Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King speaks at the Educational Cultural Complex in 1983. Courtesy San Diego Community College District

A historic theater in Southeastern San Diego that hosted such civil rights pioneers as Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, James Meredith and Jesse Jackson will be fully renovated with a $35 million state grant.

Senate President Toni Atkins pledged the grant in July, and announced at a ceremony on Friday that funding is in the 2021-22 California Budget.

The theater, located in the San Diego College of Continuing Education’s Educational Cultural Complex in Mountain View, will be upgraded with modern acoustic panels, sound system and lighting, while the entry, foyer and seating will be renovated. The project is estimated to be completed in 2024.

“We are both recognizing the history and reinvesting in the future, which is what is so important about today,” said Atkins at the ceremony.

“The layers of this rich treasure are deeper than I ever imagined. We are sitting on civil rights history. This is hallowed ground,” said San Diego Community College District Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez.

The complex at 4343 Ocean View Boulevard has been a symbol of community and African American arts, culture, and activism since its beginnings in 1972. Coretta Scott King’s address there in 1983 influenced the decision to sign the law creating the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

“The iconic ECC theatre has been an invaluable asset in southeastern San Diego, at the intersection of arts and activism, we have wreaked the benefits of change right here on this landmark civil rights campus,” said City Councilmember Montgomery Steppe. “There is no disputing this is a community safe space known for being at the center of the cultural revolution in our community and being known to be woven in the fabric of civil rights advocacy.”

Today, the complex continues to honor its inaugural purpose, by welcoming the public every February for a Black History Month celebration featuring live music, dance, and spoken word symbolic of African American legacy.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.