I'd visited the place a couple times in the days when I reviewed La Jolla Playhouse theater nearby for another publication; the peeling façade and dusty foundation reminded me of the kinds of places I'd hang during my own student days thousand of miles and almost 50 years ago, when we were all firmly convinced that Washington would soon become the target of an armed insurrection. Guevara's cudgel now lay at our feet, and a few sacrificed lives were well worth the effort. On my visits, the Ché's air was clouded with those memories, which are as dusky as the air around the building. Trendy vegan food somehow seemed ironically out of mood.
And that's basically my metaphorical argument in favor of the Ché's closure.
The logistics would clearly indicate that a shutdown's the proper path in any event – the Associated Students of UCSD, which oversees maintenance and programming, faces a repair bill to the tune of $700,000; the cafe had to briefly shut down in 2012 amid defaults on its insurance payments; the venue is reportedly behind in the rent; and above all, the school's student-led advisory board voted in May not to fund the venue during 2014-15. Supporters claim that the university's efforts to take down the Ché is “an orchestrated attack.” The repair figure, they say, is inflated in order to incite support for a shutdown, and they suggest that an on-campus bar has an interest in seeing the Ché close its doors.
But there's a bigger argument at play here than the “he-said, she-said,” nuts-and-bolts discussions that surround differences of opinion. It's true the Ché has hosted some very important music acts, such as Green Day, Nirvana and Jimmy Eat World, and is one of the few all-ages music venues around; it's held art exhibits to the benefit of students who might not otherwise have a venue; and most important, the progressive dialogue of Guevara's era characterized it as an entity unto itself. The Ché is a kind of poor man's Student Union, a center of inclusion for peripheral thought and action among the presumably dispossessed.
Evolution, however, has other ideas, and they're not the sole province of a bogeyman UCSD administration. 1960s radical social and political activist Jerry Rubin, for one, would have made an ideal central figure among the Ché's visitors if the venue had been around (it opened in 1980); his socialist sensibilities gave way to other modes of conduct, and he became a multimillionaire businessman by the end of the 1970s. Eldridge Cleaver, whose book “Soul on Ice” became a staple for violent black activism in the United States, died a Mormon and a conservative Republican. Change, even at its most surprising, is life's sole constant for individuals; so it is too with human institutions.
The Ché, God bless it, served myriad purposes for myriad strains of progressive philosophy and art. But the core age it represents (the one an old hippie like me is eternally grateful to have experienced) must be permitted to take on a life of its own, and you don't do that by forcing its signature venues to outlive their usefulness. The venue's demise is the only appropriate course, lest its role in campus history be stuck in time and space.
Martin Jones Westlin is editor of La Jolla Village News.