Midway District was once a 'thriving neighborhood' named Frontier
Speaker 1: (00:00)
The sports arena and the surrounding midway district are in the midst of being reimagined. This city is currently negotiating with five companies bidding to lease and redevelop the 48 acres. Some ideas proposed include adding affordable housing office space, more retail, hotels, and additional sports facilities. During mayor. Todd glory is state of the city address. He also mentioned addressing the housing crisis by building new, affordable housing on that land with the new future and the works for the area voice of San Diego. Scott Lewis looked into the history and he joined me now to talk about what the midway district used to be like in the 1940s. Scott, welcome.
Speaker 2: (00:39)
Thank you for having me. So what made
Speaker 1: (00:41)
You want to look into the areas past,
Speaker 2: (00:44)
You know, we were talking on our own podcast and I asked our fellow, uh, host if he knew how the city had come to own so much of the land in that area. And neither of us knew, and that changed my life for the next, uh, about three weeks. I, I, I became obsessed with the history and it's rather, um, uncomfortable, frankly.
Speaker 1: (01:07)
Tell us about the previous neighborhood in the midway district area. What was in the frontier neighborhood? Well,
Speaker 2: (01:13)
You have to remember that the San Diego river was never as tame as it is now. It, it flowed all over that area in that valley. Finally, it was tamed, um, and, and that channel was built and that land was this sort of dusty planes. And, uh, in the 1940s, 39, 40, 41 or so there was just an massive housing crisis in San Diego, unlike anything even we can look at now, there were people just living in streets and in camps all over the city, because there was so many jobs here, but, uh, in a familiar story, there weren't many homes for them to live in. And so the federal government seeing, uh, potential war on the horizon and, uh, a need for housing finally intervened and built the Linta neighborhood up on the Kearney Mesa plateau, and, uh, also demanded and, and intervened and decided to build what was called the frontier neighborhood on that sports arena, midway land. And, uh, there was, uh, just a tremendous pushback, uh, against it from local, uh, residents in the point Loma area. And it, it came to define itself where we see, you know, the target and the sporting goods and home Depot in the sports arena. There were 3,500, uh, homes and parks and, and rec centers and churches. And it was quite a thriving neighborhood, frankly.
Speaker 1: (02:35)
So how did it go from being the frontier you described to the midway district? It is today.
Speaker 2: (02:40)
Well, like I said, one of the things, so the Linda Vista neighborhood had gone up at the same time and the frontier neighborhood gone up, but there was a tremendous pushback, like I said, from neighborhoods in point Loma and frankly it was racist. Uh, the point Loma, uh, development had been a restricted neighborhood where people of color non Caucasians were simply not allowed for many, uh, years, decades as it was built up. And they very clearly did not want the new neighborhood to connect because, uh, it would be an integrated neighborhood. It as a federal government project, it did become an integrated neighborhood. There were people of color there and, um, point Loma fought the Posa park residents in particular fought to keep the neighborhood separate. And the federal government agreed to, uh, uh, what ended up being about a thousand foot, no man's land as they called it.
Speaker 2: (03:32)
Then between the point Loma, uh, established neighborhoods and the new one. And over the next two decades, the hood developed an reputation as a quote slum that the city needed to get rid of as soon as possible. Uh, eventually the city took control of the land, uh, evicted the residents that were remaining there in the sixties, 62, finally, uh, and cast about looking for some sort of Disney land or SeaWorld to put on the area and ended up with the, a sports arena. So in many ways the sports arena is a, uh, a landmark to the city's successful effort to resegregate that area.
Speaker 1: (04:09)
And you said, Linda Vista is another neighborhood in San Diego that is similar to what the frontier neighborhood was like, what made these two communities alike?
Speaker 2: (04:18)
Well, Linda Vista was built before that, uh, but it was very similar. The churches, the schools, the, the type of, uh, homes built the difference was Eleanor Roosevelt came out to dedicate the shopping center. You might remember skate world over there. That's a, that's the old rec center from that housing development that was built there. The differe, I think, is that the tenants in Linda Vista were able to argue that they should be allowed to take control of those homes after the federal government kind of left. And they did. And a lot of the buildings, churches, and, and homes from the time still remain in Linda Vista, unlike midway, where the city he took control and, and evicted them. So you might remember there was a school in, in midway called Barnard that lasted for decades after frontier was abolished, uh, as a magnet school, but the school district sold that off a few years ago, but there were two other schools in, uh, the midway area that were part of this frontier development, this neighborhood that were abolished, you know, I think both Linda Vista and frontier suffered from not being very well connected to the neighborhoods around them.
Speaker 2: (05:28)
And Linda Vista was able to overcome that in some ways, but it remains a, a more diverse area than some of its north of I eight neighborhoods around it. Um, but frontier was, was completely abolished and it's hard not to look at the, the history of racism and, and restrictions, uh, that kind of led to that. And along with that, the, the concern about it being a slum and, uh, it's just a really uncomfortable history.
Speaker 1: (05:54)
What was the most shocking thing you discovered when you looked into the history of the midway, uh, sports arena area?
Speaker 2: (06:02)
I think just seeing firsthand the racism that was, uh, openly a part of the development of point Loma, um, you know, Caucasians will only be allowed to purchase these lots, going to the future. You can be assured I think that's still hard to just see and, and very, um, disturbing to just keep looking at. But I think the second thing is that, you know, Midway's a mess it's, uh, it's congested. It's just, uh, very unsightly as far as all the shopping malls and the congestion and parking lots, endless parking lots. And I, I guess I had assumed for so long that that was just a, you know, accident of the way that Western United States had developed after the automobile. But I think what was shocking was to know that there was a coherent neighborhood there with residents, like almost the exact same number of residents that the city envisions somehow some way being able to put there now that there was that before and the city, not only didn't support it, but, uh, worked so hard to abolish it and create what's there now. So, you know, it was just, it, that, that was shocking that, that anyone would prefer what their what's there now, uh, to the coherent diverse and, you know, well laid out in a way community.
Speaker 1: (07:14)
What do you make of the plans for its future?
Speaker 2: (07:18)
Well, there was basically three big things going on. The, the midway Pacific highway community plan was updated three years ago to, uh, envision a more coherent neighborhood. Uh, the city allowed the leases on its land, around the sports arena, the everything from the Phil's barbecue to the sports arena, parking lot to the, uh, Dixieland lumber. Those leases have been, are ready to be renewed in a, in a longer term way. And then they did a removal of the height limit on buildings there so that they could support, uh, uh, the kind of construction of three to 4,000 homes that they envision. I think that, that has now been challenged by people and, and successfully. So, uh, by, by people who don't want to see the housing developed there. And I think, um, you know, the echoes of the past of housing being opposed in the region are, are still being heard in a way.
Speaker 2: (08:12)
And I think that it's gonna, it's gonna be very hard for the city to make good on its vision for the, for the region, especially as it keeps stumbling with the, those kinds of experiences and with that kind of opposition. Uh, and I, I'm not sure that we'll see a, a, uh, much of a difference in the next two decades there, but, uh, but the city's determined and, and a lot of people are determined to see that happen. And, and we'll see now, as, as it considers, uh, going back to the ballot for the height limit removal and, uh, some of the bids that have come for that land that the city owns, but the city only owns part of the land now. And, and, um, you know, that area where the target is, will always be commercial and no residential allowed. So that kind of thing is, is probably gonna stay.
Speaker 1: (08:54)
I've been speaking with voice of San Diego, Scott Lewis, Scott, thank you very much for joining us.
Speaker 2: (08:59)
Yeah. Thank you again.
The Sports Arena and the surrounding Midway District are in the midst of being reimagined, as the city is currently negotiating with five companies bidding to lease and redevelop the 48 acres of land. Some ideas proposed include adding affordable housing, a new entertainment venue, office space, more retail, hotels and additional sports facilities.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria addressed the plan in his State of the City speech on Wednesday. He mentioned addressing the housing crisis by building new affordable housing on the land.
As the Midway community is preparing for its new future, Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis looked into the area's history. He learned of the area's former neighborhood called Frontier. He joined KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday to talk about what the Midway District used to be like in the 1940s.
"Where we see the Target, the Dick's Sporting Goods, Home Depot and the Sports Arena, there were 3,500 homes and parks, rec centers and churches, and it was quite a thriving neighborhood," Lewis said.
He said a housing crisis in San Diego in the 1940s is what led to the development of the Frontier neighborhood.
"There were people living in the streets and camps all over the city because there were so many jobs here, but in a familiar story, there weren't many homes for them to live in," Lewis said. "So the federal government seeing potential was on the horizon, and the need for housing, finally intervened, and built the Linda Vista neighborhood up on the Kearny Mesa plateau, and also demanded, intervened and decided to build what was called the Frontier neighborhood on the Sports Arena, Midway land."
Lewis said with the new neighborhood in the 1940s came a lot of pushback from local residents in the Point Loma area.
"Frankly it was racist. The Point Loma development had been a restricted neighborhood where people of color, non-Caucasians were simply not allowed for many years, decades, as it was built up," Lewis said. "They very clearly did not want the new neighborhood to connect because it would be an integrated neighborhood. As a federal government project, it did become an integrated neighborhood, and there were people of color there."
He said Point Loma residents fought to keep the new neighborhood separate.
"The federal government agreed to what ended up being about a thousand-foot 'no man's land' as they called it then, between the Point Loma established neighborhoods and the new one," Lewis said. "Over the next two decades, the neighborhood developed a reputation as I quote 'slum' that the city needed to get rid of as soon as possible. Eventually the city took control of the land, evicted the residents that were remaining there in the '60s, '62 finally, and cast about looking for some sort of Disneyland or SeaWorld to put in the area, and ended up with a Sports Arena."
Lewis said as new developments are underway in the area now, pushback from some people who don't want to see new housing developed in the area echoes the past.