Encinitas approves El Portal mosaic design, authorizes its fabrication

A Paul Ecke student-designed mural panel
(Karen Billing)

Paul Ecke Central School, San Dieguito Academy students involved in pedestrian underpass artwork


An eclectic, funky mosaic design that features found objects and celebrates Leucadia’s history won Encinitas City Council approval Wednesday, May 10, and now heads into the fabrication stage.

Plans call for 17 panels, a 6-inch tile ribbon and two cairns to decorate the El Portal pedestrian railroad undercrossing, which opened last year. Elementary students in grades 3-6 at Paul Ecke Central School, which is near the project site, and high school art students from San Dieguito Academy worked together to create the designs.

And, they’ll be continuing to participate this summer as the concept work becomes a reality, high school art teacher and project leader Jerm Wright told the council.

Wright, who also was involved in the art project at the Santa Fe Drive freeway undercrossing, said the El Portal project will have “that same flavor” of diversity in the artwork. As he spoke, several students unrolled paper mock-ups of the proposed designs and marched around the council chambers holding them up for all to see.

The panel images will include a Kumeyaay tribal scene, a flower festival parade from decades ago, and the truck-pulled relocation of the former Santa Fe Railroad Station (now the Pannikin cafe). Surfers, sharks, seabirds and even a swarm of bees also will make an appearance.

Mural panels designed by Paul Ecke students.
(Karen Billing)

“All of the tiles will be very strong, weather-proof; it’ll last for years,” said Wright, who runs a ceramic studio at SDA.

Participants’ thumbprints are being incorporated into the design, as are found objects that Paul Ecke Central students have been collecting in donation boxes. Because of the diversity of materials, the mosaics will be “very tactile,” Wright promised.

Councilmember Kellie Hinze, who once attended Paul Ecke Central, said she thought the reuse of found objects, such as broken bits of dinner plates, was “so Leucadia.”

This mosaic project has been talked about for years, Hinze said, adding, “I always envisioned that it would be cool, but I didn’t expect it to be this cool.”

Mayor Tony Kranz, a former SDA student who called Wright one of SDA’s finest teachers, said he wanted city staff to create a documentary about the project, saying it will be “interesting years down the road for people to appreciate what went into it.”

To view the council staff report and accompanying pictures of the proposed panels, visit: