North Park Renaissance
“Ten years in the making, North Park buzzes as San Diego’s hippest hood”
Advocate.com, October, 2009
North Park Heritage
North Park is well known for its vast collection of Arts & Crafts bungalows, as well as charming vintage homes displaying such diverse architectural styles as California Bungalow, Spanish and Mission Revival, Prairie, and Mediterranean built between 1918 and 1942. North Park’s commercial heritage dates back to as early as 1907, when retail businesses sprouted along new trolley lines, creating a vibrant retail hub in the University Avenue & 30th Street vicinity. By the 1920s, North Park’s streets and sidewalks were bursting with activity, capped by the opening in 1929 of the luxurious West Coast North Park Theatre. Following WW II, North Park once again buzzed with activity as the region’s premiere suburban shopping district, second only to downtown San Diego. North Park’s Toyland Parade gained nationwide notoriety, drawing crowds in the hundreds of thousands. However, beginning in 1960, North Park’s vibrancy began to fade with the dismantling of the streetcars and the exodus of local retailers to new freeway-oriented shopping malls. The North Park Theatre closed its doors. The Toyland Parade stopped running. Economic malaise set in during the next two to three decades.
The Renaissance Begins
In 1985 the North Park Business Improvement District (NPBID) was established as a non-profit organization by the City’s Office of Small Business. Some 300 business owners – located essentially between Lincoln and North Park Way, and between Idaho and I-805, chose to pay a self-imposed fee to finance needed improvements, breathing new life into the commercial district and laying the foundation for North Park’s long-awaited revival The community’s renaissance took flight in 1993 with the symbolic erection of a replica of the original 1925 neon-lit, North Park monument sign on University Avenue. In quick succession, the community began putting more building blocks together, creating the buzz, carving its new reputation as the place to be:
- 1994 – North Park Community Association formed to provide a community forum for issues such as land use, community image, cultural activities and public safety
- 1996 – North Park Main Street established with the adoption of the national Main Street strategy by the North Park Business Improvement District – to promote downtown revitalization and historic preservation
- 1997 – North Park Redevelopment Project Area created to facilitate commercial revitalization and development of quality affordable housing
- North Park Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) approved by voters to provide enhanced services, including street lights, street cleaning and landscaping
- 1998 – Arts, Culture & Entertainment District established to foster a growing community of restaurants, art galleries, performance venues, and creative professionals
- 2001 – Ray at Night launched, becoming the second largest monthly art event in San Diego, drawing crowds of more than 1500 art enthusiasts
- 2004 – North Park Pilot Village designated by the City of San Diego, identifying North Park’s downtown core as a model for “smart growth”
- 2009 – North Park Nights created as a program of the San Diego Art Institute, a collective of North Park businesses dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture
- Late 1990s to today – wave of independent merchants relocating to North Park Main Street area, bringing a unique sense of style, entrepreneurialism and creative energy.
North Park Main Street (NPMS)
North Park Main Street has played a pivotal role in the community’s commercial revival. The association has galvanized local businesses to pursue revitalization of the University Avenue/30th Street hub, showcasing the area’s historic architecture and walkable environment. With the help of the City of San Diego, the Redevelopment Agency and others, NPMS has generated a series of improvements including infrastructure upgrades, streetscaping and storefront enhancements. NPMS has actively promoted the downtown area to business as well as to diverse art and cultural enterprises, and has hosted successful special events including the flagship Festival of the Arts.
Tipping Points…..North Park Redevelopment Projects
The North Park Redevelopment Project Area has supported public/private ventures that have served as major catalysts for North Park’s dramatic resurgence. A community-based Project Area Committee (PAC) has coordinated with the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency to promote revitalization of El Cajon Blvd. and University Avenue, historic preservation, and incorporation of art into all projects. Key projects that have helped spark the community’s revival include:
Stephen & Mary Birch North Park Theatre (2005)
Since its grand opening in 1928, the North Park Theatre has been the cornerstone of the community. Originally built for vaudeville and motion pictures, the theatre was once the most profitable of the Fox West Coast movie theatre chain. The building’s magnificent Italian Renaissance façade is a registered historic landmark. A $14 million renovation meticulously retained the theatre’s original glamour and gave birth to a vibrant, galvanizing force for the community’s Arts Culture and Entertainment District.
North Park Public Parking Garage (2006)
The five-story, art deco North Park Parking Garage provides 400 parking spaces to serve theatre patrons as well as the thriving downtown dining/entertainment district. Hip new tenants fill the ground floor space, including Studio at North Park and Disconnected Salon
La Boheme (2006)
La Boheme, the largest development to be built in North Park in generations, is located at 30th and Lincoln. The $100 million Spanish Mediterranean condo project receives its name from Puccini’s famous opera, in celebration of North Park’s love affair with the arts. Built by Western Pacific Housing in partnership with the City’s Redevelopment Agency, the project offers 224 condos (45 affordable) and will welcome a new restaurant in early 2010.
The Renaissance at North Park (2007)
This award-winning, mixed-use development at 3137 El Cajon Blvd provides 108 affordable housing units for seniors and lower income families, 24 market-rate town homes, 9000 sf of commercial space. The building plays tribute to North Park’s historic heritage by incorporating Art Deco, Craftsman, and Spanish Bungalow styles, including the 1950s neon sign commemorating the once popular Aztec Bowl and the replica Art Deco facade of the original Gustafson’s Furniture Store. Project partners were the San Diego Interfaith Housing Foundation, Carter Reese & Associates, the Redevelopment Agency, and the San Diego Housing Commission.
Today’s North Park Urban Village
North Park is one of San Diego’s most diverse communities with sizable populations of Latinos, Caucasians, and gay individuals and a village-style atmosphere. Residents can walk to one of many cafes for coffee, breakfast and internet, then stop at Para’s News Stand – a North Park fixture and one of San Diego’s best kept secrets – where readers can find just about any newspaper or magazine imaginable. And if you haven’t tried going out to dinner in North Park for awhile, be prepared for a shock. There are restaurants everywhere, from old school to urban chic. North Park hangs a Welcome sign for those who value neighborhoods where people actually get to know each other. Mom & Pop shops offer residents an alternative to carbon copy chain-stores. Take Joe Schloss’s Sporting Store on Ray Street. His family has been outfitting Little League teams for three generations…they have a field named after him at nearby Morley Field. And then there are newcomers like Pigment, a specialty shop with custom- made products such as self-irrigated living wall sculptures which grow from floor to ceiling. Over the past few years, young entrepreneurs appreciating North Park’s unique character, and recognizing its huge potential have begun migrating in force. Many new restaurants, galleries and cafes have made the move from East Village and other downtown San Diego neighborhoods. A new class of creative professionals has emerged, with a penchant for living in places that value tolerance, self-expression, diversity and innovation .….artists, designers, architects, musicians, writers and business professionals with a creative approach to both work and personal lifestyle.