ESCONDIDO — Nestled in Grape Day Park, a time machine awaits.
Rather, a string of buildings and a train tell the story of the city from its roots as an agricultural power, standing tall with its Japanese-American residents after Pearl Harbor and becoming the largest city in North County.
But many don’t know what the buildings, including a Victorian Country home, are despite resting just across from City Hall.
Enter Stacey Ellison, the executive director of the Escondido History Center, who has begun a rebranding campaign. Although the city owns the buildings, the nonprofit runs the interior.
The first step was landing a grant on Aug. 2 from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The $15,000, from the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, will provide more engaging signage of each structure and its place in the city’s history.
“It’s for interpretative signage,” Ellison said. “People have been coming to the park for 30 years and don’t know what these buildings are. We are trying to raise our public profile.”
After the signage, the second step in the process is to build decorative Victorian fencing around some of the buildings. Capping the three-step plan, Ellison said, is to add zeroscaping to protect the integrity of the wood in the buildings from water damage.
“The landscape around here is not conducive to the buildings,” she added. “The wood is getting damaged by the water intended to keep the grass healthy. To prevent that, we lower the water table.”
In addition to her new aggressive rebranding campaign, Ellison and Robin Fox are also spearheading efforts for the annual Grape Day Discovery Festival from 2 to 8 p.m. Oct. 1 at the park.
The center also hosts Movies in the Park during the summer, puts on a car show in May, and conducts adobe home, school and group tours.
Another project, meanwhile, is digitizing the center’s about 10,000 photos, although only about 1,500 have been converted, Ellison said.
“We’re trying, there’s only two employees here,” she added. “We have a long way to go.”
One of Ellison’s primary goals, however, is to increase her volunteer force and membership. She said high school students from High Tech High in San Marcos have assisted with the photo project, while her membership goals are targeting people between 30 to 40.
The difficulty, Ellison said, is the demographic has plenty on their plate with families and shuttling their kids from one activity to another. However, she said adding more people between that age range would also build a long-term foundation for the center.
“We just don’t exist to store the past, we’re also here to interpret it,” Ellison said.
On the grounds, meanwhile, the center has several buildings detailing the history of the city.
The Victorian Country home was built in 1890, while Penner Barn was constructed in 1901 featuring the agricultural roots of the city. The barn, however, is not part of the tour, but is accessible during open house events.
The center wouldn’t be complete without the Bandy Blacksmith Shop, a reproduction of the 1908 building on N. Kalmia Street.
The Santa Fe Depot is one of the oldest buildings in the city and was the hub of the community, linking Escondido to Oceanside at the turn of the century in 1900. It recently was the recipient of about $175,000 worth of upgrades from the city’s Capital Improvement Program.