Walking through the city streets to our favorite coffee bar is great exercise, but can become a challenge on a hot, sunny, southern California day. So we experiment with different routes depending on the time and the angle of the sun. It’s possible, with trial and error, to discover a route that stays mostly shaded with cool breezes. Always searching, we happened to glance right from Ash Street as we crossed the trolley tracks. There, to our surprise was a never-before-seen covered walkway tucked in-between some high-rise buildings and the tracks. The shade extended for a few city blocks, all the way to the historic Santa Fe Station in downtown San Diego. What? Are you kidding us? When did that happen?
Strolling along our newly-found secret pedestrian-way, we came upon a series of 10 columns which were covered with literally thousands of handmade ceramic tiles, pieces and slivers depicting the entire history of San Diego. Just behind the Sapphire Tower, we discovered this “hidden” mosaic treasure. But they’re not just normal ceramic tiles—there were 40 people-size panels of intricate free-form mosaics with relief and incised carvings of objects, along with photographic images silkscreened onto some surfaces—people, places, horses, cows, birds, words, random objects, scenes, stories, dates, heroes and more, all mixed and merged into one grand 500-year-old chronological storyboard of this beautiful place as it became San Diego as we know it today.
We were amazed and felt compelled to dig deeper into this surprising discovery. Who did this? Why? When? Reading the storied walls was an obvious place to start. However, finding answers to our questions proved to be a bit more elusive. To our surprise, hardly anyone knew much about the mysterious work of art. With the investigative help from a guard in the Sapphire Tower lobby, we started to piece the story together.
The creator of this detailed chronology is a local artist, Betsy K. Schulz. We first found her name by visually scouring the many clay pieces. There it was, carved in tiny letters on the outside edge of a panel, partially hidden by the adjacent iron fence. Everything we had seen and read, led us to the conclusion that she is probably very smart, clever, extremely talented, a meticulous researcher, full of energy, a consummate artisan and obviously very humble. Once we found her website, we could clearly see that she is all of those things that we imagined, and more. Her body of work is impressive and well worth a little SoCal surfing on the web to find.
This artistic masterpiece is just one of many that are tucked in and around the city, just waiting for an unsuspecting passerby to discover. We hope you enjoy our representation of her work, but also encourage you to take a meandering walk some beautiful day, (which could be any day in SD), and find this mosaic gem for yourselves. Perhaps you might glance over your shoulder to discover another hidden treasure tucked away in the shade of the city—snippets and stories about the “pillars of the community.”
“There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” This quote is a nod to the “Naked City” series of the late 1950s/early 1960s, which happened concurrently with other events depicted on column #9.
San Diego Mosaics Gallery
By Betsy K. Schulz
Upon further investigation, another semi-shady alternative route appeared on the other side of the trolly/train tracks. There was no intricate story depicted in mosaic tiles, but the walkway is a beautiful columned and lattice structure with red roses climbing skyward. Delightful. However, we did make yet another artistic discovery—lighthouses atop the Grande North and South Towers called the “Weather Report,” but you’ll have to wait a few weeks until that story is finished. Stay tuned.
Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist/sculptor, born near Paris in 1930, and died in 2002. She was a celebrated pioneer the world over in feminist and monumental art. During the later years of her life she lived in San Diego, where she left many sculptural mosaic masterpieces that can be found throughout the area. If you aren’t already familiar with her work, please allow us to introduce you to Niki by way of this digital “tour” of her incredible legacy—culminating in her magical “Tarot Garden” in Tuscany, Italy. Shall we begin? Please follow us! […]
We first went to Barcelona, Spain in our early 20s. Traveling Europe together on eurail passes, hostels and very little money, we intended to experience the cultures from an ordinary perspective and to see every architectural treasure we could get our eyes on. The ultimate jewels in that treasure chest lay in Catalonia where the famous architect Antonio Gaudí lived and died with his projects. That was the first exposure to his magical curvilinear mosaic world, and certainly not the last, as we returned many times in the coming decades. We just couldn’t get enough! Created out of broken pieces of china from nearby factories, they too tell rich stories about the history of a place—Barcelona, like San Diego has centuries to talk about.