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University Heights mural needs a new home

By Katherine Hon | Past Matters

If you shop at Sprouts or use the University Heights Library, located at 4193 Park Blvd., you may have noticed the engaging mural that stretches across the south wall of the library building.

The mural was installed Sept. 29, 2009. It is 4 feet high by 80 feet long, and is made up of 10 panels painted on Alumalite, a lightweight corrugated aluminum panel typically used for building construction.

The artist who created the mural is Linda Churchill, who also painted the Ace Hardware scene at 10th and University avenues in Hillcrest. She has created permanent work in Long Beach, Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas and Omaha, as well as other locations in San Diego.

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The mural at University Heights Library has been removed and stored, awaiting a new home. (Photo by Google Earth)

Churchill looked at hundreds of photographs and drawings before proposing the images for the library mural, which is meant to convey neighborhood history and prompt questions about the scenes and people depicted. The mural project was primarily commissioned by the University Heights Community Development Corporation (UHCDC) in collaboration with the University Heights Historical Society (UHHS) and Friends of the University Heights Library.

From left to right, the 20 images on the mural are:

1) Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard.

2) Piggly Wiggly Market in the shopping complex at the corner of Park and El Cajon boulevards, from 1936 to the 1950s.

3) Water Tower built in 1924 and now on the National Register of Historic Places.

4) University Heights Library, 1926 to 1966, built in the Spanish/Mission Revival style.

5) Georgia Street Bridge built of redwood in 1907, which was replaced in 1914 by the concrete arch bridge currently being restored.

6) State Normal School (teachers college) building, which opened in 1899 and was demolished in the 1950s, and the still-standing Teachers Training Annex Building.

7) Buster the dog, a University Heights mascot.

8) Vermont Street Bridge that spanned Washington Street from 1916 to 1979.

9) John Gierhart, who was a local resident, history buff and participant in Civil War reenactments.

10) Ernestine Bonn, a long-time community advocate and UHHS member depicted riding an ostrich, which she surely would have done if she had been born early enough.

11) Mystic Lake, a never implemented feature on the 1888 subdivision map for University Heights.

12) Ray Price, who was a history-loving University Heights resident.

13) University Heights trolley car.

14) John D. Spreckels, who owned the San Diego Electric Railway trolley system and the Mission Cliff Gardens, a prime attraction conveniently accessible by his trolley.

15) Mission Cliff Gardens, known for its beautiful walkways lined by cobblestone walls and lush flowers and trees.

16) John Davidson, who designed and supervised the installation of the Mission Cliff Gardens.

17) Harvey Bentley, who owned the ostrich farm next to Mission Cliff Gardens.

18) Bentley Ostrich Farm, where visitors could ride the big birds and buy feather plumes and ostrich eggs.

19) Sally Rand, the famous exotic dancer who was said to have purchased ostrich plumes for her feather fans at the Bentley Ostrich Farm.

20) Trolley Barn, a large red brick building constructed in 1913 to house trolleys, demolished in 1979, and now the site of Trolley Barn Park at Adams Avenue and Florida Street.

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The artist’s rendering of the mural (Courtesy of Linda Churchill)

The $10,000 cost of the mural was funded by private donations from University Heights residents and neighborhood groups through the fundraising efforts of the UHCDC. The mural received a Community History Award from the City Historical Resources Board in 2009 presented to the UHCDC, Friends of the University Heights Library, and muralist Linda Churchill.

The mural was designed to be portable so it could be moved when the planned joint-use library finally is developed in the Teachers Training Annex building on Normal Street. But moving day happened sooner than expected. The planned home of a joint-use library on the San Diego Unified School District Education Center campus at 4100 Normal St. is still just a dream, although the school district has recognized the Teachers Training Annex in its master plan as a community resource. The library building on Park Boulevard has been painted in advance of its 50th anniversary, causing the mural to be removed and replaced by a new library sign.

The city’s Commission on Arts and Culture did not support keeping the mural as public art, so the UHCDC is storing it and seeking donations for its restoration and placement on private property. The UHCDC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located at 4452 Park Blvd. If enough money is raised, the mural eventually may be located on the north side of this three-story office building.

If you are interested in this project to preserve a charming piece of art that speaks to and of the University Heights community, contact Ernestine Bonn at uhcdc@netzero.net or 619-297-3166.

—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at info@northparkhistory.org or 619-294-8990.

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