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Screen Scene: A tribute to Nick Hubbard, "The Mayor of Hillcrest"

(Editor’s note: Nick Hubbard, a longtime resident in Hillcrest, died July 23 of cancer. He was 60 years old. Born in Hamilton, Ohio on Oct. 20, 1951, Hubbard was a founding member of the Hillcrest Town Council and was its first treasurer. He owned numerous rental properties in the area as well as several businesses over the years, including Paper Rose and Flowers by Nick. Because of his activism in the community, Hubbard was often affectionately called “The Mayor of Hillcrest.” SDGLN Visual Arts Critic Kurt Niece shares special memories of his friend, Nick Hubbard.)

An exuberant man answered the front door, many years ago, at an apartment along University Avenue on the east side of Hillcrest. I was there to visit my dear friend Andy Chen, but I didn't know this man. Reconnecting with Andy after so many years and after his departure from Tucson, Arizona in 1983 was an amazing blessing. But it was a blessing, times two. The reunion gifted me the honor of meeting Andy's life partner, Nick Hubbard.

The first thing I noticed was that Nick had one of the most beautiful heads of hair I’d ever seen. The second thing I noticed was the grand entrance to the apartment, a spectacular setting befitting the enormous personality that warmly greeted me that day.

Twenty steps carpeted in maroon and embellished with Bird of Paradise flowers led to Nick and Andy’s second-floor apartment. Bubbling, water-filled transparent tubes rested on dark wood pedestals and flanked glass double doors. The bubbling display was a rainbow as color wheels slowly shifted the hue of the water.

Clearly, this was no ordinary home. My first impression was Captain Nemo meets Pee Wee Herman in a startlingly improbable and amazingly successful union.

A built-in portal of an aquarium graced the entry foyer, and as I struggled to take in it all in, I quickly relinquished. This home, like Nick Hubbard, was a production. One’s best joy was to sit back and take in the show. And what a joy it was …

Nick was an artistic genius and his home was his canvas. Never have I experienced a talent like his. Nick could take two sticks, arrange them just so, and create something masterful each and every time. His abilities were uncanny.

Over the years I came to adore Nick. I admired his talent, I was entertained by his humor and his storytelling, and I was in awe of his fearlessness. Nick Hubbard was one of the bravest people I’ve ever known.

There are many, many people who share this opinion of Nick.

Luke Terpstra, chair of Hillcrest Town Council:

“Nick was one of the founding members of the Hillcrest Town Council. This was before there was even a Board and the town council was run by a Steering Committee. Nick served on the Steering committee as Treasurer. He made the hat that the HTC still uses to this day to pass around at the meetings for anybody to help out with expenses. Nick was given the HTC LION (Let's improve our neighborhood) Award in 2008 for all the work he had done on his building at 1437 University. Many people know this building by the gargoyles on the roof and the elaborate gardens on the front balconies. Nick was a true character who loved his neighborhood. He will be missed. May he rest in peace."

Todd Gloria, San Diego city councilmember:

"Nick Hubbard was a leader who helped to make Hillcrest fabulous. I was sad to learn of his passing, but am confident he'll watch over us as we continue to strengthen this neighborhood."

Chris Shaw, a legendary business owner and community activist in San Diego and owner of the Mo’s Universe family of restaurants, Urban Mo's, Baja Betty's, Gossip Grill and the world’s first LGBT brewery, the Hillcrest Brewing Company:

“WOW, so young. My fondest memory of Nick was when my mother was ill, he would make the most incredible flower arrangements for her, he would go out of his way to make them so special, she LOVED them and they always brought a smile to her face. He was a great asset to the community and will be truly missed.”

Tim Gahagan, president of the Uptown Parking Advisory Board:

"My most vivid memory of Nick, was one time I was chatting with a neighbor when Nick came down the street walking his dogs, talking on his ear phone about his real estate, and waving and smiling to everyone he passed. My neighbor whispered to me and very excitedly confided, 'There goes the Mayor of Hillcrest.'"

Nancy Moors, co-publisher of HillQuest.com:

"Nick was a founding member of the Hillcrest Town Council. That's where I got to know Nick best. He always had a story to tell or suggestions on how to make Hillcrest a better place to live. He was an activist, a successful businessman, a great gardener and a fabulous cook!"

Finally, Andy Chen, Nick’s partner of 28 years:

“When I first met Nick he was opening the Paper Rose, a florist and gift store at the corner of Fourth and University Avenue, which was the year of the Hillcrest sign relighting celebration, 1984. He then went on to open the Greenry and then the French Flower Market. He was an avid canary fancier and we always had a dog or two in our lives. Nick was generous to a fault and showed great kindness to his friends. After cancer created an early retirement, Nick became a landlord and friend to many tenants. Nick was very strong in his convictions and his optimism was very persuasive. Hawaii was always a favorite vacation destination and many trips to the Islands were made with many friends in tow. He loved to help others and was always ready to give an opinion on any subject. Always the clotheshorse, he sought out the unusual in shirt and jacket fashion. Shoes, too! He certainly was loved by many and will be missed for a long time.”

One of my last memories of Nick was at a friend’s home.

Jeffrey Bottner had purchased the house and Nick was helping style and design the interior and landscaping. A group of us were admiring the results when another friend, Antonio Rodrigues, drove up. He parked on the other side of the street, and pulled a chair and fabric samples out of the back seat. We descended on him like hounds on the prey, each of us vivid with opinion.

“Good God,” Nick cracked. “Leave it to a bunch of queens to get this worked up over fabric swatches in the middle of the street!”

Laughter, wit, a great story and one of the keenest sense of design to ever grace any single human are Nick’s legacy, and for those things I will always be grateful that I had the honor to call him my friend.

“Fabulous” is an overused cliché, but in remembering Nick, fabulous is wholly, hopelessly and totally inadequate. Rest in peace Nick, and see what you can do about updating those Pearly Gates. No doubt that entrance will also benefit from your magic.

Kurt Niece writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., who will be soon relocating to Lakewood, Ohio. He is the author of "The Breath of Rapture" and an artist who sells his work on his website.