DEL MAR — As one of the city’s more historic features, the Del Mar Powerhouse has seen its fair share of changes over the last century.
And pending the final approvals and fundraising — more is yet to come. In the next six months, the building will likely see an 829-square-foot upper balcony extension meant to draw more people to the beloved beachside haven.
Built in the 1920s, the building was originally used to provide laundry facilities and electricity to the now defunct Del Mar Hotel. It then survived a brief stint as a nightclub before nearly becoming a desalination plant — a project that was ultimately abandoned, along with the building itself.
The city purchased the site in the 1980s, in order to scratch the possibility of it becoming a commercial property. In the 1990s, with the leadership of longtime resident Barbara Harper, a group of dedicated locals decided to bring the building back to life — no small feat.
“It was all rundown,” said Harper, adding that there were plenty of rodents and bats milling about when the city acquired the property.
Calling themselves The Friends of the Powerhouse, the new nonprofit worked tirelessly to make the building and surrounding park something the community could use and treasure. They brought the building up to code, refurbished the interior, and renovated some of the facility’s most defining structures, like its iconic smokestack, and the wooden beams across its ceiling.
And now, after about two decades of hosting weddings, parties, and nonprofit gatherings, the historic building will see an entirely new revamp.
The Friends have been working with the city for three years now to extend the facility’s second-story balcony, which is currently seldom used. Harper and other board members are hoping the 800-plus-square-foot extension will bring more people to the site and create a gathering place for the community and visitors alike.
“This building is locked up, so we wanted to make it more accessible and feel more useable,” said Gala Yayla, president of the Friends’ executive board.
The concept first took hold when the Friends and other community members noticed the withering of the facility’s adjoining trellis structures — defining characteristics of the Powerhouse’s outdoor area.
Hoping to hit two birds with one stone, the Friends thought it best to tackle both the repair of the structures and a new balcony at one time — in order to minimize the duration of time the building would be closed to the public.
And when local architect Howard Gadd came forward with a “top-of-the-line” concept for how a balcony would look, the idea took off.
The project aims to extend the balcony — which is currently a relatively confined space — onto what is currently a platform of trellises. The balcony will give visitors a panoramic view of the coast, and allow an improved outdoor space for parties, weddings, or residents simply looking for a good place to sit and watch the waves.
The project now has all the necessary city-level approvals, having received a thumbs up from the Planning Commission, Design Review Board and City Council at its recent Oct. 21 meeting.
“It’s an example of what Del Mar does, for the broader community around us to be able to be at the beach and use this setting for important events in their lives, including weddings and anniversaries,” said City Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland, right before council unanimously approved the project.
The project is awaiting final approval by the California Coastal Commission, which will allow the city to go out to bid for construction.
The Friends anticipate the project will break ground in early 2020 and be complete by summertime. The public bathrooms will remain open, but the rest of the building will be closed through construction.
The extension is a joint effort between Friends of the Powerhouse and the city. The project will cost an estimated $560,000. The city has earmarked $200,000 for the project, which has already been approved.
Now, all that’s left is for the Friends to raise the remaining funds.
For more information, or to make a contribution, visit: friendsofthepowerhouse.org. Supporters can also purchase bricks or plaques. A brick costs $250, “In Memory of” plaques cost $3,000, and “Impact donors” plaques cost $5,000. For more information, contact: (858) 775-1508.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.