July 21 2015 05:45 PM

It's taken a village to grow one block of this Barrio Logan thoroughfare into a thriving arts district

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At a glance, the stretch of Logan Avenue between Sampson and South Evans streets could be mistaken as an ordinary block in Barrio Logan. Other than the modern La Esquina live-work development at the corner of Sampson and Logan, plus a few spruced-up storefronts scattered down the street, most of the buildings lining the block are low-key or even broken-down. Things appear to be fairly quiet, but a quick stroll down the street reveals the unexpected and exciting cultural offerings happening inside the unassuming buildings.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, soft experimental music spills out of thChrch at 2151 Logan Ave. Pronounced "The Church," the space opened a year ago as an incubator for artists and musicians. It includes a recording studio, performance and gallery space, retail shop and record store. Nearby at 2117 Logan, Chicano Art Gallery opens new exhibitions every few weeks, as does HB Punto Experimental, the contemporary-art gallery at 2151 Logan that's accessed through the back alleyway.

Across the street at 2146 Logan, Por Vida, a new coffee shop, gallery and retail space, is underway. Its owners, Milo Lorenzana, Bucky Montero and Carolina Santana, are inside, busy finalizing details of the freshly redesigned space before the scheduled opening in August.

Andrea Rushing inside his studio on Logan Avenue
All following photos by Kinsee Morlan

"It's boiling here right now," says Lorenzana, referencing the rapid transformation the block has undergone in recent years. "You can feel the movement. You can feel the change coming on. It's exciting."

Next door to Por Vida, Andrea Rushing, an oil painter who ran an art academy on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights for years until he moved his studio to Logan Avenue a few months ago, teaches one of his students how to paint. Across the way, Orso Art at 2175 Logan houses artists Gary Harper and Barbara Postelnek. And further down the street at 2196 Logan, Chris Zertuche, who runs La Bodega Gallery & Studios with Sonia López-Chávez, has a paint roller in-hand as he whitewashes the walls in preparation for one of the gallery's big upcoming group exhibitions, which have been attracting huge crowds of people to Barrio Logan since the gallery opened in late 2013.

"When we first moved to Logan, it was very desolate, empty—all the businesses had for-rent signs," Zertuche says. "People who were coming to shows and seeing what we were doing were saying, 'Wow, we want to be part of this," and I would always tell them there's a spot across the street that's vacant, and now look...I say the more the merrier. It's not a competition. I just want everyone to come have fun and enjoy all the different art and culture that everyone can bring to the table."

Inside Border X Brewing at 2181 Logan, which just opened its newest location this year, a local television crew is shooting a segment on the brewery's art exhibition, Chicano-Con, which got the media's attention when organizers angled it as an attempt to get folks who attend Comic-Con to finally take notice of Barrio Logan.

¡Salud! A San Diego Taco Company Eatery recently opened its doors at 2196 Logan, activating the sidewalk with an outdoor patio. There's a new bike and skateboard shop, The Chain, at 2113 Logan. And David White, who formerly ran an experimental gallery in North Park, just launched Soft Borders, a mini library and research space focusing on grassroots neighborhood development at 2222 Logan on the first floor of La Esquina.

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Things have changed dramatically for this small block of Logan Avenue over the last few years. The arts spaces have attracted small businesses and, thanks largely to the ongoing Barrio Art Crawl events that invite outsiders in to explore art spaces throughout all of Barrio Logan, the block is slowly becoming recognized as one of San Diego's newest and most exciting emerging arts districts. The grassroots efforts of the artists, activists and small business owners behind the block's transformation have not gone unnoticed.

Bucky Montero, Milo Lorenzana and Carolina Santana at Por Vida, a coffee shop and galleria set to open in August

"It's part of what we like to call the gente-fication of Barrio Logan," says Brent Beltran, a resident who sits on the community planning group. "Of course, gente means people in Spanish and what it means is that we're doing this for ourselves. The vast majority of places that have opened up on that block of Logan have been people who are from this community or have been activists or had social interest in this community...It's amazing what they've done and what's taken place in that section. It's one of the most beautiful things I've seen outside of the formation of Chicano Park."

John Alvarado, the director of the Logan Avenue Business Association, grew up on the Logan Avenue block and he's in the midst of remodeling his home on Logan to include more of a public storefront area where he can hang art and historical photos.

"At one time, this was the tuna capital of the world and this street was at the heart of it," Alvarado says, slipping in a quick history lesson. "Then the canneries left and things got quiet on Logan Avenue...And now we have the hipsters and the art people here in town and, for our street, it's been good."

Until recently, says Alvarado, the block had been overlooked by big-time developers/investors who wanted to swoop up cheap land close to downtown. As the self-appointed mayor of Logan Avenue, he tries to keep tabs on real-estate exchanges and he says it wasn't until last year that a lot of properties were sold on and around the block.

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Juan Martinez, a Barrio Logan broker for Foster Hamilton Real Estate, says he just sold several properties on Logan Avenue. But he says it's not time to ring the gentrification-warning bells just yet. At least for now, Martinez says the developers seem to be a good fit for the neighborhood.

"I would love to be an artist, but I don't have that gift so I really appreciate those who do," says Sasha Favelukis, an investor who just picked up two properties on the popular Logan Avenue block. "I like what artists do, so what I do is try to help and facilitate that. If that can be my way of contributing to the art world, then so be it—that's great." 

Chris Zertuche painting the walls at La Bodega Gallery & Studios

Favelukis says he's turning one of his properties into art studios and the other into a restaurant.

"Investing in that neighborhood, it's not to tear it down and rebuild," he says. "That little area is going to be the art center for San Diego. What I'm doing, I really feel it will bring even more artists."

As expected, many of the folks behind the existing art spaces are wary of future development and they hope the attention they've brought to the block will attract more investors like Favelukis who appreciate art and understand its value. But White, who was was pushed out of his North Park gallery due to gentrification, says he thinks it'll be difficult to protect the street from the kind of development that raises rent and forces artists out.

Victoria Carter, events coordinator at Border X Brewing

"It's scary how fast things are flipping," White writes in an email. "From experience, I fear that it will not last long given the capital cannibalism that seems to be accelerating. If I had to guess, rents for these arts spaces will increase dramatically the next few years."

Héctor Pérez, the architect and developer behind La Esquina—which has housed a long and impressive list of artists and designers who've helped bring the block of Logan Avenue to life since the building opened in 2012—says the number of "developer sharks" circling Barrio Logan looking to make a quick buck is indeed frightening, but he's not too worried.

"I think a community that has always been so politically active will continue to be that way," he says. "The community wins small battles and the battle of not changing the cultural identity of Barrio Logan is one that I think we have a very unique and good opportunity to salvage...I think culture will win this battle, so I'm happy to be a part of it."



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