Messages of hope replace graffiti in San Diego’s Gaslamp

A cyclist passes a temporary mural on the doorway of Bang Bang, at 536 Market St. in downtown San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, on May 21, 2020.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A brigade of artists turns boaded up storefronts into colorful paintings during pandemic


Almost overnight the pandemic silenced the sounds, shuttered the sights and dimmed all but the streetlights of downtown San Diego’s once vibrant Gaslamp District.

Tourists left. Uber drivers disappeared. The laughter vanished from the area of trendy hotels, upscale clubs and urban eateries that had supplanted the tattoo parlors and seedy hotels of years past.

Some businesses have covered their windows and doors with plywood, adding to the sense of abandonment. Then — horrors! — graffiti started sprouting up on the bare plywood canvases.

That was the final blow for Sean Warner, who oversees community enhancement for the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

“I looked around. This was surreal. There wasn’t the normal downtown vibrancy. No one was on the streets. The buildings were boarded up. I thought let’s, in this time of uncertainty, give some hope and joy to people in the downtown community.”

When the agency’s Clean & Safe patrol team surveyed the Gaslamp and found nearly 20 storefronts fortified with window coverings, primarily along Fourth and Fifth avenues, Warner and his colleagues decided something had to be done to improve the image.

They reached out to local artists, including Visual Gallery + Design, Elliot Shuessler with the Gaslamp Quarter Association, and Pandr & Ladies Who Paint, who, Warner learned, already had launched their own Gaslamp beautification effort.

The Downtown Partnership searched for owners of closed businesses to seek their permission and paid for painting supplies and artist stipends.

Their painting brigade’s marching orders were to bring joy, bright colors, positive messages and beauty back into the Gaslamp, one piece of dreary plywood at a time.

Bang Bang, a sushi-serving club on Market Street, was first to be beautified on April 29 with painted flowers and the message: “Things will be okay.” By mid-May eight storefronts had been transformed. The paintings included messages of “love,” “hope” and “Stay strong, San Diego.”

A man riding his scooter waits at the traffic signal at Fifth Avenue and F Street, where a large mural was painted on wood panels by Pandr & Ladies Who Paint. The panels are fastened temporarily to the front entrance of The Tipsy Crow at 770 Fifth Ave. in downtown San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Now, thanks to the governor’s loosening of restrictions, the temporary plywood artwork is starting to come down as businesses re-open.

But it may soon re-appear, Warner says. This time, lining the sidewalk as backdrops for Curbside San Diego, outdoor curbside dining — the latest Downtown Partnership brainchild.

With the city’s blessing, it plans to close sections of selected streets at various times so socially distanced dining tables can spill out into the roadway to help restaurants compensate for lost indoor seating capacity.