Even before the 9/11 tragedies, there were plenty of Obeceans who knew that patriotism was consistent with the community’s laid-back, do-your-own-thing ethic. In 1997, they decided it was high time to do something big.
An idea to honor those who have served our country in the armed forces took hold and, with the help of the since-vacated Ocean Beach Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association (OBMA) and others, the idea came to fruition.
In a nutshell, that’s how the Veterans Plaza at the corner of Abbott Street and Newport Avenue — with two its flagpoles, 6 ½-foot-high piece of granite rock and adorning plaque, and dozens of inscriptions engraved onto a brand-new, concrete sidewalk — came to be, organizers said. Ocean Beach was ahead of the curve.
But the pride resulting from the nobility of a high-minded community effort quickly began to erode, remembers Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association.
For one, the new sidewalk was supposed to be stained with bright, vibrant colors, Knox said.
“And right away, they washed out. And they were blotchy,” she said.
Later, some coloring and improvements on the adjacent asphalt were paved over and forgotten after a road repair, she said.
But the most serious problems had to do with the memorials on the sidewalk. Circles of various sizes had been engraved on the new concrete, and the public could honor a loved one with an inscription inside the circles for a few hundred dollars.
Sandblasting the concrete proved to be tricky business, and, over time, the concrete lost its ability to sustain the stress of the engraving process, Knox said. When the first mistake occurred, an effort to correct it pretty much wiped out what funds had been set aside for maintenance.
“We tried so hard to tackle it, but it really was a bad design,” Knox said.
Salt air, sand and foot traffic also took their toll, eroding the engravings and rendering many of them difficult, if not impossible, to read. The majority of the circles remain empty, and no one has purchased an inscription since August 2008, Knox said.
Over the years, contractors have assessed the damage, but all have come to the same conclusion: start over. “They all left scratching their heads. They all said it needed a complete re-do,” Knox said.
A coalition of community groups, headed by the Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation (OBCDC), has united to do just that. The second of two public forums to discuss design features and generate ideas has been scheduled for April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge, 1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
The effort got a big boost a few months ago with a $20,000 grant from the county’s neighborhood reinvestment program through an application supported by the office of District 4 County Supervisor Ron Roberts. The money should pay for the design phase and the architectural firm KTU+A has been retained for that purpose, said Tom Perotti, OBCDC president. KTU+A has worked on the OBCDC’s other big project, the Ocean Beach Entryway at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and West Point Loma Boulevard.
All the major community groups have voiced strong support in the effort, and even Mayor Bob Filner has expressed interest, Perotti said.
“The current plaza is in such disrepair, it doesn’t really honor the names of the veterans that are on the sidewalk,” Perotti said. “It’s past due. It’s time to show respect to the veterans and to define the space once again in a renewed effort.”
A five-member committee has been appointed to lead the effort, headed by Tom Grosch, who also serves on the Ocean Beach Town Council’s board of directors. Grosch said he’s pleased with the progress so far and the quality of the feedback from the first forum in February and dozens of surveys submitted by citizens at the forum and online.
Grosch said KTU+A will present two alternatives based on that feedback during the April 30 workshop. The alternatives haven't been released yet, but they are said to represent a philosophical debate between those who think the sentiments behind the memorial should be expressed artistically, and those who prefer a more formal approach.
“They both meet the criteria we’ve developed, but in different ways,” Grosch said. “From those two, take a look and see what works best from both, and then combine them into a final design.”
Some design concepts have emerged that nearly everyone agrees on, Grosch said: the memorial should be moved north to the grassy area adjacent to the Ocean Beach; and a crosswalk needs to be installed at Newport Avenue and Abbott Street.
“Setting out, there was the obvious criteria — the memorial is worn down and something more sustainable and long-term had to be constructed. That was the main thing,” Grosch said. “Then you have to keep in mind that it’s a major (area) in Ocean Beach, and it has to match the community vibe.”
Still to be determined is how the worn-out sidewalk inscriptions will be represented in the final design, Grosch said. “We’ll be doing everything we can to incorporate those medallions. They won’t stay where they are.”
Several years ago, as the engravings were becoming less legible, the OBMA took photos of the memorials and wrote them all down. “We think we have all of that documented,” Knox said. After the workshop, the OBCDC and KTU+A will work on a draft final design that can be presented to community groups for more feedback, Grosch said.
WHAT: Public forum on how to save Veterans Plaza at Newport Avenue & Abbott Street
WHEN: Tuesday, April 30, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Point Loma Masonic Lodge, 1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
WHO: Anyone interested in restoring the declining plaza. Hosted by Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation
More information is available at www.obcdc.org and firstname.lastname@example.org