By Ken Williams | Editor
Hillcrest’s favorite celebration spot could find new purpose
Normal Street, located on the east side of Hillcrest, could be getting a major face-lift in the near future if an upcoming four-day event proves to be successful.
“Re-imagine Normal Street” is the brainchild of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) as a way of breathing new life into this area of the community.
“Normal Street has a history of civic gatherings through the events — Nightmare on Normal Street, San Diego Pride, the Hillcrest Farmers Market — that occur there,” said Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the HBA.
“Since the Pride flag and monument were installed, it has become a gathering space to celebrate the successes in the community.”
But outside of the two big civic events celebrating Halloween and Pride, as well as the weekly farmers market on Sundays, Normal Street remains a woefully underused asset in the community. But the HBA this year has met with various community stakeholders and together they have imagined new purposes for Normal Street.
“We would love to create a modern urban space on Normal Street,” Nicholls said. “‘Re-Imagine Normal Street’ will showcase what that space could be. We envision a multi-use space that can be re-configured based on what the community needs it to be. We want people to come and experience a park space, an event space, and a complete street with a variety of transportation options.”
Megan Gamwell, marketing and communications program manager for the HBA, said organizers will be reimagining Normal Street with four days of free fun starting Thursday, May 12, and ending on Sunday, May 15.
“We will be transforming Normal Street into a car-free public space and opening up the street to pedestrians and cyclists,” she said.
A list of the events
“Re-imagine Normal Street” events will be:
- Thursday, May 12, from 6 — 10 p.m., “Pechakucha Night,” where planners and creative folks will share their ideas in 20 images for 20 seconds each.
- Friday, May 13, from 6 — 11 p.m., the family-focused “Bike-In Movie,” featuring the Steven Spielberg blockbuster classic, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
- Saturday, May 14, has two activities. The world’s largest gay-owned brewery, Hillcrest Brewing Company located along Normal Street, will present the Hillcrest Craft Beer Crawl from 2 — 6 p.m. That will be followed by a free outdoor concert from 6 — 10 p.m., sponsored by The Merrow.
- Sunday, May 15, from 9 a.m. — 2 p.m., weekly Hillcrest Farmers Market.
Incidentally, a free valet service will be available all four days.
Organizers predict that “Re-imagine Normal Street” will be a hit with the public, and the event could be a harbinger of something to come in the future.
“Once we showcase what Normal Street could be, we’ll work with our friends in government — SANDAG and the city — to create the multi-use street on Normal,” Nicholls said.
A little history
Normal Street is a broad, four-lane road with a median that stretches three blocks between major east-west thoroughfares University Avenue and Washington Street. Cross streets are Polk and Lincoln avenues, and Harvey Milk Way, which leads to the San Diego LGBT Community Center on Front Street.
Way back in 1890, San Diego Cable Railway Co. opened a 4.7-mile cable car line up Fourth Avenue, along University Avenue, and then north on Normal Street and Park Boulevard to Adams Avenue, according to HillQuest Urban Guide. A year later, the cable car company went bankrupt, one of the owners vanished with $200,000 in his possession, and the other businessman killed himself as authorities closed in.
In 1983, San Diego Pride started using Normal Street as the staging area for the annual Pride Parade in mid-July that winds down University Avenue to Sixth Avenue and onward to Balboa Park, where organizers stage a two-day Music Festival. The Pride Parade and accompanying Festival comprise the largest civic event in San Diego, drawing hundreds of thousands of people every year.
Since the 1990s, Nightmare on Normal Street has grown into a huge street party for adults to celebrate Halloween.
In 2012, the Hillcrest Pride flag was erected at the intersection of Normal Street and University Avenue, and the monument followed months later. This location quickly become a gathering spot for the local LGBT community to celebrate or protest.
Also in 2012, San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Rally — which begin in July 1975 in Balboa Park — was held on a closed-off Normal Street in front of the Pride flag. The rally continued in that location in 2013 and 2014, but in 2015 moved back to its traditional location in Balboa Park over concerns that there wasn’t enough free space to accommodate the folks who only wanted to attend the Spirit of Stonewall event and not the block party that charges admission, said Fernando Lopez Jr., director of operations for San Diego Pride.
Sponsors of “Re-imagine Normal Street” include Fabulous Hillcrest, Hillcrest Brewing Company, San Diego Architectural Foundation, SANDAG, iCommute, GObyBike and the Hillcrest Town Council.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.