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Horton Plaza park expansion begins
with crash

Robinson's building to make way for 1.3-acre urban park by spring 2014

Written by Roger Showley
11/18/12 - San Diego Union Tribune - Original article

Watch video of history of Horton Plaza park, produced by Westfield Group (click above). Also at minute 12:00 see the KPBS report with video of the symbolic start to demolition.

Horton Plaza park, the center of downtown for nearly 150 years, passed another milestone Thursday as demolition began on one of its modern additions.

As hundreds gathered around the park's historic fountain, a bulldozer pulled down a section of the former Robinson's-May department store facing Broadway.

By spring 2014 the 130,000-square-foot building will be replaced by a 1.3-acre urban park incorporating the old park and fountain.

"It is highly unusual that we have essentially relinquished retail (space)," said Bill Hecht, senior executive vice president of U.S. development of mall owner Westfield Group. "It is the first time in the U.S. and I think globally where we have done this type of transaction."

But he said the result will be a "world-class park" comparable to similar spaces in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., where Horton's redesign team Walker Macy is from.

"This is one of the most special places in San Diego, Horton Plaza park," said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents the downtown area and MCd the groundbreaking. "We had an opportunity to do something better."

Ironically, the Robinson's building originally was to be the centerpiece of Horton Plaza shopping center, developed by Ernest W. Hahn and opened in 1985.

"We called it the 'Cadillac' building," recalled Frank Wolden, a one-time redevelopment planner on the project, who said its original boxy look was souped up to attract shoppers. "What were we thinking?"

In the 1990s as shopping habits changed, Robinson's vacated the location and Planet Hollywood restaurant occupied the building for a few years. Then it, too, departed with no major retailers interested in replacing it.

Meanwhile, Horton Plaza park, set aside by downtown founder Alonzo E. Horton in 1870 to serve guests at his hotel, later replaced by the U.S. Grant Hotel, became a hangout for the homeless, which the city combated by removing grass and benches.

Four years ago, the fountain, designed famed San Diego architect Irving J. Gill, who also redesigned the park in 1910 into its present configuration, ceased functioning and was fenced off.

To solve the Robinson's and park problems, Westfield and the city agreed to demolish that building and create a new $14.6 million urban plaza. Westfield will manage and program the space for 25 years.


Adding to a 50-year time capsule at the Horton Plaza event are Brian Perez in foreground and fellow Burbank Elementary kindergartner Ivan Ramirez. Looking on are Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, left, and City Councilman Kevin Faulconer. - Howard Lipin

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