By Jessica Hudgins
University Heights will be the site of a trio of community events on Sept. 12 from noon to 5 p.m.
The Taste of University Heights and the University Heights Arts Open will run concurrently in the neighborhood tucked between Hillcrest and North Park. Local officials will also mark the 100th birthday of the 1910 State Normal School Training Building with comments in front of the structure, located at the Eugene Brucker Education Center, 4100 Normal St.
The Taste of University Heights will feature 17 restaurants and cafés. Each will showcase its culinary specialty, which will be available for sampling with the purchase of a $15 early-bird ticket ($20 the day of the event). The Arts Open, a free event, will spotlight local art studios and artists.
“It’s a big boost to the restaurants and the art community,” said Ernie Bonn, treasurer of the University Heights Community Development Corporation. “A lot of people from outside University Heights come to the event to become familiar with the community and the restaurants, and then hopefully they will come back later.”
Ray Thomas, manager of Eclipse Chocolat, 2121 El Cajon Boulevard, said he is excited about showing off the shop’s expertise in what he calls “chocolateering.”
“We’re different than any other chocolate producer,” he said. “It’s more rustic and has far more attention to detail.”
Founded by sculptor William Gustwiller, Eclipse Chocolat combines dark chocolate with exotic herbs and spices to create its distinctive truffle infusions. Using high-quality chocolates, all-natural ingredients and organic spices, Gustwiller produces unusual flavors in his chocolate bars, chocolate rococo and other confections. But Eclipse Chocolat is more than just a chocolate factory—it’s a full-service café.
“Our company is very small, and a lot of people don’t know about the café itself,” Thomas said. “So [the Taste of University Heights] will increase our businesses as a sit-down café.”
Another eatery participating in the Taste is Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano. Located at 4207 Park Boulevard, the pizza parlor’s owner, Peter Lutz, says his shop isn’t just another pizza joint.
“We’re a totally different kind of pizza place, and nobody knows we’re here so we’re really excited about it,” he said.
Lutz, who opened Pizzeria Bruno less than a year ago, is dedicated to making traditional Napoletana pizza—a craft that originated in Naples, Italy, more than 200 years ago. He said various types of pizza slices will be served to visitors during the Taste.
Local favorites are also participating, such as 15-year neighborhood veteran Twiggs Bakery and Coffeehouse, 4590 Park Boulevard. For owner Dan Stringfield, the event is not about increasing his customer base.
“We’re pretty well known in the neighborhood, so for us it’s just a nice thing to be a part of because it’s fun for the entire community,” Stringfield said.
With a second location at 2804 Adams Ave., Twiggs is known for its baked goods and comfortable casual atmosphere. Ticketholders can expect mini cupcakes and cookies as their “tastes” at Twiggs.
Organizers hope combining the Taste of University Heights with the University Heights Arts Open will bring all aspects of the neighborhood together.
“Teaming up with the Taste of University Heights really opened up the arts community to another audience that otherwise wouldn’t have come to the Arts Open,” said Judy Riffle of the University Heights Arts Association.
Riffle said she hopes the event will put University Heights on the map as an arts area.
“There’s a whole bunch of artists living here, but a lot of people just don’t know where University Heights is,” she said.
The Arts Open will allow participants to go on a self-guided tour of open studios and galleries, and includes an ARTwalk on the lawn in front of the Brucker Center and live music and dance performances at the Swedenborgian Church, 4144 Campus Ave. More than a hundred San Diego artists from all disciplines will exhibit their work throughout the neighborhood.
One of the participating galleries is MUNDO Gallery, 4212 Florida St. MUNDO Gallery houses the work of artist Mario Torero, who created many of the Chicano Park murals.
“Art is the true mechanism to evolve the community. And these geniuses, like Mario Torero, are right here in University Heights,” said Fernando Vossa, the gallery’s spokesman.
Vossa’s work is also on display at MUNDO. He said he is pleased that the Arts Open is shining light on how art can benefit the community.
“It is increasingly important to have pride in your neighborhood and be part of the art movement in San Diego,” Vossa said. “In order to attract new visitors and encourage development, we need the arts. You can’t go around that anymore. Otherwise we get neighborhoods that quickly become suburbia where every neighborhood looks like every other neighborhood.”
To commemorate the neighborhood’s history, several public officials will speak in front of the Teachers Annex Building from 3 to 4 p.m. Scheduled speakers include District 3 City Councilmember Todd Gloria, San Diego Schools Superintendent Bill Kowba and San Diego Schools Board President Richard Barrera.
The building served as the training facility for the State Normal School—the forerunner to San Diego State University. Bonn said she hopes the celebration will bring attention to the community’s effort to keep the building useful.
“Right now it’s only being used as a storage building for the records of the school system,” she said. “We want to bring it back and adapt it as a new library for the community.”
Tickets for the Taste of University Heights can be purchased at the UHCDC office by calling 297-3166. They will also be available at the Art/Fusion Reception, a free event kicking off the weekend on Friday, Sept. 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Swedenborg Hall. On the day of the event, tickets will be sold at the ARTwalk. For a lineup of participating artists and restaurants, go to uharts.org.