All photos by Torrey Bailey unless otherwise noted
Despite the views of San Diego Bay, downtown high rises and, on a clear day, a mountain-framed Tijuana, Golden Hill has sidestepped the lightning-speed gentrification many other areas have undergone. Outlined by the I-5, Highway 94 and Interstate 15, talk has circulated for nearly a decade that this centralized locale is on the up-and-up. In the '90s, a surge of graffiti-coated storefronts, gang violence and ambling drug dealers branded Golden Hill as a no-fly zone for many families. This rough patch opened the door for real estate markets to create and sell the idea of South Park as an affluent and safe option, even though it's technically a subdivision of Golden Hill. With a seamy reputation, Golden Hill's rent hung lower than in other boroughs, attracting a working class community of Latinos, musicians and artists. As the neighborhood's grit continues to dissipate, more businesses are committing to the area and squeezing contemporary architecture in between iconic Victorian, Colonial Revival and Craftsman originals. With amicable neighbors and luge-worthy hills, the neighborhood now sharply contrasts its prior self. Still, locals are cautious of the extent of the changes, hoping to protect what they consider to be a hidden gem.
While Golden Hill is far from a rowdy neighborhood, 25th and Broadway is the intersection of eating, drinking and doing. Humberto's and Los Reyes are favorite local eateries along with Krakatoa, which sits just north of the intersection on the way to Golden Hill Park. Head south on 25th for newer additions, including Dark Horse Coffee and the gastropub Counterpoint.
Dinoshark or Grizzly Rage? Tough decision.
I get sad when I realize that future generations will not have the opportunity to peruse a video store. As more entertainment streams into our homes, I'm sure the idea of actually having to go out into the real world seems about as appealing as walking two miles to school—both ways—in the snow. But as any child from the Blockbuster generation can confirm, a trip to the video store was its own adventure.
The outside of Video Club in Golden Hill looks promising to those looking for that nostalgia fix. Set against the increasingly hip Golden Hill neighborhood, the quaint, blue building gives off a Lynchian vibe that would attract movie-goers who are into Lynchian shit.
Inside, though, is just strange without any quirkiness. The haphazard selection ranges from mega-popular blockbusters to D-grade horror without much in between. It's like someone got a great deal on 3,000 DVDs at a flea market. The perimeter of the shop is lined with random groceries. Do you like raisins, Nutella and Clamato while you watch Dinoshark or Grizzly Rage? This place has you covered.
But, hey—a trip to Video Club proves to be more of an adventure than spending 40 minutes flipping through Netflix. Plus: Dinoshark. Duh.
— Ryan Bradford
Photo by Becky DiGiglio
MEMOIR OF A LOCUST HOUSE
Before Golden Hill became occupied with coffeehouses, wine bars and CityBeat competitors, it was the site of some of the most radical underground punk in Southern California—maybe even the country. In particular, Golden Hill was home to experimental noisecore band The Locust, whose bassist and vocalist Justin Pearson ran independent label Three One G out of their house at 2411 E St. The house doubled as a venue however, in which bands such as The Album Leaf, GoGoGo Airheart and, naturally, The Locust would perform D.I.Y. shows up until a legendary "eviction" show in 2002, which took place just before a new owner moved in.
Adam Gnade, author of the Three One G-released novella Locust House, which references the eviction show, says that very show was his first (and unfortunately last) time seeing live music in the house.
"Finding that scene and realizing there were other weirdo romantic hardcore kids that wanted blast beats and synths instead of pink stucco condos and Charger games saved my life," says Gnade.
Gnade speaks fondly of the numerous bands that rose up in the late '90s and early '00s in Golden Hill, which represented not just a creatively fertile time but one with a diverse array of styles. Where The Locust were noisy and chaotic, a band like Tristeza, for instance, was more intricate and pretty.
"Tristeza's song 'Golden Hill' actually feels like the neighborhood—the looping, chiming progressions ...nodding along in a morning haze kind of vibe that feels just like driving through the hilly streets," he says. "I'm not nostalgic for that time but some great music came of it. I have it all on vinyl and I play it loud and often."
Kathryn Willetts - Golden Hill activist and landowner
Over the past four decades, Kathryn Willetts has observed and guided Golden Hill through a period of transition. When she bought her home in 1974, young families and small-time shops inhabited the blocks. The Willetts temporarily moved out but returned in 1981 to find a marred community. "We were burglarized twice within the first six months that we were here, and the character of the neighborhood had changed dramatically." She teamed up with the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee and Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation to make 25th Street a destination. The Golden Hill emblems marking the pavements today, as well as increased parking, are signs of her success. She also began leasing property to small businesses, filling entrepreneurial gaps. Set on incorporating a cuisine other than Mexican into the neighborhood, Luigi's Pizzeria became one of her first customers. Then came Kiki's Flowers and recently the boutique Haven, which is owned by Willett's sister. But now, Willetts says it's time for the next generation to take charge. "I really hope the younger people that moved into the neighborhood, who I hear saying that [it] is really coming up and improving, I hope they get involved in making sure that it stays a great place to live."
— Torrey Bailey
Rob Benavides - Owner of Flying Panther Tattoo
While tattoo styles have evolved, Flying Panther (2323 Broadway) was founded on owner Rob Benavides' loyalty to classic styles. His custom designs of panthers, roses and naked women reflect the ones his icon Ed Hardy popularized. "Everything here is kind of like a hieroglyphic," Benavides says. "A picture means a thousand words." But that wasn't always the case. Benavides apprenticed in the '90s in Pacific Beach, where dolphins were a common request. "I'd never drawn dolphins or teddy bears when I was a kid. I just drew skulls. Being forced to draw what other people wanted, with no input from [myself], made me learn how to draw quickly and write script nicely." So when he opened Flying Panther, he returned to the classic tattoo shop vibe he was attracted to in his youth. "I was just intrigued by tattooing and loved the look of the dudes that were smoking in the shop. It looked like a rough place, and if you were extremely lucky, maybe you'd see a titty in there, or at least a drawing of one on the wall." That outlaw environment has mellowed along with Golden Hill in the 10 years since the store opened, he says. "Before I lived here, I learned this was the area to score drugs and it was kind of edgy, but I've never seen it. Maybe a little rough around the edges looks-wise, but now it's a beautiful Victorian neighborhood."
Luigi Agostini - Owner of Pizzeria Luigi
"Pizza and beer, it just brings everybody together," says Luigi Agostini, recalling a time the San Diego Police Department ate on one side of his restaurant while Mexican Mafia members dined on the other. "Think of Pizzeria Luigi as Switzerland," he says. "[People] can come here and eat. Outside, there you fight." Agostini says growing up in Italy taught him to be more candid than the average American and led to honest and successful business practices. He also thanks the local business community for helping put Pizzeria Luigi (1137 25th St.) on the map in 2004. "It used to be an hour wait to go in to sit at the Turf Club back in the day. The bartenders, which are friends and customers of mine, used to send people to pick up slices to eat at the bar while they were waiting for a table." Agostini thinks back to first moving to Golden Hill with a tinge of nostalgia. "It was a small community, a lot of artists, a lot of young people that were just trying to find themselves." While he acknowledges higher rent prices and corporate growth in the neighborhood, he doesn't want the atmosphere to change. "People got to realize that it's not all about making an extra dollar, but it's about the community you create around you."