San Diego - Historic Murals Threatened - Updated


Last updated 4/28/2016 at 11:35am


In anticipation of the possibility of having a large number of people in attendance at todays Historical Resources Board Hearing beginning at 1pm, the meeting location has been moved to a larger room in the ground floor of the same building. Rather than meeting in the North Terrace Rooms at the second floor of the City Concourse, we will be meeting in the Main Lobby at the ground floor of the City Concourse, 202 C Street. The entrance is essentially just below the entrance to the North Terrace Rooms. There will be signs and staff directing you where to go.

Familiar to generations of San Diegans and visitors the exterior walls of the 1927 California Theatre in downtown San Diego which features three murals, is according to SOHO, under threat of being demolished.

The murals include the well-known Agua Caliente horse racing ad, a 40' x 80' faded yellow "canvas" with a horse and jockey charging toward the viewer alongside the slogan, "Caliente! in Old Mexico." It is not the first time this landmark has caused controversy. In 2011, the HRB staff issued a permit for the mural to be painted over with a beer ad. SOHO led the public outcry and launched a petition that more than 1,000 people signed to get the city to retract the permit, which it promptly did. (The beer company scampered away faster than you can say HRB.)

Todd Gloria, a councilman then and now, argued for preserving the mural as a historic artifact of regional significance.

A second mural on the south wall advertises dog racing at Agua Caliente, a diversion offered beginning in 1928, one year before horseracing.Agua Caliente's legacy in general is forever tied to San Diego history. The legendary racetrack was built by a trio known as the "Border Barons." They were Baron Long (partial owner of downtown's U.S. Grant), sports promoter James Coffroth (who was instrumental in bringing the Star of India to San Diego Harbor in 1926), and Wirt G. Bowman (who at one time was the landowner of Rancho Peñasquitos).

Later, the racetrack would become the brainchild of illustrious San Diegan John S. Alessio of "Mr. A's" restaurant fame. His promotional efforts evidently prompted the two murals, painted sometime during the 1950s or '60s. A third sign on the north wall advertises the Barbary Coast Tavern, which was housed in the theater building. It reads: "Barbary Coast, San Diego's In Spot, corner of 4th and C." Its mural is more recent than those for Agua Caliente; it was open from 1968 to 1976.

SOHO are asking people to help by getting in touch with the following people before the 1950s-1960s signs go before the HRB Thursday, April 28.

You can write to: -

Kelly Stanco (

Historical Resources Board (

Mayor Faulconer (

You can also sign the petition.

If you would like to attend the meeting, it begins at 1pm Thursday in the North Terrace Rooms, City Concourse, 202 C Street.

The Agua Caliente sign, on the west wall, together with the theater building have been on SOHO's Most Endangered List since 2012, the theater longer than that. "The Caliente sign is San Diego's largest and most visible extant example of a traditional sign painter's technique that is no longer being practiced," said SOHO's Erik Hanson.


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