Chicano Park, a symbol of community and Latino activism for decades, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
U.S. Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell made the announcement for the iconic, colorful 7.4-acre park below the San Diego-Coronado Bridge that has had social, cultural and political significance in San Diego and beyond since the 1970s.
“I think there’s no place like it in the country, where you can walk through and see the culture and history of a community,” said San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, whose district includes the Barrio Logan park.
“People know about Chicano Park, not just in San Diego or California, but really the country,” he said. “This is a very unique collection of art that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
“The designation of Chicano Park as a National Historic Landmark is incredible news for the community of Barrio Logan in San Diego, the future of the park, and the many activists who throughout the years have advocated for a space where families can gather and where people can celebrate their shared cultural heritage,” Vargas said in a statement Wednesday.
The first bill introduced by Vargas passed the House of Representatives but didn’t made it to the Senate before Congress adjourned last year.
He recently introduced a similar bill, but it ultimately wasn’t necessary because a previous study proved enough to lead to the recognition, said Chicano Park Steering Committee member Josephine Talamantez, who submitted the application for the national recognition in 2015.
Talamantez was among the people who first fought for the park after years of watching their neighborhood disappear.
By the time the San Diego-Coronado Bridge opened in the summer of 1969, the development of Interstate 5 had left 5,000 homes and businesses destroyed in Barrio Logan
When the California Highway Patrol announced plans to build a substation below the bridge the 1970, area residents organized and staged a 12-day occupation of the park.
Talamantez, then 17 years old and a City College student, was among the people in the occupation.
The Chicano Park Steering Committee was formed to negotiate with city and staff officials, and the group has been stewards of the park ever since.
Talamantez said discussions about artwork in the park began around 1973 and a “mural marathon” was organized by Victor Ochoa, who recruited painters.
Among the artists was Salvador Torres, who saw the tall T-shaped pillars under the bridge as blank canvases.
“He became the visionary who thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create murals and bring colors to the neighborhood?’” Talamantez said.
Artist Mario Torero, who also had been part of the occupation, painted many of the murals in the park.
In all, there are 49 paintings in the park, many depicting Aztec divinity, legends, Mexican colonialism, and other images.
Talamantez and Manny Galaviz, a volunteer with the steering committee, submitted an application to have the park listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it was added to in 2013.
The two also submitted an application to have the park named a National Historic Landmark. In May, Talamantez traveled to Washington, D.C., to make a case for Chicano Park before a review and advisory committee. The National Park Service Advisory Board approved the recognition in November.
Jewell signed off on the recognition Dec. 23, and Talamantez said she learned about it Tuesday, the day before the announcement.
She said she wasn’t surprised, but had been a little nervous about whether the application would be approved before the new administration.
The recognition as a National Historic Landmark, which list about 2,500 properties, is considered more prestigious than the National Register of Historic Places, which has about 90,000 properties.
As part of the criteria for a National Historic Landmark designation, a site must tell stories that are important to the nation’s history rather than just local communities or states.
Chicano Park will join 16 other National Historic Landmarks in San Diego County, including the Hotel del Coronado, Balboa Park, the Mission Beach roller coaster, the Star of India and the San Diego Presidio.
Most recently, the Maritime Museum’s steam ferry Berkeley was named a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
Alvarez said he’s not sure when a plaque marking the national recognition would be installed, but he expected the honor would be be part of the 46th anniversary celebration planned at the park this April.
The councilman said he would consult with the Chicano Park Steering Committee about a possible celebration of the recognition.
“Personally, this has been my park since forever,” said Alvarez, who grew up in the neighborhood. “I’ve seen it go through a lot. I wasn’t there for the struggles in the 1970s, and we owe a lot of respect and honor to the people who ensured that it would be a park to begin with.”
Chicano Park was among 24 sites named National Historic Landmarks on Wednesday.
Published at Thu, 12 Jan 2017 02:15:00 +0000