Wrecking ball for Nati's? (photo: Tony Franco Realty)
On March 12, Save Our Heritage Organisation responded to the city regarding Nati's proposal to demolish its shopping center. They strongly assert that Nati's mid-century modern style shopping center, located at 1852-1866 Bacon Street, is historically significant. Demolition plans can only move forward if Nati's is deemed not to be historically significant by the city.
Josias Joesler moved with his wife Nati and daughter Margret to Ocean Beach in 1944. In 1955, he designed the shopping center on Bacon where Nati opened Nati’s Import Shop showcasing Mexican folk art and crafts. Joesler died the next year in Tuscon of a heart-attack, making Nati's one of his last executed designs.
Nati's Mexican Restaurant is considered by many to be an integral part of the fabric of Ocean Beach. This could be why the rumor mill, seemingly full of red herrings, has been at full-tilt for months.
The promise that Nati's wasn't going anywhere was replaced with Nati's having new owners — ones that would continue on with Nati's legacy after a short remodel. This was followed by a report that a pot pie joint would replace Nati's after a short remodel.
As of publication, Pop Pie has not gone on the record as to if and when they'll move into Nati's space. When asked this week if they planned to move into Ocean Beach before or after Nati's demolition, they replied that they weren't sure yet.
1932 clipping from Arizona touting Joesler's Spanish-style architecture.
Speculation on social media now includes the new owner looking to buy up nearby parcels with the intent of building condos or apartments. No one that has seen the drawings is willing to go on the record though.
The parcel next door on 1868 Bacon was inherited in 2016 by the elderly owner's companion. (Google Image)
If the new owner has his eye on nearby parcels, good candidates might be 1868 Bacon and 5034-40 Niagara. The former was recently inherited (2016) and the latter is possibly owned by older persons (owned since at least 1981) — both might look ripe for the picking by a developer set on making Nati's large corner footprint even larger.
The apartments at 5034-5040 Niagara, next door to Nati's property, has been owned by the same couple since at least 1981. (Google Image)
I asked Tony Franco, realtor for both sides of Nati's sale, if he wanted to comment on the ultimate plans for the shopping center. He did not.
On February 28, Nati's submitted a report to the city's historic resources board (part of development services) for a preliminary historic review of Nati's parcel.
Amie Hayes, Historic Resources Specialist, with Save Our Heritage Organisation, said the process will either clear the building as not historic or, more likely, it will head to the Historical Resources Board in the coming months for a public review. "[Their] decision will either designate the resource or clear it for demolition."
Josias and Nati (Stephen Farley)
On March 12, Save Our Historic Organisation sent a letter to the city responding to Nati's report via their review, research, and site visit. They consider Nati's, as many locals do, to be a special part of Ocean Beach. Even more so since it was designed by architect (and original owner) Josias Joesler, who is a nationally-known architect with a number of properties on the historic National Register.
In their letter, they stated that Joesler was considered by many to be an “An Architectural Eclectic,” which is in contrast to Nati's owner's stance with the city. Eclecticism is a nineteenth and twentieth century style of architecture where a design incorporates a mix of elements from previous historical styles to create something original.
Originally born in Zurich, Joesler, moved with his wife Nati and daughter Margret to Ocean Beach in 1944, where he built a house in Sunset Cliffs. Nati created ceramics at home while organizing art therapy classes for disabled veterans. Joesler commuted back and forth to Tuscon for his architectural practice.
In 1955, Joesler designed the shopping center on Bacon where Nati opened Nati’s Import Shop showcasing Mexican folk art and crafts. Joesler died the next year in Tuscon of a heart attack, making Nati's one of his last executed designs. Nati returned to her homeland of Spain circa 1960 where she died in 1963. Nati's Mexican restaurant opened in 1960.
National Register documentation for Joesler in Tucson mentions Nati’s. "Reaching out to others that document his work, they understand this is the only remaining Joesler building in San Diego," said Hayes.
On the surface, Nati's expansion in 1961 and the added-on dining room in 1966 seem not to favor historic designation. Save Our Heritage Organisation argues that the expansions do not hurt Nati's chances because they were anticipated in the original plans designed by Joesler.
I checked in with Melissa Ryan at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to see if anything new was happening there. In January, the owners had applied for a change of ownership stock transfer with them. Ryan said the stock transfer application is open. She said a demolition will trigger a whole new process. At this point no one has applied for a liquor license transfer. The applicant would need to apply for a zoning certificate from the city and this has not happened yet per city records. Is it possible that finalizing this is contingent upon the new owner, developer Michael Donovan, getting the green light from the city to demolish and redevelop the parcel?
When Hayes alerted me to the demolition plans, I was perplexed why I hadn't been able to find information via usual means. Without the associated project number, I couldn't search for anything — even with this information, it only led to an invoice.
I asked Bryan Pease, 2018 city council candidate vying for Lorie Zapf's District 2 (Ocean Beach) seat, what he would like to see happen if Nati's parcel is redeveloped. "I would like to see it turned into affordable housing. Anything else is not going to be useful to community."