It's no secret San Diego has the best weather. Each month we ask one of our favorite San Diegans:
What else makes this city great?
Live: City Heights
Work: College Area/City Heights
How Long: 39 years
Where did you grow up?
My dad was a physician in the United States Navy and we traveled around the country quite a bit until my identical twin and I were fourteen. Places we lived included: Detroit (my birth place), Honolulu, Bethesda Hospital where my dad was chief of pathology, Oakland and finally settling in Redlands, CA, where my dad entered private practice. I stayed in Redlands from 1968 to 1974, finishing high school and taking courses in art and architecture at local community colleges.
The Inland Empire was hot and smoggy and as teens we would put together about five dollars in change and hijack one of the neighbors’ VW Bugs and travel to the beach every weekend in summers, usually Corona del Mar and Laguna. All of us made pacts to move from Redlands and end up in beach communities. That’s when I first heard about San Diego and moving there became a goal.
What brought you to San Diego?
I knew I was an artist by the time I was five or six. I also was very enthralled with architecture. After taking courses in architecture that were rather dry and not completely accepting of my weird ideas, I shifted gears and started to study art. Although I was very good at drawing etc., I missed the challenge of design that architecture offered. I have no recollection of who told me about the program in Environmental Design at San Diego State University, but coming down to San Diego to visit the program in the spring of 1973, changed my life.
The Environmental Design program at SDSU was offered through the school of Art. Eugene Ray was the visionary head of that program and had established it in 1969. The program was a perfect fit for someone like me that was an artist with an interest in design. Courses like Environmental Prototypes, Synergetic Environments, The House and its Environment were all laboratories of experimentation in a radical shift in thinking about a holistic approach to design. Although not an accredited architecture program, the freedom of creativity that Professor Ray encouraged led many graduates from the program into a wide variety of professional design practices.
I became one of five young students that would help Eugene Ray build the iconic “Silver Ship” on Nautilus Street in La Jolla. I finished my degree in Environmental Design in 1978.
Besides the weather, why do you continue to call San Diego home?
Right after finishing the “Silver Ship,” I was hired (along with my roommate and building partner Mario Lara), by Ken Kellogg to work on one of Ken’s projects. The experience of building challenging projects and gaining a reputation as a craftsman and problem solver, I began to become friends and builders for a variety of local architects in the early 1980’s, including Ted Smith and Tom Grondona.
I also started my own studio, building furniture in an old ware house on Island Ave. As an early “settler” in the downtown art scene, I was part of a community living and working in the shells of abandoned or derelict buildings and creatively building live/work spaces. Arts communities are built from networks of artists, collectors, museum staff and “players”. As I engaged in the community building process, my networks expanded and I felt early on that San Diego was a great place to work and was (in the 1980’s) relatively affordable for young artists. I was also a sax player for a variety of original bands in San Diego in the 1980’s and early 90’s, and made connections with musicians as well as being a part of what I would call the “creative hive” of San Diego.
Many San Diegens may remember Java Coffee House on 9th and G St. downtown. Douglas Simay had asked me to design and build the space out, when I was then living only blocks away. For many years Java and the galleries on 9th and G became a gathering spot for artists and arts players. Again my community expanded. I met my wife Rocio there twenty-eight years ago.
Building a life as an artist is a hard row to hoe, in any city. Artists can only survive in supportive communities that are collectively built. Although the “arts community” now is extremely diverse and far-flung, I still have a very strong connection to many of the same artists forty years out. I am still developing and forging new arts associates and through my teaching practice in The School of Art + Design at San Diego State, I now have the opportunity to mentor young artists.
San Diego weather may have been my original ideal for moving, but the climate of a creativity community is what has kept me here.