Escondido’s relationship to the arts and its endeavor for cultural development began almost at the city’s incorporation in 1888. The first city band was formed by 12 local musicians. In 1889, a band stand was built on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Maple Street. Band concerts often made Sundays and holidays merry occasions. These early days also boasted local celebrations, eventually including the Grape Day Festival, which always had a musical component. Early theatrical productions were also quite common in the schools, churches and clubs.
In the 1920s and 30s, the Community Arts Association was organized to give attention to arts and drama. About the same time, local optometrist, Benjamin Sherman, who had studied drama at leading Southern schools, gathered local young people together and presented several plays at the Kinema Theatre. Audiences of 500 to 700 attended. Later, he became the author of the outdoor play “Felicita.” In more recent history, the Patio Playhouse Community Theatre has been providing local, live theatre since 1967.
In 1946, the Philharmonic Arts Association was formed and launched its first concert series, held in the Escondido High School auditorium. Through the Association’s efforts, Escondido was host to world-renowned artists such as Risë Stevens, Jose Greco, Artur Rubenstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In the 1970s, the Escondido Regional Arts Council was created to bring visual arts to North County. The first gallery was in the Vineyard Shopping Center on East Valley Parkway. Today, the Municipal Gallery and the Escondido Arts Partnership both provide venues for local artists to exhibit their work. The City established a Public Art Program in 1988 and more than 22 public art projects have been installed by the City of Escondido and private developers under the guidance of the Public Art Commission.
Also in the 1970s, the cultural history of the community came into focus with the establishment of Heritage Walk in Grape Day Park. The City’s first library was identified and moved to the Walk, opening in 1976 as the first local history museum. Since that time, other historic buildings have been added to Heritage Walk to help keep the history of Escondido alive. Additional museums and galleries have been established in the City, over time, to provide the people of Escondido with well-rounded cultural opportunities.
With the success of the Regional Arts Council, a stronger, more comprehensive Felicita Foundation was formed, which successfully lobbied to use the city’s old library space upon completion of the new library in the early 80s. With the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Felicita foundation was able to use the newly acquired space to present both visual and performing arts in a limited scope.
Sparked by this civic vision that recognized how vital the arts are to a community, Escondido voters, in 1985, approved the building of a $73 million arts center that would bring music, dance, theater, education and the visual arts together on one dynamic campus as part of an overall redevelopment project. Since its opening in 1994, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido has been dedicated to promoting the arts along with their power for community building and enhancement, and to enrich the lives of Escondido citizens.
Literature has always played a key role for Escondido residents, as well. First librarian Mina Ward authored a book that included her own stories as well as articles from technical magazines to assist in gauging shorthand speed. Several other notable authors have made Escondido their home, including, more recently, Martha C. Lawrence and former Escondido Police Officer, Neal Griffin; as well as childrens book illustrator Debbie Tilley.