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KPBS Midday Edition

Midway District was once a 'thriving neighborhood' named Frontier

Cars drive along a street in the Midway District with the Sports Arena in the background, Aug. 29, 2018.
Katie Schoolov
Cars drive along a street in the Midway District with the Sports Arena in the background, Aug. 29, 2018.

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.

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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."

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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.