Hidden San Diego: The 25th Street Musical Bridge

Public art, safety and music bridge two communities

All too often, public works of art have a polarizing effect - you either love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it. In San Diego, works of public art often become controversial - mostly because many proposed works which could elevate the city's desire to project a sophisticated image clashes with the reality that we're still a provincial and unsophisticated city at heart.

Which is too bad. Now, I'm not saying I'm a non-discriminating proponent of all avant-garde public art (did anyone really like that turd-like sculpture in front of Scripps Clinic on North Torrey Pines Road?), but how many bronzed sailboats and leaping dolphins do we need? Let's challenge ourselves just a little bit. But I seriously doubt the wonderful painted cow sculptures of Chicago (or the painted pigs in Seattle) would have flown here in San Diego had we been approached first with the concept.

Heck, we'd probably turn down a request by Christo to drape the Coronado Bridge in fabric.

So, we're often left with little works of art to discover and admire, rather than grand statements. And that's OK, as long as they're as clever as one you'll find on the 25th Street Bridge spanning the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway (State Route 94) linking the neighborhoods of Golden Hill to the north and Sherman Heights to the south.

Actually, the artwork isn't so much the bridge itself as it is the railing separating the sidewalk from the traffic on the west side of the bridge. Artist Roman de Salvo had the idea of creating a "song rail" - a carillon, which is a series of chromatic bells that plays a tune when struck in sequence. If you've ever run a stick along a picket fence while walking, then you'll get the idea.

So, in essence, de Salvo has created a work of art that is not only functional but also beautiful - a melding of safety and music in a unique way - and it serves as a symbolic gesture of bridging the two neighborhoods of Golden Hill and Sherman Heights. The song rail's tune is called the "Crab Carillon," and was written solely for the project by SDSU music instructor Joseph Waters, and plays the same whether walking in either direction.

The Golden Hill Community Development Corporation received a $200,000 grant from SANDAG for the pedestrian safety improvements and secured a $39,000 grant from the City of San Diego Arts and Culture program for the song rail. So, sometimes public art doesn't have to be grandiose or bizarre to make an impression on the public. And the 25th Street Musical Bridge is a perfect example.

So, next time you're speeding down the King Freeway heading into or out of downtown, take a look at the 25th Street bridge and know that there's a clever little gem hidden on the structure. And maybe you'll take the time to pull off the freeway and stroll across the bridge to the tune of the "Crab Carillon."

Hidden San Diego is a series of articles about cool and unique things generally not known about San Diego.

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