A Bird Park scene unimaginable in 1996
The first concert at Bird Park was held in 2002. The Tami Thomas Big Band performed. At the time, Bird Park Summer Concerts founder Nellie Harris Ritter asked Jay Turner (head of North Park Main Street Association) if they would ever see a Starbucks in their neighborhood.
“He said, ‘It’s still a ways off, but I promise you we’ll have a Starbucks someday,’” says Harris Ritter.
Jump to 2017 and Harris Ritter explaining how she recently drove by three Starbucks on University Avenue between Park Boulevard and Interstate 805.
A fair amount has changed in the neighborhood since Harris Ritter and her first husband bought a house in North Park for $150,000 in 1996. Back then, they felt like “the first couple to move into the neighborhood under the age of 70.” These days, they could be in the minority for not being a member in an indie-pop band.
Circa 2001, Harris Ritter started to take note of concerts around San Diego that were held in neighborhood parks. Trolley Barn Park in University Heights was one such example.
“I think Bird Park is just perfect for the concert in the park because you have that skyline view with the stage looking over the city and the bridge.”
Once the idea had been hatched, Harris Ritter attended a North Park Community Association meeting and delivered her pitch — they bit. They immediately told her, “That’s wonderful! You have our blessing, go do it!” Meanwhile, Harris Ritter was secretly hoping that “somebody else would go, and it would be their job.”
Undaunted, she corralled bands, sponsors, a stage, and the first concert in Bird Park was held on July 12, 2002.
“It was a total success. It was wonderful!” she says.
Tragedy struck soon after, though. The following Sunday, her first husband, Bret Harris, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 36. She immediately stepped away from the concert series that she founded. She remarried in 2005 and now lives in Coronado. Meanwhile, Bird Park Summer Concerts begins its 15th season this year. Harris Ritter shows up once in a blue moon.
“I put it on my calendar and I’m gonna invite a lot of friends to come to the first concert,” she says.
The concerts begin on July 1st. Grampadrew’s Flim Flam Revue performs.