SAN DIEGO—A street in San Diego's famous Gaslamp Quarter was nationally recognized for its greatness.
Fifth Avenue was named one of the ten "Great Streets" in America by the American Planning Association. It was the only street in California to earn the award.
Downtown went through major revitalization in 1985 when the city of San Diego bought the land that is now Horton Plaza. Croce's restaurant was one of the first legitimate restaurant and live music venues in the area. For dozens of years, downtown was known as the "stingerey."
"When you got off the boat you might be excited to come and drink but there were stingrays in the bay because the water was really shallow. Then you get on land and you might get robbed, rolled, or shang-highed. So, you're more likely to be stung on land than on sea 'stingery,'" said Melanie Young.
Young runs Back Alley Tours and takes people on evening pub crawls to local bars with history from the 1880's-1900's. Customers eat and drink in place like George's on Fifth, the site of Wyatt Earp's Oyster Bar.
"It was also the site of Madam Cora's Golden Poppy Brothel," Young said. "The history in San Diego is so great and I have a lot of local San Diegans that didn't know this area (downtown) used to be brothels and bars."
Ghirardelli's Chocolate shop used to be an adult theatre and Lou and Mickey's was the site of the old "First and Last Chance Saloon."
"It was the first place to drink when you got off the boat from Horton Pier, where the convention center is now, and it was the last chance to drink before you took the ferry out of town," Young said. "Fifth Avenue has always been San Diego's main thoroughfare. If you had anything to sell, and I mean anything to sell, you would be here."
The American Planning Association singled out Fifth Avenue as part of a successful downtown revitalization involving an historic district. Instead of razing abandoned buildings to make room for new skyscrapers, adaptive reuse, height limitations and stringent design guidelines have preserved the integrity of the street and have drawn people back to San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter.
The process did not happen overnight and collaborative planning and investment between the public and private sectors.
Fifth Avenue was established as the backbone of fast-developing San Diego when Alonzo Horton built a wharf at the base of the street in 1869 providing merchants with a marine connection to other parts of the city. With the Gold Rush in the 1880's, San Diego became a boomtown with the Gaslamp Quarter, and Fifth Avenue a center for prostitution, gambling, and alcohol consumption.
Following its bicentennial in 1969, San Diego began restoration efforts of the Gaslamp Quarter and Fifth Avenue. Since 1975, over $7.5 billion of public and private money has been invested in the downtown restoration.
Design guidelines were adopted in 1976 (most recently updated in 2010) in order to maintain the historic architectural character of Fifth Avenue and the Gaslamp Quarter, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. With building heights limited to 60 feet, the Gaslamp Quarter along Fifth Avenue forms a unique pocket of turn-of-the-century architecture amidst downtown's taller and more contemporary buildings.
The nine other APA 2010 "Great Streets" are: Bank Street in Wallace, ID; Wydown Boulevard in Clayton, MO; Broadway Street in Red Lodge, MT; Spring Street in Eureka Springs, AR; Washington Street in Hoboken, NJ; Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, KS; Middle Street in New Bern, NC; Washington Street in Middleburg, VA; and Liberty Street in Franklin, PA.
Young said this is a great accomplishment for San Diego.
"Alonzo Horton would be so proud," Young said.