By Delle Willett
After a 12-month hiatus, the rehabilitation and restoration of historic Horton Plaza is back underway, with a budget of $17,677,382 and an opening planned for late fall 2015.
The restoration plan includes a revival of the existing 20,000-square-foot park and the creation of a new, approximately 37,000-square-foot public plaza in place of the former Robinsons-May building.
All combined, the new Horton Plaza Park will cover 57,000 square feet and will become a hub for outdoor public civic and cultural events in the heart of Downtown San Diego.
Originally named for Alonzo Erastus Horton — one of Downtown San Diego’s early developers — the park is expected to be an economic catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood, with a transformational effect on Downtown.
The park dates back to 1910, when Irving Gill, one of San Diego’s most prominent and innovative architects, completed his design of the Horton Plaza Park and fountain. After years of misuse, mismanagement and disrepair, the park fell from grace, but it returned to the spotlight in 1985 with the construction of Horton Plaza shopping center.
At that time, the historic park was also renovated to replace the grass and benches with shrubbery in an effort to deter loitering. In 2008, water conservation efforts led to the fountain shutting down with a fence erected around it.
Because the site has historical significance the rehabilitation will return the area to grass, reintroduce the iconic early 20th-century lighting, and reincarnate the park’s centerpiece — the now out-of-use fountain — that may not even operate because of the drought situation.
The new pavers will closely match the original terra cotta colors that Irving Gill used in 1910, and even the decorative lighting built into the fountain will be brought back to life.
Restoration of the fountain, the first art object in the city collection, was awarded to Echo Pacific Construction, who in turn, subcontracted the project to Spectra Co. of Pomona, California.
Founded in 1985, Spectra’s core focus is restoration, preservation and conservation of the country’s most cherished architectural, historical and cultural landmarks, utilizing environmentally safe products in all its preservation and restoration practices. Some of their clients include The Gamble House, Pasadena; Hoover Dam in Nevada; the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles; and the Catalina Casino, Catalina Island.
“The Horton Plaza Fountain is a true historical gem and an important artistic and cultural monument for downtown San Diego,” said Troy Parry, Spectra’s project manager.
“It’s an honor and a privilege for us to be entrusted with this project, and as is the case with all of our work, we are approaching [it] with the utmost care,” he continued. “Our team of talented artisans will spend the next several months bringing the fountain back to its original glory. When we finish the work, it will once again be a piece of history that everyone in San Diego will be proud of and people will want to visit.”
With a budget of $450,000, Spectra will be doing some of the work at their Pomona plant and some on site at the plaza.
Tasks performed at their plant include everything bronze (dome latticework, column capitals, filigree border and plaques); copper (cupola, ribs at lower dome); ferrous metals (bell/guideposts, stanchions and chains); prismatic glass; and moveable objects.
Projects conducted on site include everything granite, marble and concrete, and will also include the following detailed list of line items: remove bird excrement, dried wasp nests, brown and black stains, biological growth, sulfacation and grime; carefully remove unsound and loose mortar, fill gaps with mortar tinted to match the color of the adjacent granite and marble; clean the surface and preserve as much of the stable patina as possible; chemically passivate areas with “bronze disease”; replicate and replace any missing elements to match historic features; repatinate bronze elements to further passivate any exposed bare metal; match all replicated glass to historic glass in size, finish and color; and chemically remove lead-based paint.
The restoration and rehabilitation of the park is a result of a complex public-private partnership negotiated by Civic San Diego, working on behalf of the former Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Diego, and Westfield Horton Plaza. It is consistent with goals within the adopted 2006 Downtown Community Plan, which guides the development of the urban parks, open spaces and historical resources in the Downtown area.
—Delle Willett has a 30-year history of designing, writing, and marketing. She is currently PR advisor to the American Society of Landscape Architects, San Diego chapter. She would love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.