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Downtown San Diego History

Written by Posted On Sunday, 19 March 2017 23:01

Today, Downtown San Diego is full of skyscrapers, condos and businesses. But amidst all this new development, several historic sites are still standing. While these sites have seen their ups and downs, some have managed to survive and even thrive in San Diego's evolving downtown. Balboa Theater, The US Grant Hotel and The El Cortez remain strong landmarks with rich history. 

The vibrant character of the Gaslamp Quarter today differs greatly from that of the late 1800’s.  In the 1880's the area was frequented by prostitutes and gamblers.  Famous lawman Wyatt Earp was listed as a capitalist in the local phone book.  The Gaslamp Quarter retained its somewhat seedy reputation up until the 1980's when the city began redeveloping the area.  While the bordellos may be gone, their history lives on.  

 In the 1920's the Balboa Theater was on the National Vaudeville Circuit and took on a more important role a couple of decades later.  During World War II, San Diego was lacking accommodations for sailors.  The Balboa Theater stepped up to the task.  Many of the sailors slept upstairs behind the loft while performances were going on pretty much around the clock.

The US Grant Hotel sits at the north end of the Gaslamp Quarter on Broadway.  The hotel was opened in 1910 by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., son of the President.

This hotel was really the heart of our downtown.  This was the place where there were meeting rooms and gala events. Mamie Eisenhower came here. Albert Einstein came here.  This was the elegant place in San Diego, but things changed in the 1970’s.

In the 1970's many hotels moved to Mission Valley, now known as Hotel Circle.  The US Grant closed but eventually reopened in the mid-80's after an $80 million renovation.  Today the hotel is owned by the Sycuan band of Kumeyaay Indians. There's another hotel in the neighborhood that provides perhaps one of the most recognizable landmarks for downtown, the El Cortez Hotel.

Generations of San Diegans know the El Cortez Hotel.  This was where you came for your senior prom and elegant wedding receptions. The El Cortez Hotel was the place in San Diego.  The 15 story high El Cortez opened in 1927 and in the 1950's the hotel was known for its posh nightclub and famous glass elevator.

CD capture

The elevator was called the Star Light Express and it took you up to a place called the Sky Room. Since the elevator was all glass, it had an amazing view of Downtown San Diego, all the way out to the ocean.  Following its heyday of the 1950’s, the hotel fell into disrepair and was almost demolished. Today, the newly restored El Cortez is home to 85 luxury condominiums in the Cortez Hill District.

Broadway, which runs through the heart of downtown is the main east/west corridor thru Downtown.  But before 1914 the street was known as "D" street.  It was changed to "Broadway" to make it sound classier.  San Diego was trying to grow up and tired of living in the shadow Los Angeles.  In many ways, the street name change is indicative of San Diego's aspirations.

Many of the country’s Little Italy neighborhoods are just memories; not in San Diego.  Since the 1920’s, our Little Italy represents San Diego’s oldest continuous-neighborhood business district.  At one time, more than 6,000 Italian families lived in little and toiled to build San Diego into the center of the world’s tuna industry. 

With the decline of the tuna industry on the West Coast and the destruction of 35% of Little Italy due to the construction of Interstate-5 freeway; Little Italy suffered nearly thirty years of decline. In the early 1990′s, established property owners and family-run business owners decided to take their fate into their own hands.

Today, Little Italy is a model urban neighborhood in the City of San Diego; with new Italian American and non-Italian business owners alike maintaining and opening retail and professional spaces. With

creative builders and architects building beautiful new developments, this is truly a unique place to call home.

The early 1980’s saw the very beginnings of what 5th Avenue is today.  Ingrid Croce, wife of the late Jim Croce, opened Croce’s Restaurant and Bar at the corner of 5th and F Street.  Many more restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques and galleries slowly followed and now the area is an urban district like no other.

Apartment buildings and small condos were built and with the addition of the San Diego Convention Center in 1989, Downtown San Diego was no longer a sleepy little downtown.  1992 saw the addition of the Harbor Club Condominiums in the Marina District.  At a height of 424 feet, it slowly started to shape San Diego’s iconic skyline.  Ironically, the early years of Harbor Club sales were slow, it is now one of the most desired buildings to call home.

San Diego Padre’s PETCO Park, opened in 2004 in the East Village area of Downtown and drastically changed the way San Diego moved forward.  The East Village is a lively district comprised of parks, schools, commercial buildings and varied condominium projects.  The Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego Central Library and numerous art galleries helped transform this area.  Once occupied by warehouses and vacant lots, East Village is now a cultural and artistic center all its own. As the largest district downtown, East Village is viewed nationally as a template for successful urban revitalization.

Today, Downtown San Diego has 8 districts and 80 different residential complexes.  Each district has its own unique feel and vibe.  With weather that has the envy of the nation, Downtown San Diego is truly “Convenience in Paradise!”

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Pete Caruso

Pete has been a licensed real estate agent since 1998 and has represented buyers and sellers throughout San Diego County.  Past clients include professional athletes, business owners, first time home buyers and sellers. 

A Police Officer for over 31 years, Pete began and finished his distinguished career in Downtown San Diego.   Witnessing the transformation of Downtown from burned out warehouses and vacant lots to the successful urban revitalization of today, Pete brings unmatched area knowledge to the Downtown condo market. 

Pete and his wife, Anna, live and own in the East Village at The Legend.  Knowing the challenges of downsizing from a suburban house to a Downtown condo, Pete offers new Downtown residents professional guidance from a local’s perspective. 

Negotiation skills, problem solving abilities, attention to detail and an easy-going nature, Pete is the perfect fit for the discerning client who demands perfection.

  • Possessing the knowledge and experience of 17 years as a Police Dog Handler/Trainer, Pete gives back to the community by offering free dog training classes to his fellow Downtowners.
  • Pete has taught animal behavior seminars for the trainers at Sea World, The San Diego Zoo and Canine Companions for Independence.Pete has supervised the training for well over 100 Police Dog teams during his career, along with dog handlers from the US Navy Seals.

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