That’s exactly it. IB’s on the edge, between America and no-man’s-land. For sure, it’s mellowed. Sand-castle-building contests have taken over from the boozy beach keg parties. And they’ve upgraded the pier’s entrance with cute shops and eateries like Cow-A-Bunga. But that doesn’t mean the IBithans have all been tamed.
“Want to come down to the sloughs, tonight?” said Mark to me that evening as we finished our ice creams. “Got a boat. I could take you all through. No telling what we’ll see.”
— Bill Manson
A sense of humanity pervades this little community on San Diego’s eastern fringe, a sense that beauty matters to the souls of all men, not just those who can afford La Jolla. Though the name Rolando has come to include everything between College Avenue to the west, El Cajon Boulevard to the north, the city of La Mesa to the east, and University Avenue to the south, the original neighborhood is the eight to ten blocks centered around the four-way-stop intersection of Solita Avenue and Rolando Boulevard. Stamped on the sidewalk on the southwest corner is the name “G. R. Daley” and the date “8-27.”
I don’t know if Mr. Daley built just the sidewalks — the old style with a strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street for grass or gardens — or if he built the streets and houses too. But the date seems right for this area. In 1927, the Great War had been won nine years earlier and the stock market was two years from crashing. While Europe still licked its wounds, American pride and sense of possibility soared. And I imagine that G. R. Daley and the other men who constructed Rolando wanted to build a neighborhood that reflected that new sense of national joy. If so, they succeeded.
They built ornate concrete gas lamps to illuminate the streets and sidewalks at night. They planted trees along the avenues to green up the neighborhood by day. As you enter from the north on Rolando Boulevard, towering silk oak trees 90 feet tall line both sides of the road. The men made the streets narrow for an intimate feel, with gentle curves that follow the natural contours of the landscape. They gave the streets Spanish names such as Aragon, Serrano, and Valencia. They built staircases that pedestrians could use to shortcut between streets. And they built small but picturesque houses that a veteran of the Great War would be proud to come home to.
Almost all of the houses in Rolando are less than 1500 square feet. Those that are larger have had additions that mar the quaint symmetry Mr. Daley and his cohorts crafted so carefully. They sit centered on modest-sized lots, evenly spaced from each other. Styles include Cape Cod, Spanish Colonial, French cottage, and a sort of Mediterranean bungalow. Smooth, hand-troweled exteriors are the rule, as opposed to rough, sprayed-on stucco. The houses are on raised foundations, not concrete slabs, and have hardwood floors and wood-framed windows. Even today, the houses look fresh and inviting.
The pride that was put into building Rolando lives on today in its residents. Though you see few gardeners’ trucks parked at the curb, you see well-maintained gardens. Some are spectacular. I can think of only one house that has fallen into serious disrepair. On a recent tour through the neighborhood I saw a single “For Sale” sign. It’s a place people don’t want to leave.
— Ernie Grimm
Once or twice a year, I try to walk all of Garnet Avenue between Mission Boulevard and Ingraham. I like to do it on the Saturday in early May when the PB Block Party is in full swing. Strolling down Garnet when it’s closed to cars and swollen with throngs of young men and women dressed in skimpy clothing who’ve gone through hell to find a parking space, I feel smug. I live a mile north of Crystal Pier, so I can walk or bicycle. I never have to worry about parking.
My complacency is fleeting. I moved to Pacific Beach in 1974, a 20-year-old from Chicago. Apartment-hunting, I’d been charmed by the bejeweled street names: Diamond, Tourmaline, Sapphire, Emerald, Felspar, Opal. No neighborhood I’d ever known in the Midwest had names like that. Behind the Vons, my husband and I found a large two-bedroom unit where the rent was $185 a month. Some evenings we walked toward the beach on Diamond, returning along Garnet. Almost all the shops were closed at night back then. We passed few other pedestrians.
I don’t remember what year the changes began. At some point, a rock-and-roll club called Mom’s opened across Garnet from the New Seed. Diego’s, a huge Mexican restaurant and nightclub, started drawing crowds near the pier, and a comedy club appeared. My husband and I joked that Garnet Avenue was turning into the Boulevard Saint-Michel of San Diego. But we weren’t paying much attention to Garnet. We’d had our first baby and had moved from the apartment into a house near Bird Rock Elementary.
We still shopped at the Vons out of habit. But years passed before we walked the avenue again. We knew, of course, that the Walker Scott at Garnet and Bayard had closed, as had Susan’s Toys and the See’s candy outlet. We’d noticed that the Wherehouse and Café Crema and Zanzibar had moved in. Only on foot, however, did we realize how many sushi joints (seven) have opened. At an equal number of storefronts, you can get a tattoo or have your navel pierced. So many boutiques have opened that girls now arrive in packs to spend their afternoons trolling for fashion finds. At night, the clatter of cutlery and conversation spills out from restaurants and bars to fill the street.
My timing seems off. When I was 20, PB was filled with middle-aged people whose kids would soon be leaving home. Now I’ve turned into one of them, and PB is full of 20-somethings.