Businesses, Residents Turn Neighborhood into “Old House Central”
Editor’s note: This story was paid for and provided by the South Park Business Group, producers of the Old House Fair. For more information visit theoldhousefair.com or call 619-233-6679.
Maureen Ceccarelli, owner of Studio Maureen & The Next Door Gallery on Beech Street for the past 25 years, fields phone calls and applications for the Old House Fair, coordinates entertainment, and manages the Historic Home Tour. And that’s only a partial list of her responsibilities.
Working with a dedicated team of volunteers, Ceccarelli has brought passion and consistency to the popular festival that features exhibits, vendors, food, and music on Beech and 30th streets, plus tours of South Park and historic homes. The event will again fill the tree-lined streets next Saturday, June 15th from 10am to 4pm.
So it might surprise you that the Old House Fair, now thriving in its 15th year, almost died.
Started by the South Park Action Council and later managed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), the fair had several directors. Ceccarelli helped with volunteers. But after a few years, attendance declined and fewer businesses signed on.
Her friends told her, “You should do it, Maureen. You already know everything.”
So in 2008, Ceccarelli took on the task of reviving the Old House Fair, at first working on her own. One key to survival was securing sponsors to offset the costs. “Ed Landsberg [Realtor] stepped up as our major sponsor, along with South Bark Dog Wash, Whistle Stop Bar, Thomas Bike Shop and Mac the Inspector,” she recalled. “Without the help of these South Park businesses, it would not have happened.”
Those businesses have continued to support the Old House Fair to this day, with local restaurant (and “Grand Orchid” winner) The Station as the Presenting Sponsor for the past three years. In every measure, the event has grown into a significant annual happening. Next week’s fair features 14 sponsors, 70 exhibitors, and advertisers filling the pages of a 48-page souvenir program and resource guide.
The event has expanded in other ways as well. Festival food vendors and a stage with musical entertainment were added to the mix, giving “more reason for people to hang out and explore the booths,” Maureen said. “We’ve added arts and crafts for kids, pet adoptions, flamenco dancing, gardening demonstrations, and this year the Vintage Row.”
SOHO continues to support it as well, providing restoration and preservation advice in its “Ask The Experts” booth. “We say this is where to come when your contractor’s been dead for 75 years,” Maureen explained. “The SOHO experts and our exhibitors offer special services for the unique needs of older homes.”
Particularly successful is the Historic Home Tour. For a $25 ticket, people visit five beautifully restored Craftsman and Spanish-style homes. Trained docents describe the history and features of highlighted rooms, and all visitors don paper booties to keep floors in good condition. An estimated 750 or more are expected June 15, many from outside the city of San Diego.
“People are surprised to find the cool homes we have in South Park, the variety and the history,” she said. “The fair shows off San Diego’s historic character, which is often overlooked.” Narrated trolley tours are offered hourly ($5 per person), with visits into neighboring Golden Hill and Burlingame. Urban Safaris offers walking tours of South Park in the afternoon.
The Historic Home Tour is spread over a 10-block area. Ticket holders may walk, drive or hop on a free shuttle, then return to Beech Street, with time to browse through the exhibits and enjoy the festive entertainment.
For Ceccarelli, organizing the Historic Home Tour is “the really fun part. I’m always scouting for other homes. And if they say no, you can always ask again.” She relies on her network, such as real estate agents, business owners and friends, to find amenable homeowners, or she simply knocks on the door and says she’s with the Old House Fair.
“I’ve never had a door slammed in my face,” she said. “Some people say yes right away. Others have to think about it.”
Homeowners who say yes are proud of their community. “They believe in restoration and keeping the heritage alive. They’re very generous to let humanity traipse through their homes,” she smiled.
Every year, she tries to do something different. In 2012, the tour featured an Art Deco-style home on Kalmia, overlooking the golf course. This year, a home near South Park’s popular Juniper Street shops is on the tour, as is a quintessential bungalow court community.
Ceccarelli credits good public relations, managed by her co-director, Marsha Smelkinson of the South Park Business Group, for the increased exposure and attendance. “Our home tour price is comparatively low ($25), and we have the fair and the interesting neighborhood of South Park attached to it. There’s something for everybody.”
As for why she stays involved, it comes down to a love of old houses and community. “I love seeing inside people’s homes and learning the stories. I feel like I’m giving back to the community that has supported my business. It’s nice to do something that’s enjoyed by so many.”
The 15th annual Old House Fair is in South Park on Saturday, June 15th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival is free to the public, and tickets for the Historic Home Tour ($25) and the Trolley Tours ($5) may be purchased at 30th & Beech St., or online in advance. For more information, visit the website (www.theoldhousefair.com) or phone 619-233-6679.