December 9, 2005

National City Spotlight:

Diamonds and Dogs

By Ted Godshalk

The end of the year is a time for reflection, a time to look in the mirror and to think about the last 365 days. At this time of year, the music and other entertainment awards are handed out. Year-end reviews of sporting seasons are also part of this festive time, as are the best-dressed and worst-dressed awards. National City needs a new review of its built environment and this is the first edition of the Diamonds and Dogs awards.

Diamonds are at the pinnacle of all gemstones. A diamond is a girl’s best friend and diamonds are forever. For at least 1,500 years, diamonds have been important in cultures throughout the world. Long thought of as a symbol of purity and strength, the diamond is the perfect emblem of excellence.

So starting off with the best of the best; the Dazzling Diamond award goes to the new National City Public Library. This building is simply the most significant building, civic or otherwise, at this time. The attention to architectural detail, and the sensible use of space are laudable. We have waited a long time for this kind of public building.

But other than the Public Library, is there another building that warrants recognition in this first annual award? An in-depth survey by the judges proved to be a difficult task, but here are the rest of this year’s notable awardees.

On Highland Avenue, the Maniflo building is worthy of recognition. This attractive commercial building is not too tall, has no garish advertising hanging from it, it is different enough without being garish, and perhaps most importantly the parking lot is hidden in the back. In a few words, it has everything its big neighbor Wal-Mart does not have. The Maniflo Building receives our Luminous Diamond award. Perhaps it will light the way for other development.

The third Diamond award goes to a nice older building, the early 20th century, bright yellow building at 640 National City Boulevard. With all of the modernist madness going on, it is nice to see a property conserved, while still functioning in a useful manner. This building receives our Forever Diamond award; let’s hope that it survives the bulldozing that is planned for the Boulevard.

The last Diamond award goes to the neighborhood of East First and Second from D Avenue to Highland. This older residential district has been maintained or restored by the loving and caring property owners. The streets are wide and quiet, and give the casual passerby a comforting feeling. It is nothing like the newer housing tracts in National City with their boring similarities and their too cozy closeness. This grand neighborhood has earned the Radiant Diamond.

On the other side of the ledger, National City has its Dogs and to a lesser degree, its Puppies. Some of these kennel mates are new, and it is my hope that they are not tethered to our community for a long time. While dogs are considered by some to be faithful, they do bite children and mail deliverers every year. In dream symbology, a dog is thought to represent our basic, crude, animal nature.

First, our Brutish Bulldog award goes to the new cement plant along I-5 near Civic Center Drive. The first tower for the facility recently went up and promptly had graffiti on it. It does not surprise me that stuff like this comes along; you just would think an entrance to the city with a view of the bay has some aesthetic value to it. When the dust starts to blow toward town, then we will hear some barking.

Next up, we have the Sweetwater Shopping Center for the wonderful job of gutting the mature landscaping in its parking lot and leaving us with an Iraq battlefield holiday scene. Now I know that the job is not finished, but only time will tell if this project can move out of the doghouse. Sweetwater Shopping Center receives our Mongrel in the Making award.

The new Walgreen’s on Euclid in the Ralph’s parking lot looks a lot like the Sav-On, looks a lot like the Discount Tire, looks a lot like most of the other stucco and tile commercial architecture in California. This Walgreen’s is taking up the space usually reserved for recycling trailers and Christmas tree lots, but still, it could be a lot better. It wins the Best of the Breed award for dogs.

Lastly, the general streetscape in National City has two new additions. Tied to the curb, as they are, these urban statuary have the opposite effect intended. First, the new trash bins on National City Boulevard are nothing more than glorified advertisement billboards. While they are useful, they are too numerous to be cute and not attractive. Likewise, on Highland Avenue, someone may have thought it would be nice to get back to our farming roots and place fruit trees in concrete planters along the sidewalks. They are ornaments with a social conscience; that is, I expect pedestrians will be free to harvest the fruit, if the trees survive. Streetscape architects cringe at stuff like this and we have enough clutter already. We need more healthy, sustainable, planted-in-the-ground trees. To tell you the truth, I am waiting for the day that the disability activists file a lawsuit against the city for blocking the legally required width of the public’s sidewalk. The trashcans and fruit trees earn the Pound Puppies award.

May the next year bring you a very pleasant view of your public domain and your personal retreat. Encourage the jewels and leash in the doggies when you can. Have a good holiday season, and here’s to a happy 2006.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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