A Brief History of Wacky Waterfront Projects

Arts/Culture

A Brief History of Wacky Waterfront Projects

Looking back at more than a decade of outlandish proposals.

There’s something about the San Diego waterfront that just isn’t good enough for people who have money to burn.

Sure, there’s a beautiful bay, a stunning bridge and captivating architecture, not to mention plenty of public art. But where’s the icon to rule them all, San Diego’s very own London Eye or Gateway Arch? Within the last few weeks, two new ideas appeared — a mammoth Ferris wheel and a tall observation tower that seems to blend the Space Needle with “Snakes on a Plane.” But they’re hardly the first big ideas for San Diego’s gateway to the sea.

As port officials prepare to examine several proposals on Tuesday, here’s a look at the oddest waterfront proposals the past 12 years.

‘SkySpire’: A Towering ‘Coffee Press’

Image courtesy of U.S. Thrill Rides
Image courtesy of U.S. Thrill Rides

What Is It? A company that creates theme-park rides is proposing a “SkySpire San Diego” project. U-T San Diego says it looks like a “giant coffee press” featuring “a double-helix rail carrying 10-passenger gondolas” and a rotating restaurant.

The president of U.S. Thrill Rides, the company behind the proposal, told the U-T that it could be 250 feet tall or higher and sit north of Seaport Village. He predicts it could sell 1.5 million tickets a year, making it about half as popular as the San Diego Zoo.

Status: Alive

How Much Would It Cost? $40 million

What Do People Think? Fans say it’s “dope” (that means good) and “cool.” But others slam its design, tackiness (“now we’ll be the Coney Is. of the West Coast”) and lack of a reason for existing (“why the heck do we need something like this?”). One tweet sums it up in two words: “Lol wut.”

Ferris Wheel: Too High for This Town?

Image courtesy of NBC7
Image courtesy of NBC7

What Is It? As of a few weeks ago, the port was considering four proposals for big Ferris wheels on the waterfront. But “one of the four has since dropped out and a second said his is on hold,” according to the U-T.

The most discussed proposal envisions a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel at Discovery Point, just south of the Midway Museum. But the FAA says it would be too tall to be so close to the airport.

Status: Uncertain due to height restraints

How Much Would It Cost? $200 million

What Do People Think? A downtown booster says it’s “fabulous” and “it will activate the waterfront and be a financial driver for the waterfront.”

But U-T readers who answered an unscientific online poll were overwhelmingly against a Ferris wheel: Out of 4,821 responses, 62 percent were against it. Critics on Twitter call it a boondoggle (“please put that money somewhere USEFUL”) vapid (“an appropriate lawn ornament to welcome visitors to San Diego”) and even childish (“city is controlled by wealthy kindergarteners. #StayClassy”).

‘Wings of Freedom’: Bunny Ears on the Bay

Image courtesy of Midway Museum
Image courtesy of Midway Museum

What Was It? A double-winged structure called Wings of Freedom to be built next to the Midway Museum. The “wings,” one 500 feet tall and the other 400 feet tall, would look like sails and be made of titanium and steel.

Status: Dead

What It Would Have Cost: $35 million, to be funded by a local philanthropist

What Did People Think?A perfect example of wings of freedom, sails of freedom,” claimed the CEO of the design firm. It’s “beautiful and enhances the bay view,” wrote a U-T commenter. U-T readers who responded to a 2011 unscientific poll were split.

Critics roasted the proposal, comparing the wings to bunny ears, hood ornaments and (most memorably) feminine hygiene products. County Supervisor Ron Roberts, a former architect, told us “the height and the location are just extraordinarily wrong.”

Neptune’s Revenge? God of the Sea & Friends

Image via A. Wasil studio
Image via A. Wasil studio

What Was It? A civic fountain featuring “five bronze killer whales tethered to a five-story-tall sculpture of Neptune.” Plus, seahorses!

Status: Extremely dead

What Would It Have Cost? $50 million

What Did People Think? “It’s very compelling. People enjoy the scale, the work itself, and they enjoy the vision,” the brother of the artist said in 2003 when the proposal arose. But critics were vicious, with local members of the art community calling it “kitschy retread of Soviet-style socialist realism” and then-U-T art critic Robert Pincus writing that “if this is the future for art in public places here, then let’s have public places without art.”

Boats Piled Above: Clash of the Titans

Photo by Pablo Mason, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Photo by Pablo Mason, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

What Was It? A “102-foot-high, 100-ton arch of 60 cabled-together fiberglass boats,” as the Reader described it, to be built over Harbor Drive near the Convention Center.

Status: Plot twist: This one is very much alive.

Convention Center commissioners nixed the proposed sculpture in 1999 to the great chagrin of local art supporters and the artist herself, Nancy Rubins. (She ripped Convention Center commissioner Steve Cushman with this zinger: “Friends said to me, ‘You know, Nancy, San Diego is really a provincial city. It’s immature, and you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your work accepted.’ They told me it’s full of small-minded people. And, Mr. Cushman, you just proved them right. I’m sorry you’re so petty.”)

But the sculpture did not die. It reappeared in 2006 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla location where it remains to this day.

How Much Would It Cost? Its ultimate cost is undisclosed.

What Did People Think? Critics called it a “shipwreck,” with one saying it conjured “hurricanes, perhaps mutiny, certainly claims against insurance policies.” But then-U-T art critic Pincus declared it “marvelous.”

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