Author: Caltona

Neighborhood: Kearny Mesa

If you were to have asked most San Diegans back then about Kearny Mesa, they generally would have answered with a question. “Isn’t that Clairemont?” Or, “You mean Linda Vista?”

We’ve always felt a bit inferior to the more-coastal and larger Clairemont and a bit insulted by our association with Linda Vista. Both of those emotions were unwarranted at best, plain ignorant at worst.

My neighborhood, Royal Highlands, was an island of about 150 lower-middle-class homes in Kearny Mesa. Royal Highlands was Kearny Mesa, we thought. We kids didn’t have a clue that there was actually a name for our neighborhood/island until 805 was being built and we were visited by the principal, Mr. Alkire at Ross Elementary, to tell us we would be escorted across the construction zone by some poor flag-waving schmuck so we wouldn’t be mowed over by the monstrous equipment barreling through north and south.

We stared vacantly at Mr. Alkire until someone said, “Y’mean the Fedmart houses?” He returned the same blank look, and we all understood.

My parents still live there, in a house that has been heavily modified in the 50 years since they bought it with VA subsidies. Most of the homes started as three-bedroom, two-bath, ranch-style classic SoCal suburbia, with two-car garages connected internally to the kitchens/dining areas. Four similar floor plans made it a cakewalk for us to negotiate each others’ houses as soon as we met new neighbor kids.

Our house was one of just two with a single-car garage and one bathroom. The center houses in the neighborhood’s two cul-de-sacs…there was apparently too little room (or creativity) to make them bigger. Our house, then, was the cheapest in an already inexpensive neighborhood, which was helpful since my folks were damned poor back then, raising the three of us on a single income provided by the Park and Rec Department. I think they said they paid 13K for it.

Kilt Court has just five houses. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, it seemed there were school-aged kids in every house of Royal Highlands. I am sure that was the case on our cul-de-sac. And there was more than one child per family, so when we assembled at any given spot, things amped up quickly.

Kilt is on a mild slope, a perfect skateboard and go-cart testing ground and drag strip ending in what was a mildly busy street — Kirkcaldy. There was one way into the neighborhood from the west, Marlesta Drive, and it emptied out just to the south of Kilt, so cars whipped through that section of Kirkcaldy at a good clip. If there were enough of us out there, we assigned a lookout at the base of the hill.

We were often “forced” into a spontaneous game of chicken — us, butts parked on steel-wheeled, 18-inch-long red skateboards wildly wobbling and literally sparking against the rough asphalt, pitted unwittingly against those giant, Detroit-made station wagons with plastic “woody” veneer panels that were the middle-class family rage driven by unbuckled, overweight muumuued women, chain-smoking and slapping at their kids, headed to Ruffner Road to pick up their husbands who worked way down on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at Aeronautics where they assembled pieces of bigger pieces of Cold War bombs to keep us all safe from the communists.

We generally chose the youngest kid with the loudest voice to be lookout, because if he failed in his duty, we could beat the snot out of him.

The fields were everywhere. They surrounded our island like a shallow sea, with low-lying chaparral and fast-moving denizens and holes and caves and crevices of red clay dirt, littered with cardboard and wood and tin beer cans and discarded tires. It was our playground in the summers, from the moment we put down our cereal spoons and slurped the last of the Cocoa Puff–enhanced milk from the bowls to the time our moms would scream out into the dry, darkening air that our TV dinners were ready.

The fields were attached to each other, and for each we had a name. The one closest to Kilt was where Sport Mart and Islands restaurant and Applebee’s now stand. It had roughly the same slope as our cul-de-sac, extending east to Ruffner and west to the then two-lane Balboa Avenue. That was called Armor Fields.

The bushes there were trampled, and the ground had been scraped when the neighborhood had been built. It was the best place for kite-flying and large-scale dirt-clod fighting. It was also the least-easy area to hide from parents and bullies.

Before it was fully developed, it became a field for Bobby Sox softball. My parents still have a playhouse/fort we built in our backyard from the plywood that made the dugouts and snack shack. This area was the first leg in many long hikes north. After bridging Balboa, there was a densely foliated tract — large and complex — crisscrossed by washes and mudflats and vernal pools. We could hide there under six-foot-tall sage bushes and manzanita, never seeing another kid unless we wanted to.

At the far end was Clairemont Mesa Boulevard (nearly as undeveloped as Balboa Avenue), then even denser elfin-forest-like lands all the way to the dump and Miramar NAS. Beyond that we hiked — just once that I can remember — finding Lake Miramar, with its cattails. We saw a golden eagle on that adventure — scared the hell out of us when we inadvertently flushed it from a small canyon. We were used to red-tailed hawks. This eagle was much, much bigger and clearly (we thought) pissed off.

There was an area off Ruffner, just past Balboa, that we called the Crater. It was behind what is now Ocean Enterprises. the Crater was where some construction project went awry and had been abandoned for a few years. Roughly half the size of a football field, it was a rectangular divot in the high end of a hill, with 20-foot-high walls tiered in two stages. An upper tier had eroded into small, single-person-sized caves that loomed over us and freaked us out.

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Mindy Ross June 28, 2011 @ 1:20 p.m.

Why would I want to remember Fedmart?


Caltona June 28, 2011 @ 1:28 p.m.

Certainly you must understand the allure of 10-cent Icees?


dougw June 29, 2011 @ 10:09 a.m.

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. I grew up next to Mesa College, not so far away. We used to make treks to FedMart. Once or twice we even made it to J-Mart, later Jo-Mart, then something else as K-Mart sued her over name infringement. It's now Mercedes Benz of San Diego. My Dad worked on Othello for quite a while, and we'd drive him to work across the dirt road to Othello. I went to Beale Elementary, which was just transformed into the Mesa College Design Center.

Did you live there when McDonald's went in on Convoy? I think it was only the second or third one in the City. How about the giant ramp next to it, where we used carpet pieces to slid down? Remember how skinny the Aero Drive bridge was over Hwy 395? My Dad would always tell our visitors on tours of the city that he would simply close his eyes driving over it, because it was so skinny.

Those were the days, when we could be gone for hours, exploring, carefree, no worries of kidnapping, lizards everywhere......"come home when the streetlights come on."


Caltona June 29, 2011 @ 7:57 p.m.

Yes! McDonalds' giant slide! I bore the hell out of my son every year telling him about that slide and how much better it was than the ones are at the Fair. Maybe it was my kid memory, but wasn't it, like, ten or more lanes wide, and you could get airborne on the second bump?


Duhbya June 30, 2011 @ 6:43 a.m.

Ever notice the one bush missing (second from the right) in front of the auditorium at Beale? Blame that one on me and Bobby T. The wall provided the perfect backstop for our daily batting practice because the tennis balls we used would almost always carom to the pitcher. It took about three years to do in that bush. Early 60's form of tagging, I guess. Bobby lived next door to Beale, btw, and I was 9 houses down Armstrong.


Caltona June 30, 2011 @ 9:39 a.m.

What I like is that the school district gave up even trying to grow something there. Thanks for the confession. Any other herbicide to which you wanna admit, homie?


Duhbya June 30, 2011 @ 2:22 p.m.

Other than the requisite daily sacrifices of another type of bush (think burning), nothing comes to mind. Thanks for the memories. I knew your "Fedmart Flats" before there were any homes in the area. When we moved to Armstrong (and Beagle) in '55, that was the end of San Diego proper going north. I watched all those "Lifetime Homes" get built from then on. A kid on a bike could cover a lot of open space back then. There were 2 huge ponds on what became Balboa between Convoy and Genesee. Biggest bluegills I've ever seen. What a grand place to grow up, before the hordes hit.


dougw June 29, 2011 @ 10:13 a.m.

We called it Kearny Mesa, and Clairemont was north of Balboa, and west of Genesee, and Linda Vista was south of Genesee and Kapart Military Housing. We all took carpools and busses to Montgomery Junior High School, then they all did the same when we graduated to Kearny. Then, we had the Swiss Miss for lunch, sneaking off campus, or that taco place down in Linda Vista. Now the City says it's all Clairemont, except east of I-805, ridiculous.


Caltona June 29, 2011 @ 8:10 p.m.

Yep, I'm a Montgomery alumnus, too. Were you there when they bused all of the Mira Mesa kids there to Montgomery because the city planned all of that housing to accomodate a billion families but they didn't think that schools might be needed?

We rode our bikes the three miles or so to junior high, and one year there was no daylight savings time for some reason. We had to buy generator-driven bike lights and get there through the Navy housing in the pre-dawn pitch-blackness.


nan shartel July 8, 2011 @ 11:32 a.m.

congrats Caltona...this is the only one of the 3 i've read ;-D


Caltona July 8, 2011 @ 6:21 p.m.

Well gosh, thanks! I've been enjoying your blogs as well!


sunstreetstoner Aug. 1, 2011 @ 1:49 p.m.

Hey Chri.. er, I mean Caltona, that was a great article! Do you remember the A&W drive in at the north end of LV road, or was it the south end of Convoy? Or the PBY Catalina that was parked at Montgomery Field near Kearny Villa Road for a long time? Those are some of my old memories of the area. And remember changing price tags on the airplane models at FedMart? The cashiers didn't know that an 1/48 F4U shouldn't cost 99 cents. Thus began my life of crime...


Brigitte June 23, 2013 @ 8:04 p.m.

Wonderful walk down memory lane! My family bought our home on Loch Lomond St in November of 70. I had just turned 6. I learned how to ride my bike on Armour. I also remember having the best Halloween nights as a kid. There were so many kids out trick-or-treating and I tell my kids and they just don't get it. Maybe because it was only in our neighborhood. We grew up in a great area...our own island.


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