Sunday, July 20, 2008

On The Waterfront ~ San Diego

What is now the San Diego County Administration building was designed as the Civic Center during the darkest years of the Great Depression. A WPA project, the dedication in 1938 was attended by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself. Many had their doubts the San Diego architectural landmark would ever be built, as it sits on waterfront land that only years before had been underwater. Workers drove 1,500 H-shaped 32-35 foot long steel pilings into the subsoil to carry the weight of the building. This made engineering history, as steel has never before been used to carry lateral stresses.

The design of the building has been referred to as Spanish Colonial, Spanish Revival and Spanish Renaissance - whichever it may be, it was also heavily influenced by the sleeker Art Deco style of the day. Concrete, with a red tile roof, arching doorways and inlaid Franciscan tiles, the ten story central tower made it San Diego's first skyscaper. The interior has marble walls, bronze elevator doors and Philippine mahogany staircases. Artists were hired by the WPA to paint murals of city and county life, incorporating waterfront, recreational, agricultural and conservation themes.

The top picture shows a 1938 "fly by", in honor of the opening of the Civic Center. You can see the building in the foreground. The second picture is the architect's final drawing of the front elevation. The top section of the tower was never installed due to a threatened lawsuit by Reuben H. Fleet, who believed it would interfere with air traffic at nearby Lindberg Field.

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