Shaded by a wild overgrowth in the oft-forgotten edge of the oft-forgotten Original Student Center, The Craft Center was the friendly pale green and brown wooden house with the glass mobiles hanging off the roof, the unlit elephant sculpture on top, and the wraparound porch at its front. It was a building that many newer students probably walked by but never knew quite what it was or considered what it might have been. During its years of operation, the building had been a privately managed crafting space accessible to the UCSD and San Diego communities.
Offering a variety of classes and facilities, students could learn glass blowing, pottery, painting, screen-printing, welding, neon sign-making, and a variety of other skills and crafts in a collaborative, non-academic creative environment. With workable hours that made it possible for affiliates to drop in and work on their art throughout the course of the school day, it hosted a gallery, shop, and walk-up café alongside its many workrooms and storerooms. It was one of the few places on campus that facilitated frequent campus-community interactions.
But in 2012, after the consistent denial/deferment of proper structural maintenance by the university, the consistent loss in Price Center earnings that University Centers blamed on foot traffic/profit distortion by non-PC businesses, and financial difficulties encountered by the private management of the Craft Center, UCSD ordered the Craft Center “temporarily closed.” For three years the Craft Center stood mostly untouched, with many of its goods and projects left there to wait patiently, gathering dust as the days past in the aftermath of this post-artpocalyptic scenario.
I’d been curious about the glass mobiles hanging off the Craft Center roof since I first saw them, but I knew very little about the building or its history. A friend of an older cohort explained its veritable wonders of legend to be real; when operational it was the main vehicle of creative expression on a campus that aims to be inorganic and sterile. Its existence was even a primary motivation of theirs to enroll at UCSD, although by the time they enrolled in college the Craft Center’s days were already numbered.
My first visit to the Craft Center was me walking through the back space between the shed and fence, although there wasn’t much to be seen from there alone, just a dirt field and a ladder. But that ladder could be used to climb over the gate. It took me the next visit to figure this out, and that time I made my way into one of the main tools workroom, a testament to all things non-UCSD.
It felt like and had remainders of being a once functional creative space; unlike the contrived “controlled recreation-approved zones” like Graffiti Hill that the university presently oversees. It was teeming with a vibrancy and warmth rare to the campus, it was the antithesis to the polished banality of UCSD. Little mementos, scattered tools, and leftover jackets made it feel more like a home than part of the office park. Each passing visit would reveal new wonders and oftentimes access to new spaces, as entrances and pathways would suddenly be discovered both opened and unlocked (see Labyrinth, at the Balboa Theatre)
I started going with friends at night; at night the Craft Center was like UCSD’s dusty old haunted house with all of its hidden stories and darkness. We realized fairly quickly it was easier to get in by the roof, and we’d venture with flashlights, giddy and paranoid about every strange noise and sight we thought we heard or saw. Whenever we’d encounter a locked door or blocked pathway we’d childishly spend our time trying to find a way around, each following visit testing new strategies. A framed picture of Marilyn Monroe turned out to be hiding an entrance, that was too small for an adult, into an unknown room behind it (any Scooby Doo villain or monster would be proud). The café, accessible through a narrow vent-cover at the base of its door, contained amongst its kitchenwares a grody Sony boombox with a tape of the most repetitive reggaeton I’ve heard. The one time we thought we heard a raccoon chasing after us, we bailed almost immediately.
A framed picture of Marilyn Monroe turned out to be hiding an entrance too small for an adult into an unknown room behind it…
With old friends having left for greener pastures and demanding classes taking up my time, I didn’t visit the Craft Center much during the Fall quarter. But when Winter quarter came, I couldn’t resist. Not much had changed with the Craft Center, although student tensions with the university administration were beginning to grow with the closure and constant surveillance of the former Graffiti Hall and the university’s increasingly serious threats to close the Che Café. I continued to visit the Craft Center and occasionally took new friends, but unlike before the space now held a different potential value to many new visitors. It was no longer seen as the same odd novelty so much as it was a tangible demonstration of possibility. The Craft Center was a shuttered window to the past, a juxtaposition to the present administration intent on directing all aspects of campus life and activity to create an image that’s pretty in pictures but aside has little depth. Many saw the Craft Center as a space that represented change, as it was reinvented as an icon of the humiliatingly underdeveloped campus counterculture.
“Dana” moved in sometime around Spring Quarter 2015. She came from nowhere. Once, she interrupted a radio station meeting to announce she was going to Library Walk on an individual protest against something unintelligible. This was amplified by the fact that she announced this totally nude – aside from appropriative underwear and some body paint. Not a student of UCSD (but student aged), she camped out of the Craft Center for at least a month, getting by through a variety of means. For example: selling works of unclaimed pottery she stole from the Craft Center, promising that the proceeds would go to “Re-Opening the Craft Center.” Perhaps coincidentally, when Dana moved into the Craft Center the inaccessible portions of the Craft Center suddenly became accessible. A glass door was broken to shards, keys for nearly every room had been found with almost every door and compartment unlocked.
…she stole from the Craft Center, promising that the proceeds would go to “Reopen the Craft Center.
Dana’s cult of popularity within some communities of the Original Student Center reinvigorated interest in the Craft Center. Larger groups began to take pilgrimages to the Center, many even audaciously venturing there in broad daylight. Some students talked about starting a “guerilla art collective,” affectedly promising to use the Center’s heavy machinery to make “art” without any knowledge of how to do so. Others began to regularly use the space as a study room. Food waste began to accumulate in the Craft Center, empty or half-finished bottles of wine were left about, and items throughout were being rearranged or went missing entirely. The front door was left unlocked so people could quite literally walk in and the sudden surge in electricity usage for an abandoned building probably alarmed the university.
The climax of this carelessness culminated when a student who had heard of the Craft Center decided to bring their entire Visual Arts section group to the Center in the afternoon, perhaps in some half-baked effort to impress their classmates, although it resulted in their collective apprehension by CSOs. From thereon, the university’s denial of the unauthorized use of the Craft Center could no longer continue.
Food waste began to accumulate in the Craft Center, empty or half-finished bottles of wine were left about, and items throughout were being rearranged or went missing entirely.
In its final months, new visitors seemed to be resorting to purposeless antics to impress others with stories of “what they did in the Craft Center.” One group tacked strips of bacon to the wall that were left to rot; another held a mock “satanic ritual” that involved an inverted cardboard cross painted black attached to the wall and a sizeable collection of tea lights. Then Spring quarter ended and people moved back home.
A regularly-meeting group working to reopen the space since it’s closure in 2012 had existed until recently, although it was probably unaware of the extent of the continued unauthorized use of the Craft Center. In the summer months with many students back home, the University announced via email that would be clearing out the entire Craft Center due to safety concerns. This announcement came two weeks after the fact.
Then without much coverage or notice, the Craft Center was completely bulldozed over. All that remains now is a path of rocks, wood chips, and the same three “loading-&-unloading” parking spots behind.
This article was written and submitted by an anonymous UCSD student on their experience with the now non-existent and now defunct UCSD Craft Center. The opinions presented within the piece do not necessarily represent the views of The Triton or any of it’s staff.
Photo courtesy of Imgur.com user MatieF.