Design + Community: City Heights
Design + Community: City Heights
City Heights often gets overshadowed by its trendier neighbors North Park, Kensington and Hillcrest. However, hidden within is one of San Diego’s most diverse and culturally rich communities. Home to a refugee population with Southeast Asian and African roots, City Heights has embraced immigrants as its own, and they have reciprocated in kind.
One glimpse of the central San Diego neighborhood and you can feel its diversity. After the Vietnam War, refugees from Southeast Asia arrived at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. Many of them, drawn by its low rents, settled in City Heights. It launched an influx of immigration that continued into the 1980s and 1990s, when resettlement agencies directed refugees from the Somali Civil War to City Heights. An example of the community recognizing and celebrating this diversity is the six-block area known as Little Saigon.
While City Heights residents have been known to struggle with poverty, the neighborhood has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years. Change first got underway in the 1990s when philanthropist Sol Price led and financed a redevelopment plan to create an Urban Village. Today, the neighborhood, flanked by University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard, Fairmount Avenue, and Euclid Avenue, springs to life. Highlights like the Ocean Discovery Institute, the City Heights Skatepark, and The Avenue Mural Project have helped propel the resurgence — one that shows no sign of slowing down.
City Heights’ vibrancy is on full display through the many public art murals you’ll encounter along the way – the work of the Avenue Mural Project.
Address: 3901 Landis Street Architect: Schmidt Design Group Completed: 2017
Mid-City Skate Park stands as proof of how a group of dedicated youth can make a difference in their community. The Mid-City CAN Youth Council put out videos, reached out to residents with skate demos, and toured park sites with local decision-makers. They produced a report demonstrating the safety of skateboarding as compared to contact sports, lobbied elected officials, reached out to skeptical neighbors, and even helped with the design. The park received full funding through a state grant, and their efforts won them an award for Best Grassroots Initiative from the San Diego Chapter of the American Planning Association.
Address: 3627 University Avenue Architect: N/A Completed: N/A
Super Cocina was established in 1988 with one main goal in mind, to bring you the most authentic cooking from the Mexican heartland. Super Cocina changes its menu daily, offering more than 180 different culinary delights from different regions of Mexico, all made with the freshest ingredients.
Address: 3838 Orange Avenue Architect: Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects Completed: 2021
Wilson Middle School is the first phase of a unified Wilson Middle/Central Elementary K-8 campus. This new campus arranges the architecture of both schools around a variety of outdoor active social areas and large open green spaces. The new Middle School consists of (38-53) classrooms and (6-9) science labs, with an Arts center and a community shared Performing Arts Center.
The Middle School is distinguished architecturally from the Elementary School through the use of materials, colors and larger building volumes. Inside, large collaborative spaces replace hallways, and large format video walls greet students and teachers as they arrive. Large vertical windows provide ample natural light into the classrooms. Windows are oriented to capture prevailing air flow while avoiding direct heat exposure. An automated natural ventilation system utilizes fresh outside air when conditions permit to cool the building, while hot air is exhausted through large vertical thermal chimneys.
On the east side of the property, construction has begun on the new Central Elementary School. This school will consist of (40) classrooms, a Health Clinic, and an underground parking structure.
Address: Orange Ave & 40th St on top of the SR-15 Architect: n/a Completed: n/a
The result of a decade long negotiation with the City of San Diego and Caltrans is a one-block cap over the I-15 freeway, home to Teralta Park. When you pass through the tunnel on I-15 in mid-city, you’ve just driven under this park! A testament to the tenacity of City Heights community leaders, Teralta Park holds the distinction of being the only freeway cap park in the entire state.
Address: 4300 El Cajon Blvd Architect: n/a Completed: 2014
The Copley Price YMCA is a 53,000 square foot, LEED certified building. Constructed on a 3.7-acre site donated by Price Charities, this new facility is nearly double the size of the old Copley Family YMCA a mile down the street. It features two pools, a gymnasium, pre-school and school-age childcare centers, a teen center, spacious fitness and wellness center, group exercise rooms, a demonstration kitchen and an outdoor soccer arena.
Address: 4357 Fairmount Avenue Architect: Rob Wellington Quigley Architects & Studio E Completed: 2023 (anticipated)
East Block is a multi-building, multi-generational development designed by Rob Wellington Quigley Architects for Price Philanthropies. When completed in 2022, East Block will consist of 78 affordable family units, 117 senior units, a community garden for the residents, and a Town Square amenity. The Town Square will host larger gatherings and promote community involvement. The senior and family housing is arranged to promote an inter-generational dialogue creating an unusually rich social environment. Studio E is responsible for the schematic design of the Senior Housing building, introducing the kind of authentic architectural variety found in smaller neighborhood developments while also reducing the apparent scale of the development.
The family project has a generous setback on 44th Street, a largely residential street. It scales down to one-story meeting rooms and courtyards facing the sidewalk, and a long community garden completes the street frontage creating a green transition from street to building. The courtyard layout minimizes traffic noise from Fairmount Blvd so that windows can be left open. Special walled courtyards near the entry provide for secure outdoor activities for both children and adults. The units themselves have unusually large windows and are arranged around small light courts, helping to create a more joyful and dignified living experience.
Address: 4474 El Cajon Blvd Architect: AVRP Completed: 2021
This new state-of-the-art 500 seat theater and new 3-story multi-purpose building fronting El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights pays homage to the original buildings from the 1930s. These two new buildings replace the existing undersized theater (a portion of the original concrete structure), an administration building and counseling building built in the 1970s, 20 modular classrooms and a modular restroom building. Site work included the reconfiguration of the site fronting the “Boulevard” for improved site access as well as a new academic courtyard.
Address: El Cajon Blvd between Euclid and Highland Avenues Architect: n/a Completed: n/a
Beginning in the 1970’s, Vietnamese businesses began to populate storefronts along El Cajon Boulevard clustering in the six-block stretch between Highland Avenue and Euclid Avenue. Today, a majority of the businesses within the boundaries of the Little Saigon District are owned and operated by Vietnamese-Americans.
For the newly arrived, Little Saigon provides a cultural buffer zone, a cultural bridge, helping to minimize the stress of transition and culture shock. Little Saigon has become not only the commercial hub but the emotional focal point of the Vietnamese community, offering a sense of acceptance, belonging and social ties.
The City of San Diego’s 2013 designation of the area as the “Little Saigon Cultural and Commercial District” validates the incredible amount of perseverance, hard work, and dedication the residents of the district have shown over the past 30 years.
Hungry? Check out the Little Saigon Food Tour map here.
Address: 4061 43rd Street Architect: Estrada Land Planning Completed: n/a
Designed with robust community stakeholder engagement, City Heights Square Mini Park sits on an 0.15-acre lot, in the middle of the city block. It is surrounded by an arts center, senior housing and mixed-use developments. This pedestrian-intensive area is the perfect place for a mini park. The park elements include benches, game tables, shade structures, custom tile mosaic, boulders, drought-tolerant trees and planting areas and colorful visuals.
Address: 3795 Fairmount Avenue Architect: N/A Completed: n/a
This eight-block Village is right in the center of City Heights and is an award-winning neighborhood redevelopment project that is the result of a long-standing partnership between public and private entities, with Price Philanthropies playing a leading role. Working with City of San Diego, local organizations and stakeholders and Price Philanthropies, an initiative was formed called the City Heights Initiative. It is a holistic, place-based approach with one of the first components being a redevelopment project known as the “Urban Village.” The village includes the Mid-City Police Substation, Weingart City Heights Library/Performing Arts Annex, City Heights Retail Center, and Mid-City Continuing Education Center.
Two upcoming projects include the 4th Corner Apartments and Union Bank Apartments. In partnership with Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation, Price Philanthropies has offered two sites in the immediate vicinity of Fairmount Ave. and University Ave. for construction of approximately 135 units of low-income Affordable housing and a community room that will be open to the public. Investments have evolved over the years in response to community need, and include affordable housing developments, commercial real estate, and a strong network of non-profit partners that provide social services, educational enrichment, community engagement, and a healthcare safety net for children and families.
Address: 4011 46th Street Architect: N/A Completed: n/a
The mission of Cafeina Café is to strive and be a positive anchor to our community and surrounding neighborhoods. Cafeina Café flavors and menu options have been carefully created to share our love and passion for our Hispanic heritage, including locally sourced coffee, pan dulce and ice cream.
Address: 4717 University Avenue Architect: N/A Completed: n/a
Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant is one of the oldest authentic Ethiopian restaurants in San Diego, serving traditional Ethiopian food with pride and joy.
Address: 4757 University Avenue Architect: unknown Completed: 1932/2009
The 80-foot tall Euclid Tower, a City Heights icon, has stood on the corner of University and Euclid for almost seven decades. An example of the Zigzag Moderne Art Deco style, the Euclid Tower was designed by an unknown architect. The original spire sat above a soda/hamburger drive-in and featured an observation deck on the second floor.
By 1999, the tower had deteriorated structurally, and the tall spire of the building was removed. In 2009, a somewhat shorter spire was constructed and the building was restored using a design proposed by Cynthia Bechtel, Mark Messenger and Christina Montuouri. The Euclid Tower now sits over the Tower Bar and Tower Tattoo Parlor. (source: coolsandiegosights.com)
Address: 4756 University Avenue Architect: Earl W. Hartung Completed: 1932
The Silverado Ballroom, along with the Euclid Tower and the Egyptian Garage, is one of City Height’s art deco treasures. (The University Avenue facade actually features two architectural styles, art deco to the west of the entry tower and streamline moderne to the east). The two-story, 11,500 square foot Silverado Ballroom reopened in 2016 after receiving a $1.6 million dollar makeover which earned a People in Preservation award from Save our Heritage Organization (SOHO).
The building was painted in period-appropriate white, with period trim in yellow and red. One unseen feature of the original and refinished maple dance floor was retained – two subfloors with build-in shock absorbers to cushion those dancing feet. The ballroom, available for weddings, dances and other community events, is on the second floor, with a restaurant and businesses on the ground floor. (source: Union Tribune, Feb. 17, 2016)
Address: 4255 Thorn Street Architect: Rob Wellington Quigley Architects; Spurlock Landscape Architects Completed: 2018
Ocean Discovery Institute Living Lab is located at the gateway of Manzanita Canyon and is a joint-use project with the San Diego Unified School District. The Living Lab provides science education to students from 13 public schools in the Hoover High School cluster, creating a focal point for ocean and canyon science education and exploration, scientific research, and environmental appreciation and stewardship.
Every aspect of the 8,000 SF Living Lab is used to facilitate learning about science and conservation, with the theme “if I understand how the world works, I can make a difference”. The facility includes both indoor and outdoor labs, interactive learning opportunities and 35,000 SF of open space. The Living Lab is environmentally sustainable and seamlessly integrated with the natural and cultural environment.
Address: 32°44'24.9"N 117°06'08.9"W Architect: n/a Completed: n/a
The City Heights Canyons Loop Trail is a 5-mile loop linking four urban canyons: Manzanita, Hollywood, Swan and Olivia. The Canyons Loop Trail serves as a linear park for neighborhood residents and youth with better walking and biking routes to school, as a nature classroom, as well as a hiking and jogging route.
Connecting intersecting dirt canyon trails with paved city streets and sidewalks, the trail is an example of how urban developments can coalesce with the natural environment. The project is the result of collaborative effort between community leaders and volunteers, San Diego Canyonlands, and the City of San Diego. Along the trails you will see on-going restoration efforts in process, removing non-native vegetation and replanting with native species. Winner of 2018 Orchid Award.
View the City Heights Canyons Loop Trail map here
Note: The Manzanita Canyon Trail connects Ocean Discovery Institute with Azalea Park, essentially running parallel to the Pop Art Walk. Enter the Manzanita Canyon Trail from the trailhead adjacent to the Ocean Discovery Institute, accessible from the sidewalk on Thorn Street. Exit at the stairs to Azalea Park, you will be at the northwest portion of the park. Street parking at Manzanita Street/Manzanita Place, or park at Azalea Park and enter the trail from the stairs.
Address: Poplar Street & Violet Street Architect: n/a Completed: 2010
Azalea Park Water Conservation Garden
Start at the Water Conservation Garden (the highest point in the park). Go to the automotive panel totem in the far corner, then exit the park into the alley leading away from the park (towards Pepper Drive). Peruse the murals, the turn around and walk back through the park and make a right on Poplar Street. This street, lined with 100 street trees planted by volunteers in the 90s, is lined with public art including murals, mosaic benches and trash cans. The mosaics were installed by a team of volunteers led by local artist Vicki Leon. Look closely to see themes emerging, such as references to the canyons and canyon life surrounding Azalea Park.
Artist Vicki Leon’s studio and Mosaic Workshop is located at 4125 Poplar Street. A team of local mosaic artists is currently at work on 24, Four Elements mosaics that will be installed at Ocean Discovery Institute rooftop planters.
At the intersection of Poplar and Fairmount is the Azalea Park identification sign. Entitled “Art’s Popping Up,” the sign is comprised of intricate mosaics assembled by a team of community volunteers meeting weekly for two years. Each floating frame contains art made by individual community members. At night, the sign lights up with the reflective glow of green LED lights, welcoming its residents home. Learn more about the creation and meaning of the sign here.
From Poplar Street, walk down Glenfield Street to Manzanita Place. At the end of this street is the Manzanita Gathering Place. Overlooking the Ocean Discovery Institute and the entrance to Manzanita Canyon, this quiet respite features a series of mosaic sculptures.
Address: 3110 Euclid Avenue Architect: n/a Completed: n/a
Family-owned and operated since 1972, City Farmers Nursery is “a little bit of country in the heart of the city”. The nursery offers a wide range of plants, fruit trees, seeds, soils, animal feeds, and bee-keeping supplies.
Part working farm, visitors can meet the goats Olive and Pickle, along with a small menagerie of other farm animals and a pond full of turtles. Explore the nursery’s 1.5 acres to visit the animals, see the bonsai, shop for succulents, or get expert advice on how to grow fruits and vegetables in an environmentally sustainable way.
Nestled within the City Farmer’s Nursery property is Nate’s Garden Grill, with a rustic outdoor patio and a menu featuring organic produce, free-range chicken and eggs, and home-made biscuits.
Address: 3864 52nd Street Architect: n/a Completed: 1982
The beautiful colors, shapes and rooflines of the temple are visible from the surrounding neighborhood and from University Avenue. It is believed that surrounding the temples with protection such as angels, guardians, warriors, lions, and dragons keeps away the evil. The temple buzzes on weekends with a small adjacent market selling produce and treats like Noum Kong (Cambodian donuts). Visitors intimately celebrate special occasions while monks and others prepare light meals within the temple.
For Diego Velasco, the man behind the local planning and design firm Citythinkers, purpose can be found at the point where design, urban planning and affordability converge. With OH’s focus on equity and inclusion this year, Velasco felt all the more inspired to become a first-time sponsor. Here’s a look at his company, its work and values, and why Open House sponsorship made sense right now. Read More.
El Cajon Boulevard Associations
Formed in 1988, The Boulevard is one of the 17 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) of San Diego. Its scope extends from Park Boulevard east to just beyond 54th Street along and one block north and south of El Cajon Boulevard, one of San Diego’s major commercial corridors. The Boulevard BIA regards socio-economic progress as one of its primary goals, benefitting local businesses and the communities they serve.
Thank You to Our Sponsors