Ksusha’s close friend Anastasia (accent on the last i) Voroshilina, also 27, grew up in Saint Petersburg and studied for a while at the Saint Petersburg State University of Economics, where she and Ksusha first met. Ksusha had been a country girl, coming to the big city to study from her home in Siberia. Funny thing is, the girls say, a number of Triple Crown’s customers know about Siberia but have no idea where Saint Petersburg is.
How did two Russians end up tending bar at the same time in a Normal Heights tavern on Adams Avenue? The question contains a bit of suspicion, but “that often comes up,” says Anastasia, laughing. Part of the answer is that the two girls had been roommates in Chula Vista until Ksusha married. Then a mutual friend helped them get jobs at Triple Crown, but it is the open-minded character of Normal Heights that keeps them in the neighborhood, where they both now live.
In 2006, Normal Heights historian, and “sidewalk lady,” Suzanne Ledeboer uncovered a viewpoint complementary to that of the two Russian Americans’; it was expressed during a city-sponsored cultural retreat in January 2001. Some participants expressed complaints about Normal Heights, and some praise. “But others noted,” writes Ledeboer, “that, while largely underground, a thin vein of peaceful anarchy ran through some of its residents. Normal Heights was summed up best that day as ‘non-conformist.’”
The anecdote is found in Ledeboer’s January 12, 2006, article in the Journal of San Diego History, “San Diego’s Normal Heights: The Growth of a Suburban Neighborhood, 1886–1926.” During that time, according to Ledeboer, Normal Heights became one of San Diego’s “first ‘ring,’ or ‘streetcar,’ suburbs.” It picked up its name from the State Normal School built on Park Boulevard in 1899 along the trolley line coming north from downtown. Eventually, writes Ledeboer, “a shuttle trolley from Park Boulevard and Adams Avenue served Normal Heights in 1907, becoming a full-service line from downtown San Diego to Kensington at the end of the decade.”
Ledeboer’s article is a thorough and fascinating treatment of how real estate investors and developers, such as David Collier, George Hawley and others, built Normal Heights from open land into a community of largely blue-collar workers who, in 1925, would vote in favor of annexation to the City of San Diego.
The area south of Adams Avenue was the first to fill, foreshadowing the urban density that it still displays today. During the 1970s, the apartment complexes (often labeled “Huffman six packs,” after developer Ray Huffman) compounded the density with their helter-skelter replacement of Craftsman single-family homes. The more numerous incidents of crime that followed, the police department maintained, were due to the apartment buildings having no front windows.
Meanwhile, housing north of Adams developed slowly and became more valuable, especially the homes situated on the edge of Mission Valley. Eventually, “north of Adams,” and “south of Adams” reputations settled onto Normal Heights, creating in many residents’ minds a class divide.
How to get rid of a squatter
Of course, crime happens north of Adams, too. Whether the property invasion Jim Hopper experienced three years ago on the Eugene Place lot he owns qualifies as a crime, he did not bother asking the police. But he was thinking much like two lines of “Pretty Boy Floyd,” the Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl–era song: “Some will rob you with a six gun/ And some with a fountain pen.” While Guthrie meant banks that foreclosed farmers’ mortgages, Hopper thought surely his property had come under a siege of adverse possession.
“At the time,” says Hopper, “I was in arrears on my property taxes, although minimally. I think the perpetrator had looked into that and assumed I was an absentee owner, perhaps not even living in the state, since I get my mail in a PO box. He found this place he could put his junk on, an empty lot that overlooks the I-15 as it drops into Mission Valley. If I weren’t to pay attention for five years, he could state to the courts that he had his goods on the place long enough legally and his catching up on the property taxes would give him adverse possession.”
Hopper works as a carpenter on sets of local theater productions and is a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 122. For years, he wrote reviews of science-fiction novels for the San Diego Union-Tribune until the paper curtailed its book reviews. He is a highly coveted participant in trivia contests at the Ould Sod bar on Adams.
“I first learned what was happening,” he tells me, “from a friend who called, saying, ‘There’s a guy here who says he bought your property.’ I rolled up there as quickly as I could and saw a ski boat in my yard behind the fence. There were many other things, too: a patio table, a crank-up umbrella, some teak deck furniture, a couple of tool sheds, and some valuable tools. I was more than a little annoyed.”
Neighbors Hopper had known there a while started giving him a variety of stories. “One said the guy told him he bought the property at auction for $10,” says Hopper. “Another said I sold it to him because I was broke and needed to liquidate. The fellow said he was my younger cousin and that I had allowed him to put his goods on my property. In all, I got five different stories from five different people.”
The next Monday, says Hopper, “I drove my motorcycle inside the fence, which is opaque, and sat down to wait in one of the guy’s chairs.” A crowbar and a machete from the tool shed were within his arm’s reach, “but it didn’t occur to me that this would be threatening because I was reading a book and drinking a beer. The fellow came in, his eyes got wide, and his jaw dropped. I introduced myself and said that I understood he was so-and-so with California driver’s license number such-and-such. (He had engraved his name and phone number on the tool box.) ‘You’ve got until Thursday to get the boat and the rest of this shit off my lot.’”