Port, City Officials to Dedicate Artwork that Pays Homage to San Diego’s Tuna Cannery Workers

Contact: Marguerite Elicone (619) 686-6222 - Published on .

A public art project honoring the thousands of San Diegans who worked in the once-thriving tuna canning industry will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. (Courtesy: Allan Tait)A public art project honoring the thousands of San Diegans who worked in the once-thriving tuna canning industry will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009.

"The Cannery Workers Tribute – Parque del Sol," is located at the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Crosby Road.  The site was the location where many workers took a break from the canneries that were housed in what is now the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding/Continental Maritime property.

Board of Port Commissioners Vice Chair Robert “Dukie” Valderrama will serve as the emcee of the dedication ceremony. Commissioner Valderrama has 10 family members who worked in the Van Camp and Bumble Bee canneries. Also participating in the ceremony is District 8 Council member Ben Hueso. Council member Hueso grew up in the neighborhood where the canneries once stood. Former Port Commissioner Frank Urtasun, whose mother worked in one of the canneries, will also be participating.

From 1912 to 1986, the property was occupied by tuna canning companies such as Premier Packing Company, International Packing Corporation, Van Camp Packing Company, Westgate Sea Products Company, Hopkins Inc., Westgate-California Foods and Bumble Bee Seafoods. Other nearby canneries included the California Tuna Canning Company and High Seas Tuna Pack Company.

“I grew up with tuna fishermen and cannery workers in my neighborhood so this project is very special to me,” said Stephen P. Cushman, Chair of the Board of Port Commissioners. “I’m proud to have been involved with it from the beginning. It’s a fitting tribute to the men and women who contributed so much to our region.”

At the height of the tuna cannery success, the industry brought $65 million in annual economic impact to the San Diego region and employed more than 17,000 people. Each year, approximately 800 ships brought tuna from the sea right up to the canneries’ back doors. Familiar brands like “Chicken of the Sea”, “Starkist”, and “Breast ‘O Chicken” were packed in the San Diego canneries.

The artwork is a joint project between the Port of San Diego and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding/Continental Maritime. Created by artists Valerie Salatino and Nancy Moran of Nature Works, Inc., an Escondido sculpture firm, with assistance from Sheila Moran, the artwork incorporates several elements that tell the story of the cannery workers.

The artwork includes bronze figures of a female and two male workers. One of the males is crouched down with a basket of tuna fish. The style of his clothing suggests the time period of the 1940s. The other male is standing across from him, appearing to catch fish. He is dressed as a worker from the 1960s. The female worker stands ready to clean the tuna fish she carries. Her uniform is consistent with the 1920s. A stainless steel arch of tuna leaps above the two male workers. The arch symbolizes the connection between the workers and the tuna symbolize nearly eighty years of work at the canneries.

The artwork also includes a coral tree encircled with a geometric mosaic sun and low mosaic wall. This represents the seating area where employees used to take their breaks. The sun in the artwork signifies the name of the artwork’s site, “Parque del Sol,” and also honors the employees of Sun Harbor Industries who dedicated the coral tree years ago.

There are four bronze plaques embossed with stories of the workers and the history of the canneries. The plaques also honor the diverse cultures of the Italian, Portuguese, Hispanic and Japanese employees of the canneries. The plaques are mounted on parts of cannery machinery that were left after the canneries closed.

The landscaping of “Parque del Sol” was carefully selected to complement the artwork. Grass, textured and colored paving, accent trees and a bamboo hedge are used. The bamboo hedge represents the bamboo fishing poles once used in the tuna industry. A sea and sand walkway utilizes colors of the beach and the ocean. The line of the walkway creates a water-like path to the bronze plaques. The Daedalus Design Group, of Carlsbad, California, designed the landscaping.

“The Cannery Workers Tribute” art project underwent significant public outreach before the final design was selected. In late 2004, the Port of San Diego’s Public Art Department issued a request for proposals for artists to submit ideas and models. Twenty entries were received. Four semi-finalists were selected by the Port’s Public Art Committee and an exhibit of the four scale models, renderings and material samples was displayed for public viewing at various locations.

Following a one-month period of public review and comment, the Board of Port Commissioners selected Nature Works, Inc., to create the final artwork.

The Port’s Public Art Program was created in 1996 to promote an enriching atmosphere that contributes to the quality and identity of the region.  The Port enacted the first “percent for art” program in San Diego County, dedicating a portion of revenues each year toward a public art fund that is used for the acquisition and maintenance of public artworks on Port tidelands.



Creative Commons LicenseThis public website's original content and documents, provided by the Port of San Diego, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License unless otherwise noted.