When is the Native going to weigh in on the “gentrification” debate centering on Downtown?
I did, in my first column on October 27, 2011. My opinion hasn’t shifted much since. Some vocal critics—those who believe that the ongoing neighborhood changes are generally a bad thing—seem to rely on short-term memories to prove their point. They would have us believe that Downtown (including the area surrounding the Huntridge Theater) was always a refuge for those they paint as disenfranchised.
Speaking from experience stretching back to when the Huntridge was a first-run movie theater, that simply isn’t true.
The area of Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway was a hub of commerce and activity: Mahoney’s Drum Shop, Samon’s Home Improvement, a Safeway grocer, Terina’s Pizza, Farm Basket, Denny’s, Charleston Outlet, Page After Page Comics, the Swiss Cafe, and yes, the Huntridge Theater. The list goes on and can be fleshed out by folks whose memories reach further. While commerce certainly happens near there now, the numerous closed and dilapidated storefronts do more to hurt it than help it.
There are fears that some of what is happening on East Fremont (“The $15 Beer Effect”) will spread to the Huntridge ‘hood. While I understand the concern, I doubt it. As East Fremont evolves, it naturally adapts to a growing tourist trade that’s ever more willing to cross the Boulevard from the Experience. Thus, East Fremont becomes our Bourbon Street (just as Oscar wanted!); that likely won’t happen beyond the corridor. Blame geography and human laziness. I’ve spent much time in my favorite hang in downtown San Diego’s East Village surrounded by nothing but locals, the tourist-friendly Gaslamp a “daunting” 15-minute walk away.
Make no mistake: The millions being invested into East Fremont are spurring changes all over Downtown, and not all are what we may have imagined (or wanted) 20 years ago when dreaming of revitalization over lunch at the Enigma Cafe. That East Fremont is being discovered by tourists only encourages the rest of Downtown to carve out authentic and diversified locals-mostly niches where the highbrow and lowbrow, the ethnic and the nostalgic, comfortably rub against one another. (Main Street between Oakey and Charleston is a good example. Tattoo shops, galleries, restaurants, auto repair, an upstart bar, and both vintage and new furniture, clothing and housewares all reside there.) And while it will be a long haul between now and then, I can’t see how a 69-year-old neighborhood theater, revitalized and featuring diverse cultural programming, can hurt.