A community Powerhouse
Center marks 10 years of public ownership
Although there have been several incarnations of the Powerhouse — from steampower generator to swinging nightclub — for the last 10 years it has served as a community gathering space. That’s all thanks to a group of residents and a City Council that didn’t want to see the iconic building turn into another commercial enterprise.
Ten years to the day after an extensive remodel was completed, the city will celebrate this community asset.
“It turned out even better than we all thought it would,” said Barbara Harper, who founded the Powerhouse Restoration Committee in 1997. “We were trying to save the building and not have it become another commercial entity. We built practically a new building but kept the old feel of it. Then it turned into a community center. Out of that came a lot of great times.”
Harper has been on the committee, now called Friends of the Powerhouse, ever since. This year she was reelected president of the group.
“It is one of the best groups I’ve ever headed because there was such a diversity from the community,” Harper said. She said the real accomplishment was not the building, but for the first time, seeing people who were often on opposite sides of the isle, sometimes called the “greens” and the “grays,” work together. “I took a lot of pride in being able to get that group together.
“A building is only the passion and work that people put into it,” Harper said. She added that many of the original Friends are still involved and many friendships have come from the camaraderie of the committee.
Also significant is the fact that the city finished paying off the $850,000 lease purchase agreement at the beginning of 2009.
About a year and a half ago the Friends decided their next project to tackle would be remodeling the 17th Street lifeguard tower and beach safety center. Harper said she hopes to gather some community support before launching full-force into the campaign.
“I definitely think it will be a challenge, but I think we have a lot of support,” Harper said of the tower campaign. “It’s so needed. It’s just unbelievable how awful it looks.”
The history of the Powerhouse
1910 — Powerhouse constructed, smaller than the current structure with a shorter, square chimney: provides steam heat and hot water for Stratford Inn and the Plunge, a large indoor public swimming pool filled with saltwater
1920 — Fire destroys building that covers the Plunge
1928 — Current Powerhouse constructed to replace smaller original
1955 — Stratford Inn goes bankrupt and is sold; Powerhouse and Plunge remain unsold
October 1958 — Burt Alderson buys Powerhouse, opens Powerhouse Roaring 20s Nightclub
1962 — Sheriff closes club twice this year due to brawls, prompting the city to deny it permits to hold dances: nightclub closes
1965 — Universal Water Corporation rents Powerhouse, carries out a complete interior renovation to experiment with desalination
1967 — The goal of making desalination economical fails; Powerhouse left vacant
1983 — Proposal to build a restaurant and parking lot on the site meets opposition. City purchases the Powerhouse and launches a committee to develop a park adjacent to the building
1988 — Powerhouse Park and tot lot open
1989 — Architect Don Shoell, of Stone, Fisher and Associates, wins competition for design of Powerhouse Park. Soon after, Schoell retires, sells practice. Del Mar architect Joe Nelle hired to administer the $2.4 million project
1997 — Barbara Harper, wife of Del Mar Thoroughbred CEO Joe Harper, forms Powerhouse Restoration Committee, now known as Friends of the Powerhouse
Oct. 5, 1997 — Restoration kickoff event and the slogan “Meet us at the Powerhouse” is born
1999 — City enters 10-year lease purchase agreement, borrows $850,000 to partially finance renovation.
August 1999 — Friends present check for $350,000 to the city; eventually more than $500,000 donated by area residents and businesses
Dec. 4, 1999 — Grand Opening of the Powerhouse Community Center
2000 — Project wins Orchid Award for Historic Preservation from the San Diego Architectural Foundation, calling it ” A gem of a project … where everyone can rinse off the Del Mar sand, wiggle their toes in glee and soak in its historic glow”
Feb. 24, 2009 — Upgraded tot lot unveiled with safer rubber surface, paid for by funds raised by the Friends and the city
A 10-year celebration
Dec. 4, 3 to 5 p.m.
The public is invited to celebrate the anniversary of the renovation, when the Powerhouse Community Center was unveiled.
Beverages and light appetizers will be served.
— Halie Johnson
- Harper a driving force
- Tot lot gets new, safer surface at Powerhouse Park
- How the Powerhouse came to be
- Community Connections celebrates its founder
- Powerhouse singing at Powerhouse Park
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