A classic showdown between developers and advocates for historic preservation of buildings is scheduled Thursday as San Diego’s Historical Resources Board considers the fate of three large painted advertising signs on the exterior walls of the dilapidated California Theatre.

Agua Caliente mural. Photo via derrikchinn.blogspot.com

The murals — including the 80-by-40-foot ad for horse racing at Agua Caliente in Tijuana — are on the sides of an 89-year-old building on C Street along the trolley tracks that’s been vacant for around 26 years, blighting a block close to City Hall and near numerous office buildings.

The latest owner of the property has proposed a 40-story residential tower in its place. The $125 million project is scheduled to be reviewed next month by Civic San Diego, which handles downtown development issues for the city, and could go before the City Council this summer.

The Save Our Heritage Organisation is calling for the theater building to be restored and the murals to be preserved, which would require a historic designation by the city panel. Staff for the board has recommending denial of an historic designation.

The Agua Caliente sign, depicting a horse on a yellow background, is the most familiar of the ads and is visible in much of downtown.

“The Caliente sign is San Diego’s largest and most visible extant example of a traditional sign painter’s technique that is no longer being practiced,” said SOHO’s Erik Hanson.

The other two signs advertise dog racing at Agua Caliente and the Barbary Coast Tavern, which used to be housed in the theater building.

All three murals have transcended their original use to become “iconic public artworks” representing a nostalgic time of cross-border culture and mutually beneficial economics, according to SOHO.

The city staff report said the wall signs are not significant under any HRB criteria.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m. in rooms on the terrace level of the Community Concourse, adjacent to City Hall.

— City News Service