Horton Hears a Whodunnit

Philip Salata and Jason Araújo attempt to find the murderers of the Horton Plaza Mall

Horton Plaza Mall has been regarded as a signature example of postmodern retail design. (Courtesy Philip Salata and Jason Araújo)

“Who killed Horton Plaza? Who pulled the plug? Was it us: thumbs up, thumbs down? Horton Plaza died while nobody was looking.” So mourn artist Philip Salata and scholar Jason Araújo over the ongoing destruction of the postmodernist San Diego icon, completed in 1985 by Jon Jerde. In their roles as the guest curators for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, Salata and Araújo have installed Ghosted, an exhibition compiling photographs, texts, and a video that attempts to revive the spirit of a once lively complex that might soon be meeting its maker.

Set within the Davis-Horton House, a Victorian-era home two blocks from the Horton Plaza Mall in Downtown San Diego, Ghosted invites visitors to question where the finger should be pointed when dealing with the “dead mall” phenomenon and the condition of Horton Plaza in particular. In their exhaustive collection of archival materials, the curators were inspired by photographic documentarians such as Charles Marville, who, in the mid-19th century, photographed Paris on the verge of widespread transition.

Salata and Araújo also drew a connection between the end of the Cold War, signaled by the demolition of the Berlin Wall exactly 30 years ago this month, and the rise of the American mall in the late 1980s. Just as the signifiers of the Cold War are mostly gone but not forgotten, so too must we reckon with the leftovers of a bygone retail building type whose ghosts continue to haunt many of our urban centers. In addition to the collection laid out by the curators, they are also encouraging visitors to bring relics of their own “that might shine a light or shadow on what could have happened,” so that they may be added to the archives.

Though the future of Horton Plaza remains uncertain given the news last month that Macy’s department store, one of three retailers at the mall, has considered a lawsuit that would prevent the scheduled demolition from taking place, the mall’s waning popularity has been been an ongoing reality for years. The curators hope the exhibition, on view until January 6, will uncover the sequence of events that led to the mall’s demise through community engagement. “Only together”, they write, “may we be able to write the mystery.”

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