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Solana Beach officials, locals celebrate ‘firewall’ art project

SOLANA BEACH — As the sun sets over the city, a luminescent wall of flaming colors lights up at the peak of Lomas Santa Fe Drive.

On June 13, city officials and locals gathered in front of the city’s fire station to welcome what Mayor Dave Zito described as the “beautiful piece of art we have as a new member of our community.”

The permanent public art piece is an approximately 11-foot-tall sculpture, a caged wall filled with chunk glass meant to resemble the embers of a burning fire. The wall is partly surrounded by painted glass panels, which match the colors of the chunk glass.

The piece, created by Del Mar artist Betsy Schultz, has been in the making for quite some time. But according to Schultz, the chunk glass that composes the majority of the sculpture’s substance was deposited in about eight days.

At the city’s June “dedication” event, Schultz discussed the process of carefully placing the red, yellow and orange pieces in the cage.

“It’s not just like we dropped (them) in,” Schultz said, recalling how she and several collaborators worked “rain or shine” to complete the elaborate sculpture.

The piece is just one segment of a larger project, which renovated the entire, approximately 3,000-square-foot space in front of the fire station.

Through the collaboration between Schultz, Van Dyke Landscape Architects, the city’s Civic and Historical Society and a local garden club called the SeaWeeders, the area now hosts an educational native plant garden, a seating area and an arrangement of drought-resistant plants.

The sculpture, created by Del Mar artist Betsy Schultz, is part of a larger art project that includes a seating area, various adaptable plants and a true native plant garden. Photo by Lexy Brodt

Mitch Phillippe, a principal with Van Dyke, said the firewall represents the ever-present threat of fires in the region, with the surrounding garden area representing a “defensible landscape” of adaptable plants that could survive or even discourage the event of a fire.

“(The city) wanted this garden to represent an appropriate coastal landscape for Solana Beach,” Phillippe explained. “So that’s why the plants that you see are very adaptable to this climate and this area.”

But it also serves as a representation of the city’s efforts to prioritize public art. The city’s public art program was established in 2008, after which the Public Arts Commission suggested sites around the city that would be suitable for public art.

The lawn in front of the fire station was added to the program in 2012, and like many of the city’s public art efforts, was initially envisioned as a temporary project. However, the commission recommended the city council approve the fire station location for a permanent installation.

The area was previously a grass lawn that required consistent irrigation — the city was hoping to make the space more drought-tolerant.

After requesting submissions, the city received nine proposals for the project, which was eventually narrowed down to Schultz and Phillippe’s proposal.

Attendees of the community “dedication” celebrated the culmination of years of effort — both on the part of the artists and landscapers that brought it to life, and the city commissioners who put the idea into motion.

“All these projects take a lot of people to get done and it seems like it should be simple but it’s always a big production,” said Schultz.

The big production had its desired effect, with happy residents attending to appreciate the glowing piece as night came on.

“I love it, I like the way it changes according to the time of day,” said Solana Beach resident Halle Shilling.

Shilling, a 13-year-resident, said she hopes her kids will stop to admire the piece on their walks home from school, describing it as “something we can appreciate for years and years.”

The “dedication” took place in the Fire Station’s front lot — with several of the city’s firefighters looking on. Although the department was not a major participant in the piece’s progression, Battalion Chief Robert Ford is happy with the station’s new neighbor.

Ford grew up across the street from the site, and was wowed by the complete transformation of the area — as well as the impact of the sculpture on the site, particularly at nighttime.

“When it’s lit up, you definitely notice,” Ford said.

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