Harper a driving force

Presented by Joe Jelley

The city of Del Mar established the Powerhouse Park Committee to develop a park adjacent to the Powerhouse building. A park area and playground opened in 1988. After the park was completed, attention focused on the Powerhouse building.

Barbara Harper, the wife of Joe Harper - the CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, formed the Powerhouse Restoration Committee in 1997. Today this group is known as the Friends of the Powerhouse.

“There were different factions of the community that all came together and served on the committee, raised money and worked through the project,” Harper said. Many of the people in the community credit the success of the project to Barbara Harper and her tireless commitment to the project.

It took only 2 years for the committee to raise funds for the project to rebuild the Powerhouse. The total cost of the Powerhouse Community Center project was $2.4 million. Besides the $450,000 in private donations, the city provided nearly $814,000 in general funds took out a $1.1 million bond issue to fund the remainder.

A joint proposal by the landscape architecture firm of Stone, Fisher and Associates and the architectural firm of Schoell and Paul won a competition for designing the building and grounds. However, soon after that Don Schoell sold his practice and retired, so the city named Joe Nelle, a Del Mar architect, as architect and administrator of construction for the project.

“I inherited the architectural part of the project,” said Nelle. “We kept as much of the original design as possible, and then embellished on parts that I thought were deficient,” he noted.

For instance, Nelle decided to place a concrete liner in the smokestack to make it functional. He also installed two pipes between the smokestack and the building enabling ventilation for the building.

“We also saved the wooden ceiling in the Powerhouse,” aid Nelle.

Visitors will find that the Powerhouse looks like a new building. It’s also very busy.

“It’s a community center,” said Nelle. “It has activities for kids and for seniors. It is rented out for weddings and birthdays. Before that (refurbishing) it was just sitting there rotting. I’m very pleased with the way it came out.”

Friends of the Powerhouse, led by its President, Ronnie Delaney, continues to raise funds to make improvements to the Powerhouse building.

Funds have been used for a new heating system, for sound systems and for kitchen renovations.

Editor’s note: This article, written by Tom Murane, is reprinted from the “Del Mar Picture Book,” published by Joe Jelley. Contact him at