Visual upgrade created by Highway 101 Westside Improvement Project draws more people to Solana Beach

By Diane Y. Welch

If you stroll down the west side of Highway 101 in Solana Beach, a marked change in pedestrian activity is apparent. There are a lot more people enjoying what the city calls the “Highway 101 Westside Improvement Project.” For pedestrians it’s an uplifting visual change in the ambiance of a busy corridor that now has multi-textured mosaics, sculptural elements and resting places that harmonize with colorful succulents and plantings.

The project is almost three-fourths of a mile long, extending parallel to the Coastal Rail Trail from Dahlia Dr. in the south to Cliff St. in the north. It has been a collaborative effort that includes Parterre Landscape Architecture, Nasland Engineering, concrete contractor T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., artist Christie Beniston and general contractor Dick Miller, Inc.

Five goals were agreed on — that came from city and community workshops — which included traffic calming, more parking, improved aesthetics, pedestrian-friendly walkways, and connections to Cedros Ave., the Coastal Rail Trail and the train station, said Pat O’Connor, owner of Parterre Landscape Architecture.

A design concept that reflected the healthy lifestyle of the community — with a beach theme — was realized early on. “Then the challenge for us was how to transform this long narrow and fragmented streetscape and give it a contiguous sense,” said O’Connor.

To create this continuity a series of 10 signature places were designed. There were four major sites chosen because of the public right of way, larger spaces which would allow for people to congregate. “Then Christie contributed her artistry to the image and the design of these places,” said O’Connor.

One of the sites is named “Ocean Place.” It has multi-colored and textured paving and is directly north of Pizza Port across from the train station. The center piece is a water feature sculpture that represents the five layers of the ocean identified by a variety of sea life. “From tuna to an octopus, to exotic deep fish found at 4,000 meters,” explained O’Connor.

A second site is “Star Plaza,” located just south of Plaza Street in front of the Solana Beach Executive Building. Here the mosaic is embedded with marble, glass and ceramic pieces representing the alignment of the five northern circumpolar constellations visible on the day Solana Beach was incorporated as a city in 1986.

“Sunburst,” located in front of Beach Grass Café, has a seating area with a brilliantly hued sun mosaic made from glass tile, designed by Beniston and fabricated by Amanda Conahan.

“Seat Walls,” located in front of Tidewater, is also a seating area with two seat wall benches, titled “Currents” that have an inset flowing across the top and sides revealing a glass mosaic that highlights individual crystals, polished minerals and gems, agate slices, fossils, and petrified wood. “The mosaic provides an opportunity for discovery of these beautiful natural treasures,” said Beniston, who found the project especially rewarding, “as it’s in my own backyard.”

Much of Beniston’s mosaic is created through a trademarked process called Lithocrete Litho Mosaic, invented by Shaw and Son. T.B. Penick & Sons are one of only a few licensed installers in the U.S.

“The process allows the artist to do the work in the studio, rather than at the site, and the mosaic may be checked and changed if needed, before it is set permanently into the wet concrete,” said Chris Klemaske, project developer for T. D. Penick who created the decorative concrete walls, hardscape and seating areas.

“It’s been an exciting process to take this project from an idea, then put it in concrete and express it,” said Klemaske, adding that it was a privilege to work with a team who collaborated so well.

A number of smaller gathering places that will, over time, become more significant, are designated as future permanent and temporary art sites. These sites will provide additional opportunity to enhance the overall aesthetic experience of strolling down the coastal highway.

“The experience of Highway 101 has completely changed. People are stopping and sitting, and enjoying the street,” Klemaske said.