Jan. 14 2014 09:28 PM

A look at La Esquina, a live-work complex in Barrio Logan

Hector Perez, in front of his live-work apartment complex, La Esquina
Photo by Joshua Emerson Smith

Form fits function with local architect Hector Perez's live-work apartment complex in Barrio Logan. The project—known as La Esquina (The Corner)—feels hip with clean, modern lines and practical, minimalist interiors. However, the striking thing about Perez's design is only partly about its aesthetics and utilitarian construction.

Completed in November 2012, the building's main function has been to promote community, says Perez, who's also the owner-operator. With studios going for about $1,000 a month, he says, he intentionally keeps the rents affordable for creative types, especially those affiliated with the nearby Woodbury School of Architecture where he teaches.

"The whole project, the coolest thing for me is it's like a little community of creative types," the 53-year-old Guadalajara native says. "These are not your typical one-bedroom, two-bedroom arrangements that most people would care to rent. These are open spaces for people to inhabit and make their own."

As a result, the 4,000-square-foot, two-story structure, built on a long-vacant lot at the corner of Logan Avenue and Sampson Street, teems with energy. Several families inhabit the three, larger upper units while the four ground-floor, live-work units house architecture students, teachers and practicing designers.

The building's community is "inspiring," says apartment resident Patrick Shields, a 35-year-old professor of design communications at Woodbury. "It feels vibrant."

At the same time, the units' no-frills design is liberating, Shields adds. "It's like a platform for you to come in. It has the essentials, and from there you can grow."

From left: A drawing of the La Esquina apartment complex, a model of La Esquina, La Esquina complete


The community could be about to get a lot bigger. Along Logan Avenue between Sampson and 26th streets, there are eight more similar projects planned by local architects.

Originally, the individuals involved purchased the land with the idea of designing the Woodbury School of Architectureís San Diego campus, which now sits four blocks away on Main Street.

"The idea was that we would buy these nine lots, and on the ground floor of each one of those lots, we would design what would be the school, and then on the second floor, we would have student housing," Perez says. "That possibility did not pan out. Financing did not pan out"

However, everyone remained dedicated to "improving the neighborhood," he adds. "So, at the end, we ended up, each of us, taking our own lot and developing a project on it. So, I'm the first one to build the project." 

On the immediately adjacent parcels, Robin Brisbois and Joe Cordelle have plans for two projects that would share with La Esquina a parking lot, which is also being imagined as a potential event space. At the south end of the block, Ted Smith, Lloyd Russell and Teddy Cruz have projects. Across the street where Logan Avenue dead ends into the freeway, parcels are owned by Catherine Herbst and Todd Rinehart, as well as the architect of the new San Diego Public Library in East Village, Rob Quigley.

Through slow growth, the wider project aims to integrate the college into the neighborhood, Perez says. 

"There is a direct correlation between the school and here, and that's by design," he says. "There was always a vision to have this kind of community to be part of what we build here, and, I guess it's coming true." 

The community has embraced the building, says Jesus Fernando Limon, 37, who graduated from Woodbury and now runs his company, Prismatica, out of one of the ground-floor live-work spaces. 

"People ask me, 'Are there spaces available? How much is the rent?'" he says. "If you haven't noticed, there's no graffiti on the side of the building. People respect it. It's kind of unique.

"It's not like when a developer comes in and you get all these people that don't belong in the neighborhood or don't adapt to the neighborhood," he adds. "This blends in."

The eight-unit building, which includes a ground-floor commercial space currently being used as an art studio, can be seen from Interstate 5 and is easily recognized by the 3-D mural of Cesar Chavez on the side of the building.

With the character of Barrio Logan potentially fast changing, San Diego's architecture scene seems to be joining several high-profile artist studios in the neighborhood. However, Perez may have given the city a model for how to let that happen without displacing long-time residents or the area's cultural heritage.

Write to joshuas@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on twitter at @jemersmith.


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