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A Significant Win For the OPHQ

As most of you know by now the preservation battle to save the Old Police HQ has gone on for sometime. The HQ has been on SOHO's Most Endangered list for the last five years. On the 3rd of December at a heavily attended Port Commission meeting we finally were given a significant win. Now, this does not mean its over by any stretch, but we crossed a threshold many thought was impossible. Let me describe that day. The Commission Chamber at the Port District building on Pacific Highway was packed. The overflow seating area outside the Chamber was packed and there were people lined down the hall. The testimony was a constant flow of positive, intelligent, professional and inspired orations calling for preservation. (There were a few not so supportive of retention but nothing too jarring or hostile). The Commissioners in attendance were respectful and listened to each and every person.

Following the close of testimony, the Port began to deliberate. They were to consider the staff recommendation which was as follows: "Board grant approval of preliminary concept for development footprint for the Central Park and retention of the old Police HQ at a cost not exceed $3.8 million; and direct staff to proceed with environmental review process." What was not part of that brief staff recommendation was the intent between the lines. The small print read retention, however, with the exception of the garage (and other adjacencies not disclosed) and that this recommendation was a result of the public meetings held over the past few months. For many of you who came to those public meetings, you remember that the response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the entire complex, and thereby ensuring its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and the park or green space could be worked around it.

The deliberations ranged from; Chairman Cushman noting that this was the most testimony on any issue the Port has dealt with (in his memory), the HQ in its current condition is an eyesore and we need to do something quickly, the Port needs to build the Park, and that the HQ should stay on the National Register as part of San Diego's police history. The vote was 5-0 in favor of allocating money to clean it up, remediate environmental concerns, begin Phase One of the Park and to accelerate the RFP (request for proposals) for the development of the areas encompassing Seaport Village, Chesapeake Fish Market and the OPHQ. We all left the building rather walking on air. For the first time in five years the OPHQ had its hearing, even though, clearly, the emphasis and priority of the Port is the construction of their Central Park. Here is an excerpt of my testimony on that day:

The 1938 Police Headquarters for the City of San Diego qualified to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places for three reasons: It's association with the sweeping post depression programs, the WPA and PWA; its service as the 'Central' police facility for a half century; and as an excellent example of Spanish Colonial institutional architecture. Its very presence, along with its sister icon, the County Administration Center, defines the character of San Diego during that period.

The HQ was heralded nationally as a progressive institutional complex of interconnected buildings presented in five volume units; The Administration area, The Court, the Jail cells, the Assembly/Gymnasium and the Garage. The units each depart one from another in architectural detail and style, as well as function, but they masterfully circulate within as a singular facility creating a highly distinct complex.

The Staff recommendation that is guiding you today is flawed for several reasons; The recommendation is not a result of what happened in all of the public workshops, it reflects the preferences of an imbalanced special interest stakeholders group and does not reflect the meetings involving the general public that overwhelmingly preferred complete retention of the building.

As I said before, this is not over. Interested developers are split in their willingness to preserve the HQ and to what extent. Preservation and/or retention is not carving up this landmark. The process of the RFP and the ultimate selection of a team of developers will hold our attention, and until this is finished, and open for business, we promised the Port, "We are not going away."

Editor's Note: Vonn Marie May authored the National Register Nomination for the Old Police HQ.

2003 - Volume 34, Issue 1

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