Recent Facebook postings of old films shot on major San Diego streets take viewers on a trip into the 1970s. The films travel the entire length of a roadway; showing road alignments, classic cars, businesses, and signage long since gone . . . mostly.
“We have films of 283 streets posted on line, with more to come,” said San Diego City Clerk’s archivist Sheila Biel. The city’s transportation and storm water department filmed the collection in over eight months in 1970. Long before Google cars, a special 35mm camera was attached to a car, producing street level views. Biel speculated the films were shot for street planning purposes.
The project to convert the individual reels to digital versions started about three years ago. “We have miles and miles of roads on film,” said Biel.
The first street I viewed was of Morena Boulevard, which runs north from Old Town’s Taylor Street, six miles to its dead-end just past Costco. Significant, because Morena Boulevard was the old four-lane U.S. Highway 101 into San Diego, until it was replaced by the parallel I-5 freeway in 1964.
Other than the current construction of a new trolley line going to University City, the four-lane road through the neighborhoods of Bay Park and Bay Ho still holds most of the old alignment, traffic signals, curb heights, and a center median motorists would have experienced prior to I-5.
I took my own trip, stopping at some of the recognizable businesses seen in the film.
Just over the San Diego River, at the intersection of West Morena Boulevard, in the film one sees a bright orange der Wienerschnitzel restaurant, one of the first in the county. A Carl’s Jr. fills the spot today.
Maha’s family has owned K & L Market at 1413 Morena Blvd. since 1964. “Fiesta Island was a dump. There was no Sea World Drive exit off the freeway,” she remembered. “People used to ride in on their horses from Mission Valley.”
The largest business still operating is City Chevrolet, at 2111 Morena Blvd. The 80-year old dealership moved to the location in 1968. Long gone is the large neon Chevrolet logo sign seen in the film.
Probably the oldest continuing Morena Blvd. business is the Silver Spigot bar at 2221 Morena Blvd. Opened in 1954, customer Terry says he’s been coming in since 1968, when he was seven years old. His mom, being Catholic, would take the family there every Friday night. “They had the best fish fry in San Diego,” said Terry, who remembers running across the highway to go swimming in Mission Bay.
Down the street, an Italian restaurant, Old Trieste, with its classic sign and front entrance, closed for good on May 30 after 56 years at 2335 Morena Blvd. Reached by phone, daughter Denise Yousif said her parents had a good run and just wanted to retire.
Morena Blvd. crosses over Balboa Avenue with a 1960s freeway-like on and off ramp interchange, and is still overlooked, as seen in the film, by the five-story Costa Villa Apartments on the northeast corner. With current new trolley station construction, the intersection may end up looking more like a city road than its former glory as a U.S. Highway crossroad. When completed, gone will be the last remaining sign of old State Route 274 (Balboa Ave.), decommissioned as a state road in 1999.
Almost to the north end of Morena Blvd., the first Price Club, which later became Costco, is housed in the original factory buildings of the old Convair plant. The final owner, before Sol Price purchased the buildings in 1976, was Hughes Aircraft.
The once proud Pacific Coast Highway, which used to connect downtown San Diego to La Jolla, Torrey Pines and points north, unceremoniously dead ends a half-mile north of Costco, cut off by I-5’s alignment through Rose Canyon.