streets in Old Town will soon receive a major makeover.
California Department of Parks and Recreation officially announced construction of a new open park space in the historic community. Located at 2829 Juan St., the building previously housed the former California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 11 Office Complex, known as The Complex.
Park construction begins in fall 2018, starting with a demolition of the building. On Monday, Sept. 24, the city of San Diego held a press conference announcing — and celebrating — the start of the project.
Among those in attendance were Senate pro tempore Toni G. Atkins; Elder Mesa; former state Senator Christine Kehoe; Assembly member Todd Gloria; Mayor Kevin Falconer; Councilmember Chris Ward; vice chairman of Old Town Chamber of Commerce Chuck Ross, who is also a concessioner with Old Town State Park; and Caltrans District Director Cory Binns.
All of the speakers addressed the exhaustive nature of this project and thanked everyone involved in the process.
“This has been a long-time vision, and thank you for sticking with us through that,” Sen. Toni Atkins said. “We’re here to celebrate the final stage in a very long process.”
And long it was – the project took more than 20 years, which included many changes in seats of public office.
“How many assembly members does it take to take down a building?” Atkins joked.
One of the initial political leaders to spearhead the project was Chris Kehoe, who said it was “not an easy process.” Though she is now out of office, her efforts laid the groundwork for the project that was passed on through the years.
Elements of the project will include:
- Interpretive elements, such as a Native American interpretive public gathering area, displays and art features, lighting, and benches.
- Basic landscaping such as native trees, shrubs and ground covering, and bio-swale.
- Enhanced pedestrian circulation system with stabilized accessible pathways.
- Shade ramadas.
- Parking, including accessible spaces.
Demolishing the building will provide a 20 percent increase in Old Town State Park, which is one of the most popular parks in all of California. The project aims to add much-needed open space to the city, as well as celebrate the land’s past.
Old Town was the birthplace of San Diego and is currently the No. 1 tourist destination in the region. The project site was also the original route to the San Diego River.
Before San Diego was established, the Kumeyaay were the stewards of the land. Currently the city of San Diego is home to more sovereign nations in the U.S. than anywhere else in the country.
“So we have to pay tribute to that — we have to recognize that heritage [and] seek to restore part of that history,” Atkins said.
As the only tribal member in the assembly, Todd Gloria said the project was near to his heart, and that it is needed to “further tell the story of indigenous people — a story worth telling.”
Throughout the planning process, California State Parks has worked closely with the Native American community and the Kumeyaay Nation. Together, they developed Old Town Working Group, which includes representatives from Kumeyaay Land Conservancy (KDLC); Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Committee (KHPC); Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee (KCRC); and tribal members from the various bands of the Kumeyaay Nation.
“This project has been long the dream of the city of San Diego, the Old Town community and the families of the people who have lived here,” Atkins said.
Ross spoke on behalf of Grand, who has served as the Old Town Chamber of Commerce resident for more than 20 years. (Grand could not attend due to a family vacation.) Grand said that having a park in the heart of Old Town’s district will be a “fantastic, positive gamechanger,” which will open up the area and elevate it.
Though Faulconer said the old building “is not going to be missed,” Binns added that it is “a little bittersweet for Caltrans,” as he and other colleagues began their careers in the old building, which originally opened in 1963. However, Binns welcomed the new development and new use, noting it as an exciting day for everyone involved.
Aside from the Complex project, Gloria added that there are many other outdated or unused buildings throughout San Diego — such as the California Highway Patrol building up the hill from the Old Town site, as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Hillcrest — that need similar attention.
“I challenge my state colleagues — there are too many buildings like this across San Diego that are not contributing to the community,” he said. “We need to build more housing, open up to public … so many ways the state can be a better neighbor [and] partner.”
For details about the park project, visit the city’s website at bit.ly/complex-park.
—Reach Sara Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.