On a beautiful morning, July 1st, 1849 Dr. John Edward Summers, an Army physician was on duty at the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá. His task was to record the weather conditions at the post. So he followed orders, even though they were out of the ordinary, and submitted his findings to Washington. In doing so, he became the first official “weather observer” in what was to be the city of San Diego, California—in the United States of America. That simple action began a maritime tradition that would continue on into the future.
Fast forward 155 years to 2004. The beautiful city of San Diego had grown and changed dramatically. The twin residential towers called “Grande North and South” on Pacific Highway neared completion with a surprise in store. Artist, Spencer Finch, was diligently designing a special project for the apex of the architectural masterpieces. His vision harkened back through time to Dr. Summers, his fateful orders and the ongoing seafaring tradition of reporting the weather. The Grande sculpture became a modern-day “lighthouse,” with a dramatic effect, visible for miles around.
In his own words, Finch described his inspiration and intention: “My vision was to create watercolors of the skies that would become a project of light and shadow in the sky at an enormous scale, thereby making the connection between the picture, the idea and the weather forecast.” His creation would tie directly to weather data, giving immediacy and accuracy to his ever-changing climate-predicting message.
To this day, beacons of light announce the upcoming weather. A plaque on a column at the Grande Towers bears the 2000 year-old saying: Red skies at night, sailors’ delight. Gray skies at morning, sailors take warning. Every evening the massive lanterns mimic the layered Pacific skies—with either an orange/red mesmerizing glow like a California sunset, (signaling yet another clear day of delight) or, both towers become a moody gray/blue/violet (if rain is in the forecast). A passing glance at the colors, orange or blue, communicates tomorrow’s prediction. Reporting the weather has never been easier or more straightforward.
Whether you’re an art aficionado, a weather enthusiast, or just wonder if you’re going to need an umbrella, you’ll love Spencer Finch’s Grande idea.
Related Story and Music
Discovering the Grande Towers and their maritime tradition, we were taken back to a storied time of our own when we battled “Will against will, with the sea.” Fifteen years ago seems like yesterday with fond and vivid memories for sure. We had decided to go on a week long sailing trip to Croatia with friends. It was unlike us, certainly not our normal routine, but we approached it as an opportunity—a very different kind of “workshop” that would certainly teach us something important about ourselves, since it would be so different than anything we had ever done or known. It did exactly that! [. . .]