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Going, Going, Gone

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 28, 1998


"The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way man thinks." — Gregory Bateson

Last week in these editorial pages I came across an oxymoron that struck me as odd. In Coast Matters, Steve Aceti discussed the issues of sand, cities, and where the later could find money to restore the former. It was the phrase "solve the regions erosion problems," that set my brain in to overdrive.

How does one solve erosion? It is like saying you want to solve the ocean. In my humble opinion the only problem that needs to be solved is the human problem. I do not fault Steve on his reporting, in fact I rely on him to keep me informed. It's just that my training as a communication major has me looking at word usage in ways most others don't.

But this column is not about coastal erosion, that's Steve's baby. I mention this because somehow after reading about the politics of coastal erosion, I made the leap to a completely different type of loss. Cultural erosion.

Sprawl affects us in many ways. From placing homes on unstable bluffs to build shopping centers in unstable environments, the contest between progress and preservation leaves many things teetering on the edge oblivion. One of the first things to be lost on the mad dash to the future, are the treasures of the past.

Coastal North County has very little history compared to the East Coast. In fact, aside from the few remaining adobes, most of our historic sites are less than a hundred years old, which is not to say they are not worth preserving as reminders of a simpler time, they are. It's now more important than ever.

When I speak of preservation I am not talking of saving historic sites as an afterthought.  The current paradigm values preservation as a chore. Case in point is the Carrillo Ranch in Carlsbad. Once a sprawling ranch of a Hollywood film star. The ranch house is now surrounded by sprawl of epic proportions. Standing on Palomar Airport Road and looking into a canyon of stucco, that used to be rolling hillsides, one is reminded of the sort of whirlpool that accompanies each flush of the toilet.

Also caught up in the debate about sprawl and growth,  North County's historic theatres struggle to find an audience while megaplexes continue to mushroom. Coastal theatres such as Encinitas's La Paloma and Oceanside's Star, once the social hub of their communities, are the only ones still showing current films. Others are not so lucky. The Crest theatre, also in downtown Oceanside, now houses a church.

Rumor has it that Solana Beach also had a coastal theatre. When I called the San Diequito Historical to inquire about this, the gentleman who answered the phone said he vaguely remembered it. Although he couldn't locate it's name he did know that it was built in 1948, in what was once considered downtown Solana Beach. An office building was built in it's place. What concerns me is that our history is becoming a ghost.

These testaments to the past are links to where we have been. If they are all lost to the wheels of "progress" it will be that much easier to forget that there was ever something other that stripmalls and gridlock. One of Encinitas's first farmhouses was recently moved to a future park site. One can only guess what happened to the turkey farm on which it sat. That site would have made a great park.

There are plans for a museum in Encinitas, and that is a very good thing, similar to how the San Diego Zoo is a "very good thing." It's like taking remnants of history and locking them up for their protection, meanwhile their context in which they evolved is removed.

If coastal cities want to attract tourists perhaps they should follow the lead of England. Not far from London is a Legoland. How many people know that. Ironically the only reason I know this is because I passed it on the way to Heathrow after four months of steeping myself in the history of England. Funny how bright plastic toys pale when compared to the rich texture of the past.

Just as environmentalists strive to protect native habitats and open spaces from the bulldozers of the greedy boys, so should communities fight to save historic buildings from the agents of blight.

Once upon a time our ancestors did everything in there power to preserve their history, something we as a region are neglecting to do. Instead we continue to cover our agricultural past and any chance for a less congested future under oceans of asphalt.

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