How San Diego Became a Cultural Institution Graveyard

How San Diego Became a Cultural Institution Graveyard

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Thanks to community support, the Ken Cinema will stay open.

Loss is an unfortunate part of life, whether it’s your granny, your puppy or your favorite band T-shirt gone in a nasty breakup. Lately, it seems like San Diego’s cultural scene has been losing some of its biggest institutions. While people were still ramping up their rallying to save the San Diego Opera, they got news that another icon was about to close down: the Ken Cinema.

But these two aren’t the first institutions we lost this year. There have been others dropped, and in many cases it was for financial reasons. For some, there’s still hope. But others are total losses for our local cultural landscape.

San Diego Opera

The opera’s Board of Directors originally voted to close on April 13 after its last performance of “Don Quixote,” citing financial struggles and a loss of support from members of the community. But after an outcry rivaling that of “Turandot,” the board voted to postpone the closure of the 49-year-old institution until April 29 while they re-examine the opera’s finances.

Things were looking pretty bleak. The opera’s artistic and general director, Ian Campbell, came under fire for the loss of 300-400 jobs, his own hefty salary and for blaming a lack of interest in opera as the closure was announced.

People were — and still are — freaking out at the thought of losing such a major cultural institution. A Save San Diego Opera Facebook page emerged, giving people a chance to voice support and stay up to date on the latest developments.

On Friday, supporters got a sliver of hope. The board met yet again and pushed back the closure date to May 19, hoping to give organizers more time to raise funds for one more season. Supporters could take heart with the words of the Monty Python crew: “Not dead yet.”

It might not be curtains just yet, and many are hard at work to save the opera. We’ll have to wait and see if the fat lady will sing come May 19.

Ken Cinema

Unlike the San Diego Opera, which still has hope for at least another season, there doesn’t seem to be a positive end in sight for the iconic Ken Theater. After Landmark Theatres, which owns and operates the Ken, wasn’t able to come to a lease agreement with the building’s landlord, the company decided to give its 30-day notice. The loss of the Ken Cinema really stung me, and the cries heard across social media show many feel the same. I got tons of responses from a post I wrote on Facebook regarding the Ken’s closing.

Some were very poignant and sentimental:

Facebook reaction

Others were simple, but resonated nonetheless:

Facebook reactions

Still, some hope that San Diego’s last remaining single-screen theater will live on outside of the umbrella of Landmark Theatres. There’s been talk about the Ken’s owners seeking new stewardship, but nothing concrete has been announced. On April 27, the Ken Cinema will screen quite possibly its final film, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Here is the schedule for its final week.

The Ken final showings San Diego Film Commission

Let’s be real here. San Diego is no Hollywood, churning out big-budget flicks off a conveyor belt. So the loss of the San Diego Film Commission was pretty major. Filmmakers who relied on the commission for guidance, funding and help to get their projects made were left out in the cold.

Back in August, the commission was a casualty of a standoff over the organization’s funding. Necessary budget cuts from the San Diego Tourism Authority, which absorbed the film commission in 2012, meant that the commission could no longer operate.

While this loss wasn’t as sentimental for locals, San Diego was hit hard. The organization reportedly brought in $100 million in production company spending each year. And the filmmakers who had been relying on the commission’s support suddenly found their projects in limbo.

Voz Alta

In the last few years, Barrio Logan has become a destination for exciting art and culture in San Diego. Voz Alta was a big part of that transformation.

The gallery and performance space opened in the area in October 2008, bringing weekly Latin jazz nights, art exhibitions and other events. Owner Carlos Beltran told CityBeat that the move came about from a desire for change as well as the difficulties in making rent. It’s well known that Barrio Logan is dealing with the growing pains that stem from gentrification. The predominately Chicano and Latino neighborhood has watched condo developments dwarf its small, locally owned restaurants and markets. While landlords are capitalizing from a newfound hipness, longtime residents are finding it increasingly difficult to pay rent with so many changes in the area. Ultimately, Voz Alta’s became a casualty.

Barrio Logan residents, and those who frequent the neighborhood, felt the pangs of a lost beloved hangout. But this wasn’t the first time the gallery had to pack up and move, and it could still find another home in the future.

Civic Innovation Lab

Many people were excited by the potential of the Civic Innovation Lab, a small group whose main mission was to improve the quality of life in San Diego neighborhoods. As Howard Blackson, a strategist for the lab, explained in February, the lab wanted to “make your neighborhood fun and interesting.” It set out to champion civic projects like building parklets to beautify unattractive areas, hosting community events and other elements that build civic pride.

But just three months later, it’s basically already dead. Mayor Kevin Faulconer first budget, if approved, would eliminate the lab and reallocate its $700,000 budget to the city’s planning department.

It was over before it had a chance to really get its hands dirty, so we can never know how much improvement it could’ve brought.

Let’s hope these losses are the last for a long while. San Diego needs a break.

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Alex Zaragoza

Alex Zaragoza

Alex Zaragoza is a freelance writer covering arts and culture in San Diego and Tijuana. She also writes the column "There She Goz" for San Diego CityBeat, which has led her to skydive, pose nude and contact her spirit guides in the great beyond. Not at the same time, of course. You can read her random inane thoughts on Twitter by following @there_she_goz or contact her directly at alejzaragoza@gmail.com.

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12 comments
EstherRawson
EstherRawson

@eyegiene :( The Ken was my first Art House theater. Remember seeing My Beautiful Laundrette there, among other terrific films.

Jeffrey Davis
Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

Sad to be reminded that the Tourism Authority couldn't find $800k in their $30M budget to help a local industry that doesn't primarily benefit hotels or advertising outlets. Remarkable, really. Well, I suppose we can reform the deal when it comes up for renewal. In 2053.

Erik Bruvold
Erik Bruvold subscribermember

Some observations.  1)  San Diego is undergoing a pretty marked demographic  shift.   As boomers age into the prime years for giving and traditional years to support cultural institutions, the question is going to be how arts institutions appeal to older adults with limited (no?) experience with traditional classical music (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122299103207600279).  It sounds like San Diego Opera's saga has degenerated into a food fight but Ian C. may have done a disservice by not heading into this straight on - - his traditional donor base came of age listening to Met on the radio and seeing Opera on TV.  Most boomers (especially true of later boomers) did not.  Hard because much of the traditional leadership on SD Opera did...but organizations that will live will figure out how to navigate that challenge. 2) Ethnically San Diego is also changing.  Art forms that holds stubbornly to how they did it in 18th century western Europe would seem sadly out of place with where San Diego is headed.  3)  A place to look, as long as we are talking about Opera, is to all places, Long Beach (http://www.longbeachopera.org/) - a company that is about 180 degrees away from "Classic Grand Opera" as one could be.  Here is a company willing to be dangerous and advant garde (almost to a fault) but it has been a great season at LBO if you love Jazz and believe that musicians like Wynton Marsalis and Duke Ellington are just as much (if not more) geniuses than Donizetti....and of course the former are wonderfully American in both their musicality and operatic writing.

PS.  Interestingly live THEATER in San Diego remains roaring along - and I think in part because leadership at the Rep, the Globe and the LJ Playhouse all have been willing for years to think beyond the boundaries of the traditional repertory "cannon" and find plays (Allegiance, In the Heights, or the Upcoming Orphan of Zhao) that are relevant to current San Diegans.

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

I'm not sure why the so called civic innovation lab is included within this list.  It was never a cultural centerpiece within San Diego.  As the writer pointed out, it never really had much time to get going so it is hard to know what it is other than maybe another waste of taxpayer money.  Also, why is the TMD funding a film commission?  That seems like an odd marriage.  Considering how many billions are made by the movie industry it is hard to understand why an organization like that requires funding by taxes (i.e., tourism marketing "fees").  By the way the title is very misleading  since the writer made very little effort to answer her own question.

Jon Hall
Jon Hall subscriber

While much of this is occurring as a result of larger, high-level issues (such as funding being eliminated for the Civic Innovation Lab), I wonder if this also is a reflection of us, the people of San Diego, and what we as a whole value (and don't value)?

Desde la Logan
Desde la Logan subscriber

Though gentrification is an issue in Barrio Logan there has only been one new, market rate condo development built here in recent memory (corner of Sigsby/National). There has been 5 large, low income housing complex's built within the last 8 years. All of them playing a significant part in keeping Logan a mostly Mexican, working class community and thus helping it maintain its cultural character. Gentrification has not yet taken hold here but as the years go on it is still a possibility as other San Diegans begin to realize that my hood is a lively, vibrant place to be. And not the stereotype of a violent place that non-Loganeros think it is.

Stephen John Wade
Stephen John Wade

It is indeed a sad day for the Arts if the Opera should close here in San Diego. I am living proof how art can change a persons life for the better. I have a small part-time job at The Old Globe Theater and up until 4 years ago had never set foot inside any of our 3 theaters. After hearing King Lear-starring Robert Foxworth- the skies opened up to me! I find it difficult to express in words just how profoundly that experience changed my life. Let's just say, I was so inspired and excited that I started volunteering at The Globe and now I work there. Art may not save the world, but it has forever changed me and I am grateful it was there calling out to us all.

Jeffrey Davis
Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

@Jim Jones I suppose not. Not the City's job to enforce their tax either. Maybe we can reach a compromise.

Desde la Logan
Desde la Logan subscriber

Imperial Ave and Commercial Ave are not in Barrio Logan.

Most of the assaults in Chicano Park are homeless related. The reason we have so many homeless issues is because the city placed the temporary homeless shelter here. In June it goes away, hopefully forever. And much of the issues that come with it will lessen as that population moves on.

I walk through Chicano Park frequently. Take my two year old son there to play at least twice a week. I walk through Chicano Park and Logan alleys at night with no problems (and I'm a half white Chicano that doesn't look Mexican at all).

Though I'd prefer that my barrio didn't have a negative stereotype it actually works for the better. That stereotype has slowed down gentrification and keeps some, but not all, of the hipsters at bay. And, thankfully, it keeps the Jim Jones' of San Diego away.

Jeffrey Davis
Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

@Jim Jones Sure, they could do that, but that's neither the TMD $30M nor the TOT.

Jeffrey Davis
Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

@Jim Jones You're saying then that the City should leave it to the hotels to levy their fee on a voluntary basis?

Desde la Logan
Desde la Logan subscriber

Maritime industry is not leaving Barrio Logan. With or without the community plan. The Navy is shifting their focus to the Pacific and with our economic need for perpetual war there's going to be plenty of business. San Diego will never see market rate developments on the waterfront here.