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Pieces of history: Ocean Beach Tile Project prepares to line up its next phase on Newport Avenue

The Ocean Beach Tile Project features ceramic tiles displaying personalized messages installed along Newport Avenue.
The Ocean Beach Tile Project features ceramic tiles displaying personalized messages installed along Newport Avenue. Many of the older tiles have a grayish-blue hue, seen here. The current tiles are sand-colored and are integrated into the existing design of the older tiles.
(Courtesy)

The beautification project, established in 1990, enables residents and tourists to buy a personalized tile to be featured on the sidewalk.

Want to own a piece of history on Newport Avenue? The Ocean Beach MainStreet Association can make it happen.

The Ocean Beach Tile Project was started in 1990 by the neighborhood organization, which at the time was called the Ocean Beach Merchants Association. The project gives people the opportunity to buy personalized ceramic tiles that are incorporated on Newport Avenue’s sidewalk. Some 2,000 tiles were installed in the first phase, and the project has continued since.

The next installment is scheduled for mid-May.

Here are scenes from Newport Avenue, where the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association’s Ocean Beach Tile Project gives people the chance to buy personalized ceramic tiles that are incorporated on the sidewalk.

Kristen Keltner, event and program manager for the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said the project is intended for neighborhood beautification.

The 6-inch tiles, priced at $150, feature messages customized by the buyers. The current tiles are sand-colored; older ones are grayish-blue.

Each message can use three lines of 14 characters per line, with special characters available for an additional $5 per symbol. As long as the message doesn’t contain obscenity or offensive language, the sky’s the limit.

“The $150 you pay goes to cover the cost of the tile and installation,” Keltner said. “We don’t make anything off the project.”

In addition to customizing the message on the tile, participants can choose where their tile will be located along Newport Avenue. Keltner said people often ask to have their tile placed in front of their favorite spot to eat or shop, such as Hodad’s, The Harp or OB Hardware.

“What [purchasers] are asking for their tiles will mean nothing to anybody other than themselves — it’s very personal,” Keltner said.

Installations occur twice a year, adding 30 to 60 new tiles to Newport Avenue. Since every ceramic tile is guaranteed for the lifetime of the association, existing tiles are surveyed and replaced as needed during the installation phases.

Once the tile orders are placed, it takes about six to eight weeks before the tiles debut in the neighborhood. The tiles are purchased locally through Arizona Tile. The typesetting is completed by Omni Graphic and the engraving by R.W. Little Co. Once the finished products are received, local contractor Dave Trussell installs them along Newport — about a two-day process.

“You see [the tiles] and you don’t realize how much work goes into it,” Keltner said.

The ceramic tiles in the Ocean Beach Tile Project cost $150 and are adorned with personalized messages.
(Courtesy)

She said the tiles commonly are purchased as birthday and holiday gifts and are sought by people who want to commemorate their time living in or visiting the neighborhood. Though many of the participants are Ocean Beach residents, it is not a requirement.

“We definitely have lots of people who purchase tiles who either have lived in Ocean Beach or visit Ocean Beach on a yearly vacation,” Keltner said. “It’s not all local, [but] they all have ties to Ocean Beach in some way, shape or form.

“We just had a guy walk into the office — he was purchasing one because he was stationed here for the last five years but he’s now moving. He wanted to commemorate his time in San Diego and the fond memories he had of Ocean Beach.”

Keltner noted that previous project participants, many of whom have moved away, often stop by the MainStreet Association’s office looking for their tiles. Association members can help them find their personalized piece of Newport Avenue — even if it’s been decades since it was installed. A PDF directory available on the association’s website, oceanbeachsandiego.com, also offers a list of every existing tile and its location.

“Tourists and locals alike love to look at [the tiles] when they’re cruising around and see what different people say,” Keltner said. “Truly it is a really unique project. ... It’s a great way to be a part of history, and it is a great opportunity to [be part of] a beautification project.”

The deadline to buy a tile for the next installment has been extended a week, to noon Friday, April 23. For more information or to place an order, visit oceanbeachsandiego.com/attractions/ocean-beach-tile-project.


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