Twenty one years ago, this blog post planted its roots. In September 1997 I moved into an apartment in North Park, and for two years I drove by an iconic building almost daily. I’ve only been in it twice, but this week I finished a painting of this fascinating place. It’s the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley, and it’s enormous. Among other things, it has a 10,000 square foot ballroom for trade shows.
If you’re bored, stay tuned. This building had a different function in the 50s. It was A. Happening. Spot.
The center is right by Interstate 8 and the Texas Street offramp, which was my exit. That freeway, that offramp and certain San Diego landmarks have a really special place in my heart. My apartment wasn’t anything glamorous (think peeling linoleum), but the first place you live on your own—the first place you choose, where you’re the queen of the castle—those are powerful memories.
But back to the building. It was built in 1957 as a bowling alley with 55 lanes and a lounge with a live band. In 1965 it became the Scottish Rite Center. This is how the building looked originally, when it was Bowlero. I love its style and personality.
|A vintage advertisement from when The Scottish Rite Center was Bowlero (1957-1965).|
|I wish I could go back in time for a night to experience the fun of this place in the late 1950s.|
But let’s get back to why I painted the building. I love design from the 50s and 60s. This building is a classic example of midcentury-modern architecture, with its dramatic peaked roof, and angled steel support beams. It also has a butterfly roof, which was a popular design feature in the 1950s. The 50s were the days of car culture, and roadside architecture from those days was created to catch the eye of drivers cruising around town. Motels, restaurants, bowling alleys and car washes featured giant signs with pointed arrows, neon, soaring roofs, or dramatic steel canopies—or all of these at once—to attract potential customers. The center’s huge, covered walkway was not designed to protect people from the annual few inches of rain San Diego received. No, at least in California, architecture was more about grabbing attention rather than providing shelter from the elements. Many buildings from the 50s no longer exist here, so when I find one that still has its original flair, I want to capture its style in a painting.
I began painting this building in early August, on a day when temperatures were in the 80s. While paint dried on my paper, sweat slid down my back. Hey, we artists suffer for our work.
That August morning I set up shop in the back of my car. Tailgaiting a la Sarah. By coincidence--not planning--I had a few binder clamps and a towel in the back of my car, so I set up a sun shade by clamping the towel to the open rear hatch. It was my portable studio, and I appreciated the shade. First, I drew in the major lines of the building in pencil, using a ruler. I don’t always use a ruler when painting but I wanted to capture the sharp midcentury angles.
|Underpainting in orange.|
Next, I did a layer of orange underpainting. Most of it would be covered but I left a little bit peeking through here and there, just for added interest and contrast.
|Here is how the building looks these days.|
The painting turned out okay but I didn’t feel like it captured how cool the building is. So I came back recently to try again. I still got sweaty but it was cooler than when I painted here in August. I’m happier with the second version (below).
After I painted, I walked up the hill behind the building. The photo below shows the Scottish Rite Center from above. You can see that the main part of the (huge) building is a modified Quonset hut, which was a popular design, post-WWII.
|From the hill above. This place is enormous....|
And so, more than two decades after first noticing this eye-catching building, I have painted it. That’s satisfying. Many people might not choose to paint on a hot morning, standing on asphalt, a few feet from a noisy freeway. But for me, it was awesome. The freeway sounds became a peaceful hum of background noise. The sweat reminded me that doing something meaningful has its cost—and that it’s worth it. I completed a painting I like, and studied some cool architecture. Sweaty mission accomplished. The center may not house bowling lanes anymore, but I feel like I bowled a strike.