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A Most Appalling Display

By Sandé Lollis

On Saturday, April 15, I was a witness to the demolition of the Hotel San Diego. As a photographer I wanted just one more photo of her while she still stood, just one more photo of her whole. And yes, I even wanted a photo as she fell, which represented how so much of our culture and society has fallen. It is said that pride goeth before the fall. What a shame that this icon of San Diego paid the price for the pride of the Federal judges who will soon occupy the space that she did for over a hundred years. As a citizen of San Diego I wanted to pay homage to her history, her life, much as I sit quietly during the hospice of my grandmother. At 90, my grandmother still has a lot to say, in fact more now than ever.

Hotel San Diego, 2004

I was a witness to even more than I had gone for. I was struck by the flippant mood of the crowd that was gathered, undaunted by the many blocks they had walked to be there waiting on Broadway under a rainy sky. Spirits were high as groups posed for photos with the hotel in the background, children laughed and shouted, "Boom!" to frighten unsuspecting friends, followed by more laughter. I was asked, "...not to sound stupid, but which building are they going to blow up?"

Holding my tongue, I replied, "The beautiful white one there, sir, the one with all the windows missing."

Minute by minute passed slowly and periodically a call would rise up, "Ten more minutes...five more minutes..." My camera sat perched atop the tripod, waiting for the blow.

At 8:05am there was an explosion, thunderous and deep, followed by more. I shuddered with the sound of each boom that seemed to rise up from the ground and hit me like a shot from the gun of an assassin. Seconds later as the dust rose I cried, my heart heavy with grief. Simultaneously there arose from the crowd the sounds of cheering and clapping. It was a slap in the face. What did it mean? What were they cheering for? I was appalled.

I have been a witness to bullfights in Spain and have heard this same reaction as the bull dies and is dragged unceremoniously away. It is a vile and primitive demonstration of callous disregard for the vigor and continuety of life, in whatever form it takes, as, in the case here and now, of the Hotel San Diego.

In search of understanding them I believe I can see the broader picture of our society: Tear it up, knock it down, the next one will be bigger, and bigger is better, disposable everything, nothing lasts, kill it, take away the meaning from everything, fill it up with triviality and hunger for more, and all the while sick with a yearning to be truly filled, truly satisfied, and to know a true sense of belonging.

What remained, April 17, 2006

Make no mistake about it, what happened that Saturday morning was the execution of an innocent and viable piece of our history. What will stand in her place will be a vulgar tombstone.

Let us remain strong in our preservation efforts. Let us hold dear and protect our traditions, heritage, and rituals and symbols of daily life. This must include our built environment. Our homes and neighborhoods, commercial buildings and churches are time capsuls of who we were and how we arrived at who we are now. If we do not honor what has come before and build up from our past, we will have nothing but rubble beneath our feet.

2006 - Volume 37, Issue 2


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A Call to Action

Hope Springs Eternal

A Cultural Landscape

Economics, Sustainability & Historic Preservation

The Turquoise House

A Most Appalling Display

100 Lost Buildings in San Diego

2006 Most Endangered List

2006 People In Preservation Winners

PIP An Evening of Celebration

Chorus Breviarii at the Adobe Chapel

Ramona's Real Marriage Place Can Now be Your Marriage Place Too
Whaley House Featured in Museum Showcase

Our New Intern

Volunteer & Staff Appreciation

Youth Volunteer Docent Program at SOHO

Letters to SOHO

From One Famous Mansion to Another

Remembering the Overbaugh Mansion

In Memoriam: Pat Schaelchlin


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Would you like your home to be considered for a SOHO Home Tour?

Strength in Numbers

Lost San Diego

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