Behind OH! San Diego’s Success, A Volunteer Corps and Strong Sense of Community

OH! San Diego 2020 may be over, but the positive energy from the weekend still lingers. As hundreds of people turned out for the fifth annual celebration of urban design, architecture and the built environment, they were treated to a free, weekend-long event that truly inspired.

Hosted by the San Diego Architectural Foundation from March 6-8, OH! San Diego (short for Open House) took place in nine local neighborhoods, from Balboa Park and Bankers Hill to Barrio Logan and Coronado. At every turn, the citywide Open House shined a light on the impact that impeccable design and innovative vision can have on community.

To learn about Open House’s deeper impact, we turned to those who know it best — the longtime volunteers who have watched the annual showcase grow up. Here’s why OH! San Diego enhances the San Diego cultural experience so much, in their words.

Dominique Valentino

“It’s a fun way to learn about neighborhoods in San Diego, even neighborhoods you thought you knew so much about,” says Dominique Valentino, who first learned of Open House four years ago, in a UCSD Extension class with Dr. Diane Kane.

Encouraged by Kane to volunteer for the event, Valentino donated her time at Villa Montezuma and the Marston House. She’s been part of Open House every year since, in roles ranging from site coordinator to committee member.

“OH! San Diego presents a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with neighborhoods you’ve never really explored,” says Valentino, who this year helped coordinate volunteers in Balboa Park and pitched in at the Hotel del Coronado. “We have such diverse architecture in San Diego, coupled with a rich history. Put all of that together with the people behind it, and OH! San Diego feels like time well spent.”

In 2020, Paul Engel was back for Open House for a third year.

“It’s great, I love it,” he said from his post outside the Timken Museum, where he was promoting the program, displaying T-shirts and greeting visitors. “OH presents an opportunity to learn about the buildings that you walk by every day and usually can’t get inside. But on Open House weekend, guess what? You can access them — for free. My love of architecture, history and lighting design drew me to OH, and the event itself instills and encourages passion in those who participate.”

Paul Engel volunteering in Balboa Park

Like so many others who feel drawn to the wide-ranging celebration of the built environment, Engel and Valentino return to it year after year because of the special community it attracts.

Rosamaria Acuña, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, feels the strong sense of community, too. An OH! committee member and sponsor who became involved with the showcase two years ago, Acuña felt pulled to OH! San Diego by a desire to give back to the city that has enriched her with so much.

“Open House brings people and communities together,” Acuña says. “It provides a framework through which people can learn and explore San Diego’s rich history. Through architecture and design, we can learn about the city’s past and present and look to the future.”

Rosamaria Acuña (far right) with Carol Chin and other OH San Diego committee members

Acuña stays involved with the program because she enjoys the positivity of event organizers Carol Chin and Maxine Ward, two women she now calls friends. She also admires the vision that event founder Susanne Friestedt showed in bringing the international event to San Diego five years ago.

With more than 300 volunteers contributing to OH! San Diego’s success this year, “this worldwide event is a gift to San Diego,” Acuña says. “Let’s treasure it and promote it to ensure it remains here for a long time to come.”

This year’s event may be over, but we need help for next year. Are you interested in becoming part of the OH! San Diego volunteer family? Email SDAF Operations Manager Lauren Cook at to get involved.

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San Diego Architectural Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to education and promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

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