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Powerhouse Community Center turns 10

DEL MAR — Once a functioning powerhouse that supplied heat and hot water for a nearby hotel, Del Mar’s Powerhouse Community Center celebrated the 10th anniversary of its restoration Dec. 4 with champagne, balloons and a cake decorated with a current photo of the upgraded structure.
The facility, built in 1928, remained in use until the hotel it serviced was sold in bankruptcy proceedings. In 1958 a new owner turned it into The Powerhouse Roaring ’20s, a nightclub complete with waitresses dressed as flappers and waiters and bartenders in derbies and vests.
But on more than one occasion, overzealous patron behavior resulted in visits from local law enforcement and the establishment was denied its permit to hold dances. The nightclub closed in 1962.
Three years later the powerhouse was rented by Universal Water Corporation as a testing facility for desalination. The city purchased the facility and surrounding park in 1983, and a 17-year effort to restore the site began.
Barbara Harper and a group of citizens formed the Powerhouse Restoration Committee, now known as Friends of the Powerhouse, to renovate the building for use as a community center. The group sold bricks and hosted a Valentine’s Day dance to raise money. More than $450,000 was donated before the grand opening.
Diana Firestone, a part-time Del Mar resident, was walking by the Powerhouse recently and noticed the sign advertising the anniversary celebration. She immediately called Marcus Swed, a good friend and one of the architects who worked on the renovation.
Swed, who was on hand for the event, said the most challenging aspect of the project was the curved walkway. “The original design was completely different,” he said. Because it’s a waterfront facility, the architects decided to make the entry look more fluid to evoke the feeling of waves.
“That was tough, with all the grades, trying to get it to work right,” Swed said. So why go through all that work to redo a design? “Because it looks better,” he said.