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Eyes Peer No More from the Old Dairy Building

Artists saw a mural as a symbol of their neighborhood’s creative
soul.

I found a bunch of interesting details amid the internet cobwebs when researching my story last week about a deal to preserve arts space in a gentrifying East Village.

The story in a nutshell: Downtown redevelopment planners struck the deal between an arts group — Sushi Contemporary Visual and Performance Art — and a developer wanting to rehab an old dairy building that Carnation and Qualitee historically used. When a new developer came in wanting to build the Icon complex at 10th and J, CCDC held that new developer to the arrangement that granted Sushi lower-than-market rents through 2031. That deal faltered when Sushi closed its doors earlier this year; now it’s unclear what will happen next to the space.

Here’s one nugget I couldn’t fit into the story. The Carnation building (called the ReinCarnation Project once architect Wayne Buss rehabbed it) used to house a colorful set of eyes.

Muralist Mario Torero painted a 15-by-60-foot mural of “The Eyes of Picasso” on the side of a building at Third Avenue and J Street in the late 1970s. In those days, artists and performers could rent cheap space to live and work downtown, and Torero credits that artsy infusion with helping to revitalize the Gaslamp Quarter and lose its “seedy reputation.” But eventually, the artists were priced out. They fled to what is now known as East Village. The building Torero’s mural was on was condemned to make way for the Horton Plaza mall.

So years later, in 1990, Torero painted his trademark “Eyes of Picasso” on the 10th Street façade of the old Carnation building. But Buss didn’t technically own it yet, and the bank managing the building after the previous owner died painted over it.

That wouldn’t stop Torero, one of the key muralists in Barrio Logan’s Chicano Park, who refers to himself as an “artivist.” Here’s more from Torero’s “Eyes of Picasso” website:

A couple of months later, another version of the Eyes went back up on the same wall while still owned by the bank, but this time the bank waited several months before they painted it over again. Artists with a mission don’t give up that easily so in a few months, the Eyes were painted on the wall once again; however, this time the move was followed by the conveyance of the building to mural commissioner Wayne Buss, and the Eyes remained there until November of 2003.

But with the construction last decade of Icon, “the Eyes have been painted out for the last time.” Torero sees the mural’s disappearance from downtown as a symbol for artistic spirit in downtown.

The Eyes mural itself is gone, but the dream of preserving an Arts Community in downtown San Diego is still very much alive. The first step will be to recreate the Eyes mural as a symbolic representation of the rebirth of the downtown Arts Community, but with a promise that this time, it shall remain a permanent and integral part of the downtown landscape for all to enjoy and count on for generations to come.

Last year, Torero’s “Eyes” popped up again, this time in Barrio Logan. He unveiled a 15-by-70-foot version of the mural on a wall at Lucky’s Market on Logan Avenue.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

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