Wavehouse Mission Beach

San Diego, California

Originally conceived as Walter Meyer’s undergraduate thesis project, Wavehouse was constructed in 1999 on Mission Beach in San Diego, California, as a public-private partnership between the City and developer Tom Lochtefeld. The seven-acre site was the home of historic Belmont Amusement Park, with a wooden rollercoaster built in the 1920s. The park was privatized and redeveloped as a strip mall in the 1980s and soon devolved into an underused, crime-ridden eyesore. The $8m wavehouse project converted the failed retail mall back into an all-hours public park. Wave machines were positioned to maximize the experiential juxtaposition of artificial waves against the wild Pacific ocean swells. The site plan blurs the line between park and beach program, with the influence of the surfing subculture seamlessly connecting the park, the beach and the ocean. The Wavehouse model quickly proved financially-viable; it has since been deployed worldwide with facilities on several continents. Wavehouse Mission Beach was a pioneering model for coastal public space-making via private investment and leaseholds that is especially relevant in the current economy of dwindling public funds for park construction.