North Park fascinates visitors and residents alike with its visible history that began more than 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, the streetcar lines of John D. Spreckels’ San Diego Electric Railway brought investors, residents, and shopkeepers to a nearly empty, scrub-covered mesa. The streetcars that ran along University Avenue (Number 7) and 30th Street (Number 2) met in 1911 and created the “Busy Corner,” then and now the commercial heart of the community. Let’s take a walk around the block and go back in time.
More information on the history of North Park can be found at the North Park Historical Society’s website: http://northparkhistory.org/
What is now the Western Dental Building on the northwest corner was among the first and is still the tallest of all commercial buildings at the Busy Corner. The three-story structure was built in 1912 for the real estate partnership of William Jay Stevens and John (“Jack”) Hartley. Jack was the eldest son in the Hartley family. In 1893, his father James bought 40 acres between Ray and 32nd streets from University Avenue to Dwight Street and named it “Hartley’s North Park,” starting what eventually became the collective name for the general area. A pharmacy dominated the first floor of the Stevens-Hartley Building for more than 80 years. An arcaded, Mediterranean-style annex with two towers was built to the west, along University Avenue, in 1926. Although the annex is now covered with a modern smooth façade, the tops of the two towers are still visible from an upper floor of the North Park parking garage.
In the northeast quadrant of the Busy Corner, the United Stores Building (completed in 1928) originally housed the Owl Drug Company. Para’s Newsstand has offered North Park’s widest range of newspapers and magazines in the northern corner of that building since Chris Paras took over an earlier cigar store in the early 1950s.
A neon sign proudly proclaiming “North Park” hung above the Busy Corner from 1935 to 1967. The sign was a project of the North Park Business Men’s Club (with fundraising assistance from the Women’s Auxiliary), and a special city ordinance had to be passed to allow the sign to be suspended above the public street. The replica North Park sign on a pedestal was placed in the center median of University Avenue near 29th Street in 1993, after years of community advocacy.
The Main Stage
The Main Stage
The grand North Park Theatre dominates the southwest corner of University Avenue and 29th Street. Emil Klicka developed the theatre in 1929. The elaborate structure, designed by the Quayle Brothers, housed a performance space for vaudeville and the latest craze, “talking pictures.” Across the street, the arcaded Mission Revival-style lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (now the friendly Claire de Lune coffee shop) held the E.N. Mudd Department Store when the building was completed in 1929, but the stock market crash and Great Depression changed its function.
At the southeast corner of Granada and University avenues, the two-story Granada Building shimmers with its distinctive white glazed brick veneer. Now home to A7D Creative Group, the building started life in 1921 as a plumbing shop with upper offices rented to doctors and dentists. Continuing south, the imposing Silver Gate Masonic Temple, also designed by the Quayle Brothers, was completed at the corner of Utah Street and North Park Way in 1932.
Eastward along North Park Way, several smaller Spanish and Mission Revival commercial buildings from the late 1920s retain their original windows and decorative rooflines. The 1939 Streamline Moderne building at the southwest corner of Ray Street (now home to the Bargain Center) was originally built to be a Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
The Hub of San Diego Shopping
The Hub of San Diego Shopping
North Park gained a J.C. Penney department store at Ray Street and University Avenue in 1942; the store building was enlarged to its current appearance in 1954.
North Park was THE place to shop through the 1950s. Although decades of decline followed the rise of regional malls, North Park is flourishing again. The renaissance began in 2005 with the restoration of the North Park Theatre, which had been vacant for almost 20 years. It now reflects its original Art Deco glory as a live performance space. The stores and restaurants around the Busy Corner may be different, but the energetic, entrepreneurial spirit is the same.