ESCONDIDO — Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Kit Carson Park has been closed for maintenance for the first time since its opening in 2003.
Normal wear and tear from weather, visitors and occasional vandals necessitated the closure.
Tiles were beginning to break, including some glass-mirrored tiles, which caused the city to close the garden.
“The tipping point was that it was hazardous. It was a safety issue,” said Marty Tiedeman, part of the Queen Califia Ad Hoc Committee.
The garden is tucked into a remote area of Kit Carson Park and features whimsical statues popular with children and adults alike. The remoteness is part of the garden’s charm but also makes it an easy target for vandals.
In order to deter vandals, a taller fence is needed, Kristina Owens, associate planner for the city, told the Public Art Commission on Monday.
A docent program will also be introduced to reduce vandalism and to educate visitors about the garden.
Tiedeman hopes the education program will create respect for the gardens instead of “being a source of entertainment to destroy when (kids) are bored.”
The commission plans to re-open the gardens by late August, according to Tiedeman.
The dynamic sculpture garden was created by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle and gifted to the city. The rich colors and whimsical characters invite viewers to interact and touch the exhibit.
Although some people may be surprised to learn that the interactive sculptures are not meant to be climbed on, according to Commissioner Jean Will.
It is the only sculpture garden in America by de Saint Phalle and was her last major project. She passed away in 2002 before the garden was finished. Some of her sculptures are also on display in Balboa Park.
The artist also has sculpture gardens in Jerusalem and Italy. She lived in La Jolla with sculptures throughout San Diego, but Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is the largest public garden of her work in America.
“I think it’s the jewel of our community,” said Petey Dietz.
The Niki Charitable Art Foundation, which insures artistic integrity for all of the artist’s works throughout the world, toured the garden and was impressed by the condition, considering the exhibit has never been closed.
“The Foundation said with the other exhibits in Europe, which close down four months out of the year, the fact that we kept this open for 10 years continuously without any kind of interruption” was pretty good, said Assistant Planning Director Jay Petrek.
The commission plans to move money from the Pedestrian Pathfinders and the Escondido Creek Art funds to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the garden, said Owens.
They also plan to solicit private donations because the only funds specifically designated for maintenance are from the interest accrued on funds already in the Public Art Fund.
The art installation will first re-open for private soft openings and then open to the public, with docent supervision.