Welcome to Viva-city and Downtown San Diego
Sandra Simmons

Life in the City

-by Sandra Simmons

San Diego is no longer the "sleepy Navy Town" of years past. -San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau

As a long time Downtowner and an ardent cheerleader for building community, I’ve been interviewed by numerous graduate students, several from countries outside the United States, writing dissertations on the redevelopment of San Diego’s Downtown.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading one of those dissertations, “Analyzing Revitalization Outcomes in Downtown San Diego” written by Dr. Brenda Kayzar, a former Downtown resident and close personal friend. This dissertation was so riveting that I read late into the evenings, occasionally falling asleep only to wake up and continue reading.

I learned much about the story of Downtown, such as the enormous impact the military played in the shaping (and lack of shaping) our footprint, and also that civic corruption is not a recent phenomenon.

Throughout the years, investors have attempted to populate Downtown. In most cases, their efforts resulted in a sudden boom, followed quickly by disappointment as they found themselves penniless. Sure there were a few pockets of citizens – Little Italy, Cortez Hill, and East Village – but on the whole, Downtown attempts had not been pretty.

Several factors contributed to the reason growth continually eluded our pioneers, one of which was the silt filled bay.

After sixty years of struggle, civic leaders came upon an idea that would change the course of our history – one from a commerce-based economy to one based on military.

By courting the military to take residency along our harbor, the city in turn received federal funds to redirect the San Diego River and dredge the bay, creating a viable harbor passage for the much-desired commercial vessels.

Residency came at a high price, with vast waterfront properties given to the Navy. Military-supported industry swiftly followed and a high concentration of warehouses filled the remaining blocks. Downtown was proudly identified as a “Navy Town.”

What if the military hadn’t sailed in? What if the unsavory activities by the young men sowing their wild oats before departing or upon return hadn’t occurred in the Gaslamp Quarter? Would the historical structures of this unique district be here today for our enjoyment? And, what if our blocks hadn’t been previously used for warehouses?

I wonder…What if we couldn’t scrape and reshape?

These native San Diegans reminisce on days past.

Jack Pecoraro
fondly recalls navigating his bike passed busy warehouses to fish off the G Street Pier. There wasn’t much traffic in the Little Italy neighborhood; the streets were his asphalt playground. He lives in the family home (the one with the ever changing color) on India.

Downtown’s waterfront was lined with a mixture of tuna boats and military destroyers, remembers Pat Brunetto (Little Italy). Yearly, the Navy invited neighborhood children to tour the docked destroyers; some years, they were even treated to lunch.

Some view the military presence as a blessing, others a curse. Consensus would likely be that our past has granted us the rare opportunity to shape our future. - February 2007

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