Wrecking ball for Nati's? (photo: Tony Franco Realty)
  • Wrecking ball for Nati's? (photo: Tony Franco Realty)
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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.

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.

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)

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)

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)

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."

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Comments

JustWondering March 16, 2018 @ 8:58 a.m.

Mexican restaurants in San Diego are numerous and scattered throughout the city. Mediocre ones, like Nati’s, exist too. Seems to me there are much better uses for this property and way better Mexican restaurants too. Progress marches on folks.

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Julie Stalmer March 16, 2018 @ 10:16 a.m.

The historic folks aren't concerned with Mexican food being served at 1852 Bacon. It's about the architecture and the history of who was behind it and what it means to the OB community, it's history, who was investing in the community in the 1950s, etc.

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Cassander March 16, 2018 @ 11:11 a.m.

Sadly, Julie, I've found that there are a number of naysayers on here hellbent on eliminating anything if it has the tag historic. Whatever evidence is presented, nothing trumps their misinformed "opinion" over every objective standard.

Doesn't matter how often you point out there's no reason to their arguments; they just revel in being contrary, like children giddy at their own naughtiness in saying "poopy" and "peepee" over and over again.

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Julie Stalmer March 17, 2018 @ 6:19 a.m.

Progress is a part of life. But it's important to honor the shoulders we stand upon. Always. I would hate to live in a city where all the structures were new. I mean, if new is better, why not just bulldoze Balboa Park and build condos? Which, you know someone would totally be down with in a hot minute.

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Ponzi March 16, 2018 @ 1:13 p.m.

My mother lived in Ocean Beach and we frequently dined at Nati’s. I enjoyed their food. There are less and less of these sit-down Mexican restaurants… more and more cheap taco stands. There is a huge difference in quality and preparation of Mexican dishes in a restaurant as opposed to a taco joint.

But I know this story is about real estate. Development seems to be endless and relentless. Change is inevitable, but for a "native" (born here) it is often sad. I don't rejoice in all the changes everywhere.

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Julie Stalmer March 17, 2018 @ 6:37 a.m.

I am a native as well, as are my parents. My family has been here for more than 100 years on both sides. There's so few empty parcels in many parts of town. The only way for the development machine to make any bank is to find parcels that they can develop so as to turn a profit. It's a better return on investors money than most.

I just wish some would be transparent and take the neighborhood into consideration more. Developers that are transparent and go to the community early usually fare better than the ones that try to be sneaky about it. I get why they do it though. Public input is very expensive. That's why developers build "apartments" to condo standards and then apply for map waivers so they can sell them. No public input + building the condos = map waiver after it's built (then with public input, but by then it's too late). It's loads cheaper that way, but it pisses people off and makes it harder for good developers to regain that trust when they come in. That cost-saving expediting is usually at the cost of public input.

Some developers are wise enough to go to the public and give them a heads-up even when they don't have to. Some do it super early before they even have designed anything or submitted anything to the city. Those developers get a lot more respect than the ones that don't. It's the smart way to go. People want to feel they are heard, that they matter. Especially when someone is redesigning their neighborhood or in this case something that is such a part of the fabric of Ocean Beach.

Most developers seem to do it behind closed doors, get the city onboard first and then go the public if they have to. By that time they don't care what the public thinks and they are just doing it for show. So often the city forgets that "we the people" are their real clients, they are supposed to have our backs, but their salaries are paid by fees from developers so, yeah.

The one question that every developer should answer before starting a project is "How will this benefit the neighborhood." It's Marketing 101 - create benefit statements. I did marketing for years and years, helped my firm win millions in contracts. I never went into something without knowing how a project benefits whoever we were pitching. You do your due diligence so you know these things. I think developers are missing the boat when they don't do this.

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JustWondering March 16, 2018 @ 11:46 p.m.

Yep, slap a couple of boxes together with 2n12 pitch to the roof line and you’ve got a mid century hovel. Historic! they claim. Then sell Americanized Mexican food. Want decent Mexican food go to El Indio..been there since 1940.

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Julie Stalmer March 17, 2018 @ 6:16 a.m.

El Indio doesn't cut it anymore. It's sad. And you are right, Cali has their own type of Mexican food. El Indio's chips used to be shipped to the White House. My grandmother learned how to make tortilla chips from the inventor of the Caesar salad. My dead grandmother makes better chips than El Indio.

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JustWondering March 17, 2018 @ 6:32 p.m.

Really..... your “dead grandmother”. That’s a standard? I have no doubt when your grandmother was with us she made wonderful chips, and probably salsa too. It was in the past when people took pride in doing things, especially making hearty food to feed family member’s souls. Sadly, for the most part, that time is gone. Mid-century box architecture is not remarkable, in fact most of is really unremarkable. This example should be gone too.

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Julie Stalmer March 17, 2018 @ 6:42 a.m.

New architecture with no soul sucks. We need a mix of eras in our city. Otherwise, we are just a city full of cookie-cutter nonsense with no personality - it's a form of gentrification.

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