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‘Secret stairs’ get a floral face-lift, another step toward spiffing up southeastern San Diego

Nestled in the neighborhood of Valencia Park, in southeastern San Diego, is a hidden staircase that had been destroyed for years.

The 75 steps that divide a small part of the community connect Las Alturas Terrace with Churchward Street. But with overgrown weeds and litter, the staircase had become a magnet for graffiti and drug use, some residents said.

In recent days, however, the stairs have brought smiles to the faces of the residents.

Large, colorful poppies are painted along the stairs and a mural crosses the whole, welcoming visitors to what has become known as the “secret stairs”. A local non-profit organization, some volunteers and artists have done a facelift on the secret stairs of Valencia Park.

Now with the rubbish being collected and the weeds pulled, the newly cleaned and bright stairs reconnect two parts of the neighborhood and remind people of the connections of the community.

“I have never seen such a large and beautiful mural,” said Elizabeth Dunn, 32. “I have lived in Valencia Park since I was a little girl and I used the stairs almost every day to get to my friend’s house, but I have not been able to let my children use them – until now.”

“I finally feel they can grow up in the neighborhood as I remember it,” he added.

Shirish Villasenor sits next to one of her public works of art along the “secret staircase” of Valencia Park outside the Trinidad Way.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Barry Pollard, CEO of the Urban Collaborative Project, an outreach program that uses volunteers to tackle inequality within the community, recalls using the stairs as a shortcut when he attended Morse High.

“I would meet my friends here and walk together,” he said. “And then I grew up and I forgot all that.”

This was until he and other local groups began to try to revitalize the Park of Valencia neighborhood.

At the end of 2020, the park of Valencia is adjacent revived an inactive community council and began working with local groups such as Urban Collaborative to start landscaping and neighborhood cleaning.

“We were just trying to revitalize community life,” said Rob Yuliuci, who was council leader at the time.

Along with the weekly cleaning efforts, the team worked to acquire a dozen “Little Free Library” book-sharing boxes throughout the neighborhood and facilitated other murals, including the “Welcome to Valencia Park” sign on Logan Avenue.

While the Valencia Park community – which borders Encanto, Emerald Hills and Lincoln Park – has businesses scattered around, it is mostly a residential neighborhood, so the council has also worked with other local organizations, including Urban Collaborative, to host a pop-up coffee event in December 2020 at the Four Corners, what locals call the main intersection of Euclid Avenue and Imperial Avenue, attended by dozens of locals.

“It’s such a welcoming community, but we don’t really have shops to go to,” Iuliucci said. “We saw some old people coming and some new faces, so it was great to see the integration of the whole community coming for it.”

Although the council stopped meeting last year due to time constraints, revitalization efforts continued with Urban Collaborative at the helm.

“It makes me smile, seeing only the little things; giving a little life to the community – the energy is different,” Iuliucci said of the neighborhood projects that have been completed.

Shirish Villasenor, Isabel Garcia, Herbert Delong and Shannon White stand at the Secret Stairs of Valencia Park

Shirish Villasenor, Isabel Garcia, Herbert Delong and Shannon White stand at the Secret Stairs of Valencia Park

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Among the various cleaning projects were the efforts to restore the secret stairs. Dozens of volunteers started cleaning last year, but with a $ 15,000 donation from Blue Shield, California, they managed to take the staircase renovation to the next level.

Artists Shirish Villaseñor, Isabel Garcia, Shannon White and Herbert DeLong then stepped in, painting vivid California poppies scattered along the stairs as a tribute to the local wildflowers that now grow in the neighborhood.

While Garcia, White, and DeLong had all grown up in the area, no one had ever climbed the stairs before the poppy project – and White did not even know the stairs were there.

“I’ve been right next to them many times,” White said. “I liked the whole idea of ​​it being something that the community and the people enjoy.”

The mural took about 100 hours per artist to complete in a matter of months.

“Neighbors would come out and talk to us while we worked,” Garcia said.

For the artists, the overwhelmingly positive response from the community makes their efforts worthwhile, everyone agreed.

“It was best to see a small child pass by and say to his brother: ‘Look at all the colors! “It no longer looks scary,” Villaseñor added.

DeLong remembers a little girl who particularly liked a turquoise flower she had painted.

 Shannon White next to one of her works of art along his route "secret stairs" of the park of Valencia off Trinidad.

Shannon White next to one of her works of art along the “secret staircase” of Valencia Park outside the Trinidad Way.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“He was standing next to him, and he kept walking and saying, ‘I like this,'” he said.

White says she even had residents outside her neighborhood who told her they visited the stairs to see the new mural.

“There is an excitement,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling, almost like we left our mark on the community … I hope it makes a lasting impression.”

“There are a lot of people who really come looking for it, so I’m excited,” Villaseñor added.

Lakimya Velvet Jones, a resident of Valencia Park, says her parents moved their house down the stairs and says she has never looked better.

“I use them all the time now,” he said.

Yoni Campbell and his German Shepherd now include the ladder in their daily walks.

“It’s a great workout for us – and now it’s beautiful too,” he said. “It really lights up the neighborhood.”

Residents agree that the staircase has become a landmark they are proud to display.

“This (mural) has been here for a few months and there are no labels (graffiti),” Pollard said.

Herbert Delong sat down next to one of his public works of art along the path of the secret steps of Valencia Park off Trinidad.

Herbert DeLong with his artwork on the “Secret Stairs” of Valencia Park off the Trinidad Way.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Since the cleanup, Urban Collaborative has hired locals for monthly stair maintenance, but Pollard is still seeking donations to address such remaining issues as the sewer problem causing the bottom of the stairs to flood. Pollard is also working with SDG & E to install sunlight from dusk to dawn to make the staircase usable at night.



‘Secret stairs’ get a floral face-lift, another step toward spiffing up southeastern San Diego Source link ‘Secret stairs’ get a floral face-lift, another step toward spiffing up southeastern San Diego

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