Design stage for AIDS memorial

Posted: September 1st, 2017 | Cover stories, Featured, News | No Comments

Community asked to take part in design of the ‘lasting tribute’ to those lost

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

The San Diego AIDS Memorial, meant as a “lasting tribute” to the 8,000 San Diegans who have been lost to AIDS, just got a lot closer to reality.

On Monday, Aug. 28, the San Diego AIDS Memorial Task Force committee, co-chaired by City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez and Katherine Faulconer, had a community meeting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Bankers Hill.

An aerial view of the future location of the Olive Street Park, which will also house an AIDS memorial. (Google)

In addition to Ramirez and Faulconer, those in attendance from the committee included Rabbi Laurie Coskey, CEO of United Way in San Diego; the Very Rev. Penny Bridges, dean of St. Paul’s; Terry Cunningham, chairman of the county HIV Health Services Planning Council; Jim Cassidy, representative of Being Alive San Diego; Carolina Ramos, representative of the San Diego LGBT Community Center; and former Assemblymember Jeff Marston.

Others on the committee but unable to attend included Susan Jester, Jim Lennox, Jimmy Ramsey, Carole Norman, Shannon Wagner, Ben Dillingham, Dr. Delores Jacobs, Jay Sheehan and Diana Schmid.

Ramirez gave a quick summary from a historical perspective on the memorial, and while an AIDS memorial in San Diego is something he said he has been pushing for decades, the official task force has been in place for approximately two years and progress and plans have been made. He said that the task force expects to break ground within the next 18 months.

So despite several months of community concerns and push back, the location of the memorial has been set; it will be built as part of the Olive Street Park development — a half-acre plot of land at the intersection of Third Avenue and Olive Street, on the eastern edge of Maple Canyon in Bankers Hill. The location was donated to the city in 1909 with the stipulation that it would be used as a park, but it had never been developed until earmarked for this cause.

Ramirez read aloud a letter from District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward, who is in full support of the memorial and its location at Olive Street Park.

A second letter, delivered to Faulconer in advance of the meeting, was from Assemblymember Todd Gloria. Gloria, who has been a champion of the AIDS memorial, re-emphasized his support in the letter and offered some historical context. Faulconer paraphrased the letter but did not read in full.

“During the process of the sale [of Truax House], we identified Olive Street Park to be the most fitting location for the AIDS memorial for numerous reasons, including its proximity and connection to Maple Canyon and the Truax House,” Gloria stated. “Most importantly, Olive Street Park remains the most suitable location for the AIDS memorial because of its open public access.”

With the location determined, the main point of the community meeting on Aug. 28 was to alert the public that the task force is now taking ideas for the design phase of the memorial.

After reading the letters of support, the task force summarized the process for submitting ideas for the design of the AIDS memorial and the surrounding park, and directed those in attendance to

Then they opened the meeting up for public comment. While 12 community members signed up, only 10 took to the podium to share their support or concerns. Those who spoke included Michael Lochner, Dawn Marie Tol, Rory Curz, Tom Kirkman, Eddie Reynoso, Charles Kaminski, Mat Wahlstrom, Roy McMakin, Aime Hayes and Leo Wilson.

Every speaker started their comments thanking the task force for their efforts in getting a memorial in place. Several who spoke identified themselves as AIDS survivors and were emotional while delivering their remarks and concerns. All speakers underlined the need for a “peaceful place for reflection.”

“This memorial is incredibly important to me and it is incredibly important to our history and our community,” said Curz, who stood alongside large printed versions of his proposed design. “… For many of us, we have no place to mourn our loved ones.”

One concern brought forward by several speakers was the location’s lack of easy access for seniors; another speaker implored the task force to make use of the corner of the property that overlooks Maple Canyon and incorporate it into the area of reflection; and another speaker encouraged them to import cherry trees from the original AIDS Memorial in Vancouver, Canada, for inclusion in the design.

Two speakers who identified themselves to be in the architectural industry both asked that those on the committee overseeing the competition for the final design have some type of design and/or architecture experience.

Bankers Hill Community Group president Amie Hayes said she reiterated some of the issues the group outlined in a letter sent to the task force, copying Councilmember Chris Ward and Leo Wilson of the Uptown Planners. Hayes stated that while the group, which is comprised of residents of Bankers Hill, are in support of the AIDS memorial, they do not support it being built in Bankers Hill.

“For a number of reasons, including the neighborhood’s current parking deficit, no proposed restrooms or facilities, and the programming of a tot lot also proposed for this site, the BHCG strongly believes the AIDS memorial warrants a more respectful and accessible location, where restrooms and parking are available, especially for those coming to see a regional monument,” Hayes said, reading from the letter. “Further, this park site was originally comprised of a Craftsman house, and is too small for multiple programs and large gatherings of people.”

Those with ideas, plans or designs for the AIDS memorial are requested to submit them via online form at

Access to the form will end on Friday, Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. Submissions are not to be anonymous, as the submitter’s name and email are required to process the form. A detailed description of your idea is requested, and up to 10 files can be uploaded via the form.

The website also suggests that the design of the memorial could be buffered by landscaping, walkways or other features, and that the plans also call for a “tot lot” on the same property as the memorial, based on community input.

To read background on the project, written by Ken Williams, editor of our sister-paper San Diego Uptown News, visit

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at

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