Horton Plaza Mirrors San Diego Growth

The focus here this weekend is on San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, a bland, multipurpose sports arena where Super Bowl XXII is to be played Sunday.

On more permanent view is an expanding city of comfortable, sun-bleached neighborhoods, a lush central park with a fabulous zoo, an engaging bay and waterfront, and an emerging downtown of growing architectural interest.

Attracting crowds and generating comments ever since it opened with much fanfare 2 1/2 years ago in the center of downtown is Horton Plaza, a multicolored, multileveled, multiangled 11-acre amalgam of department stores, specialty shops, restaurants, food stands, movie theaters and other commercial diversions.

The inviting idiosyncratic haze of the Mediterranean-inspired Postmodernist-styled shopping center was fashioned by architect Jon Jerde and colored by designer Deborah Sussman. The tangle of steps, ramps, passageways, terraces, arcades and courts may be confusing and awkward, but if you are into wandering and consumerism it can be fun.

More funky than fun, but certainly worth a glimpse in Horton Plaza is Claudia's, a cinnamon-roll bakery exploding out of a shop on the fourth level. The design by Tom Grondona won a coveted honor award last year from the American Institute of Architects.

The award was quite controversial, because it is debatable whether Grondona's self-conscious collage of twisted ducts and splattered colors constitutes architecture, art or advertising, or all three, or nothing other than whimsy. Whatever, the ducts venting the sweet smell of the rolls seem to attract a steady flow of customers into the cluttered bakery.

For a retreat from the shopping center's assault on the senses, visit the original Horton Plaza, to the north at 3rd Avenue and Broadway. This is a modest, inviting park, crafted at the turn of the century by Irving Gill, one of San Diego's and Southern California's icons of architecture.

Across Broadway, facing the park, is the tastefully restored U.S. Grant Hotel, a national landmark. Built in 1910 by Ulysses S. Grant Jr. in honor of his father, the 18th President, the luxury hotel exudes a caring craftsmanship in its spacious lobbies, glittering chandeliers and handsome furnishings. Check out the variety of woods used in the detailing of the public rooms.

To the south and west of Horton Plaza are various new housing developments, which the city encouraged to lend downtown more of a sense of community and to support the new office and retail projects there. And as varied as the developments are, so is their architecture.

There is the Meridian at 770 Front St., a polished, stark-white, 27-story luxury condominium designed by Maxwell Starkman and looking as if it belongs not in San Diego but on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In contrast, the building's Art Deco-style doors and manicured lobby are appropriately subdued and inviting.

Appearing down home and comfortable, not unlike an old shoe, at State and F streets is the Marina Park condominium project, designed by Abraham Shapiro & Associates. More voguish in a Spanish-style update is the adjacent Park Row, condominiums designed by the firm of Fisher-Friedman.

For some kitsch, nearing completion at 600 Front St. is a 180-unit apartment complex overdesigned by architect Rob Wellington Quigley. A few blocks away at G Street and 3rd Avenue is the 192-unit Market Street Square, a nicely detailed and colored contemporary structure designed by Herbert Nadel and Partners and Abraham Shapiro.

A problem with Market Square and most of the other housing projects in the area is that they seem to be islands unto themselves, not relating architecturally to each other, the surrounding streets, or to downtown. Missing--but promised--is some streetscaping and landscaping.

An exception is the Baltic Inn, a recently completed single-room-occupancy hotel at 521 6th Ave. Designed in modest modish style by architect Quigley, who was constrained by a tight construction budget, the project provides needed low-income housing in an attractive, street-friendly structure. The effort garnered an honor award last year from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

There is a wealth of other architecturally engaging projects in San Diego and the surrounding communities. These include a rich vein of historic houses designed by Irving Gill, a marvelous collection of civic structures in Balboa Park, the modernist landmark Salk Institute, and some interesting new developments in La Jolla and on the UC San Diego campus. Their exploration will have to wait for space in a future column. Some super projects downtown and a Super Bowl are enough for one weekend in San Diego.

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