By LANA HARRISON | Downtown San Diego Partnership
On the southwest corner of Fifth and G streets in the bustling heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, is a small piece of history.
It’s a utility box, just one among a few in a recently completed project in the Gaslamp Quarter called “Gaslamp Did You Know?”
While the utility box itself isn’t particularly old, its modern wrapped façade chronicles a bit of the intersection’s history from nearly 150 years ago.
In 2019, diners move in and out of the building, ready for a night out in Downtown’s famous entertainment district. In 1874, occupying that corner of the block was a bank. And over the next couple decades, it would house the city library, the police department, and the mayor.
“Gaslamp Did You Know?” is part of an ongoing effort by the Downtown San Diego Partnership to enhance the pedestrian experience in our urban core through visual storytelling.
“Our Clean and Safe program works with each neighborhood to create projects that not only beautify our Downtown streetscapes, but also foster positive and memorable experiences that our unique to that neighborhood,” said Sean Warner, director of Community Enhancement for the Partnership. “We’ve already seen the ‘Gaslamp Did You Know?’ utility boxes spark curiosity and delight in passersby.”
Throughout the past couple of years, the organization partnered with Jason Gould and a network of artists through his North Park-based art studio, Visual, to paint utility boxes in the Columbia District, City Center, and Marina with colors and themes that reflect the Downtown vibe.
The Gaslamp Quarter presented a unique opportunity to highlight the neighborhood’s long and varied history through a collaboration with the Gaslamp Quarter Association (GQA), Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation (GQHA), and a local design studio with an office in the community, A7D Creative Group.
“The GQHF is proud to have partnered on this innovative project that highlights the architecture and people that helped make modern day San Diego,” said Rhiannon Luna, executive director of the GQHA. “The historic images wrapped onto the utility boxes are a great way to engage the public and entice them to learn more by visiting the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation and taking a guided walking tour.”
Using images from the San Diego History Center, so far, five boxes along Broadway and Market Street have received this retro makeover, with another batch slated for installation in 2020 on Fourth and Sixth avenues.
In addition to the box on Fifth and G, casual passersby and curious lay historians can discover Wyatt Earp, a gambling hall operator and prospector from the 19th century, on Fifth and E, or check out the Yuma Building on Fifth and Market. According to GQHA, this building was one of the first brick buildings in Downtown San Diego.
Two other boxes, each with their own fascinating history lessons, are located on Fifth and Broadway, and Fifth and F.
According to Liddell, communications manager for GQA, the idea here is that while visitors, employees, and residents partake in the neighborhood’s many restaurants, bars and shopping options, they can also get a glimpse of how the streets they tread and the buildings they encounter have changed over the years.
“This project not only helps tell the story of the Gaslamp Quarter’s remarkable history, but also enhances the pedestrian experience for those who visit our thriving entertainment district throughout the year,” Liddell said. “We’re thrilled to see people, whether they are visiting the Gaslamp Quarter for the first time or are regular patrons, interacting with these creatively refurbished utility boxes.”
— Lana Harrison was the communications coordinator for the Downtown San Diego Partnership.