“It is not often that one has the chance to spark profound change in a community. It takes vision, courage, and a willingness to believe in the commitment of others. It also takes a bit of luck that the conditions will be present that would support the change.”So began the written proposal submitted last year to the Encinitas Union School District by the Envision the View Coalition, a group of Encinitas residents committed to transforming the site of the decaying Pacific View Elementary School into a dynamic community-based center for arts and culture.
The Pacific View property, which was gifted to the City of Encinitas in 1883 by John Pitcher, has been the subject of hot debate during the past several years. Located on 2.8 acres only one block from the coastal bluff and two blocks from the thriving businesses along South Coast Highway 101, the property is home to the historic one-room schoolhouse built in 1883, as well as the 1953 Pacific View Elementary School. The more recent structure has fallen into increasing disrepair since closing its doors a decade ago, but many interested parties have seen beyond its current eroding exterior to its extraordinary potential.
The property has been the target of developers and various groups, each with their own vision of highest and best use of the prime coastal property. Considering its accessible location, individuals and organizations have envisioned the property becoming the site of a center for arts and culture.
Few would disagree that, given the concentration of artists and arts organizations in Encinitas, the site would be an outstanding location for an arts center. Jim Gilliam, arts administrator for the City of Encinitas states, “For a city of 60,000 residents the size of the arts community is staggering.” Confirmed by results of the 2011 study conducted by the San Diego Foundation, Encinitas has the second highest concentration of artists in all of San Diego County.
Gilliam states, “Encinitas has all the elements for success in the arts: a diverse and talented community of artists and arts organizations, educated and arts-interested residents, strong support from city and county government, and a city rich in natural resources and beauty. What we don’t have is a central gathering space that brings these resources together. A Center for the Arts It is the one missing component in what could be a great arts city. I believe Encinitas is on the cusp of redefining itself as one of the most exciting cities in San Diego and beyond.”
The public desire for an arts center in Encinitas became clearly evident during last year’s extensive community-igniting debate. Although the issue died last December due to a series of flukes, a glimmer of hope reemerged earlier this year when City Council agreed to consider purchasing the property.
However, the dream will not materialize without significant involvement of the community. Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer stated in her recent newsletter: “It’s not enough to want an arts center. If we are going to commit to the purchase, we need a group of people who can put together a plan that demonstrates a clear public benefit to justify a public investment, a plan that shows long-term viability, a plan that the broad community will support.”
Mayor Teresa Barth, who has since its inception supported the concept of an arts center at Pacific View, explains her perspective: “…The council has been working on a Strategic Plan. Through that process we identified a number of Focus Areas and Key Goals. One of the Focus Areas is Arts & Culture. During our discussions we all recognized the importance the arts play in creating and maintaining our quality of life.
“We also identified three goals that I believe strongly support the purchase of the Pacific View School site, including Improve historic preservation through appropriate reuse strategies and economic uses; Expand arts and performance venues that provide more diverse opportunities; and Partner with groups to expand and leverage opportunities to grow the arts and culture venues.”
Mayor Barth emphasizes that the greatest challenge will be identifying funding for the purchase, operation and maintenance for such a venue. She adds, “I have heard numerous exciting ideas from the community and believe we can find a solution that benefits both the school district and the community.”
Danny Salzhandler, altruistic president of the 101 Artists Colony and integral part of the Envision the View Coalition, says of the Pacific View property, “…The old school house, the 1950’s school and a modern addition would show the City’s dedication to education and preservation for the community.”
Committed supporters of the arts center vision Sarah Garfield and Bill Sparks stated, “During the past ten years there have been pivotal moments when the community came forward and publicly voiced their support for the preservation of [Pacific View]. We are at another critical juncture.”
This “critical juncture” is an opportunity for the community to work together in the acquisition and development of the Pacific View property while maintaining the integrity of the gift made by John Pitcher in 1883. Please consider contributing time, energy, ideas, and funds to help make the dream a reality.
For more information on joining the collaborative effort to create a center for arts and culture at Pacific View contact Danny Salzhandler at [email protected], or contact members of Encinitas City Council to offer your support.
Kay Colvin is director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, serves as an arts commissioner for the City of Encinitas, and specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists. Contact her at [email protected].