NewsPositively San Diego


Renaissance of creativity and celebration underway in City Heights

Posted at 12:20 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 15:20:10-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- In City Heights, a renaissance of creativity and celebration is underway.

Two public spaces -- one a long-established park, the other a vacant lot -- are part of a Positively San Diego transformation that’s about artistic expression and community.

“I'm claiming it to be the most multicultural mural in San Diego, possibly in America,” said the artist, Sake, as he dabbed a brush in paint, and added highlights to one of the 68 portraits featured on his latest mural.

The project, 270 feet long by 7 and half feet high, is underway along the south wall of Teralta Park in City Heights, reflecting the diverse community.

“They see themselves in the people,” said Sake. “To be honest, people are crying. I've never experienced this before in my life.”

Maria Cortez will soon see her own portrait here.

“To be amongst them,” said Cortez, “that’s the honor I have.”

A resident of City Heights for 49 years, Cortez was part of the working group with the San Diego City Council that led to the creation of Teralta Park in 2000. A park uniquely spanning the Interstate 15 freeway between Polk and Orange avenues, to reunite neighborhoods.

“What a wonderful thing to be united,” said Cortez. “And that’s what this park means to me. It is the heart and soul of City Heights.”

But the park fell into disrepair in its early years, until community volunteers, including Cortez and others, like Dan Tomsk, rallied to turn it around.

“The efforts included almost monthly cleanups,” said Tomsk, “where we'd have dozens -if not sometimes hundreds- of community volunteers involved in doing cleanups.”

Tomsk is another a longtime resident, whose image is being added to the mural. Looking at the project, Tomsk said, “There's no other community in the City of San Diego that has the mix of population that you see here.”

Mere feet away from Teralta Park, near its southeast corner, is a place called Tierra Central.

“This was an empty lot two years ago, right before COVID happened,” explained Alexis Villanueva, a director with the City Heights Community Development Corporation.

With community input, the lot has been transformed into a usable public space, featuring more expressions of community, including an eclectic display of three-dimensional artworks.

“These artists drive past here, and they get to tell their kids, ‘Look at the art that I created,’” said Villanueva.

The space has also been equipped with new benches and a covered patio area, allowing it to host a variety of activities, such as a recent Cambodian New Year celebration, teaching kids how to put on a circus, and giving entrepreneurs a place set up business.

“Imagine what you can do in a space,” said Villanueva. “Imagine what you can do in a small lot.”

The innovation at Tierra Central is part of the same community spirit behind the mural and improvements at Teralta Park.

“The community gets to come out here,” said Maria Cortez. “Enjoy the mural. Enjoy the park. Enjoy Tierra Central. Because this is what it’s all about. Everybody coming together.”

The City Heights Community Development Corporation plays a big part in planning, and funding improvements in the area. They say Tierra Central is slated to include affordable housing within the next few years. But an eye will be kept to preserving space for ongoing community displays and activities.