By Isadora Malon
They carried handwritten signs made out of moving boxes. One man lead the march, adlibbing what their chants would be until they came up with something with a cadence that rhymed while stressing the point, “City Council, hear our call. We need housing for us all.” I couldn’t help a certain feeling of embarrassment for them as I watched. It was the day before the Super Bowl and they were a block off the main drag of the Gaslamp Quarter.
Sports fans lined the streets at 5:30 in the afternoon, drinking and displaying their own brand of signs in the form of Raider and Buccaneer memorabilia.
I hadn’t come for the festivities, but instead had heard about this demonstration at the Maryland Hotel downtown. The residents of the hotel, along with demonstrators from other organizations including the San Diego Housing Commission and D.U.R.O. (Developing Unity through Resident Organizing), would be marching during the chaos to protest a move by hotel owners, Michael and Richard Kelly, to evict some 200 tenants.
I stood among the marchers before they were completely organized, and listened to the personal stories they exchanged with anyone willing to listen. Some were tenants, others were concerned citizens like myself. I heard one man in a wheelchair say he had lived at the Maryland for more than ten years. Another woman had rented a room there for five years. They had been given thirty days notice and a check for $1200. I remembered the last time I moved, how long it had taken to find a place and how much more than $1200 I’d had to come up with.
When the protesters started walking, I followed them in the loop they made up F Street to the corner of Fifth where they passed another of the Kelly Brother’s businesses in San Diego, The Bitter End. Patrons of the bar waited in line outside. They looked puzzled, unsure whether to join in the chanting or throw stones at the hodgepodge of individuals who made up the march from the Maryland Hotel.
Real Estate in the surrounding areas of the Gaslamp has become choice. I remember when I first moved to San Diego in 1980 you couldn’t walk down F Street without the prospect of getting mugged, and the park in front of what’s now Horton Plaza was home to drug addicts scoring a next fix, and any number of transients. Progress and redevelopment has made the area trendy and has made developers a lot of money.
The new ballpark’s completion is so near you can smell the hotdogs and beer from the corner of 3rd and Market. Now, the obvious next step is for savvy investors like the Kelly brothers to buy up what has been classified as “affordable” housing in years past, get rid of those calling such dwellings home, and call in demolition or renovation teams to work magic on what will become some of the most choice property in all of San Diego.
Watching the faces of the tenants at the Maryland Hotel, I thought about the idea of “home”-how subjective a concept it is, yet how it conjures up such emotion. To spend five or ten years in a rented room, that space must take on a certain sense of personalization. I doubted, though, that Michael and Richard Kelly thought of the Maryland as home to their tenants. Rather, I imagine they think of the building in terms of numbers on a financial statement. I heard a rumor that day that the building was going to be renovated, and that the owners were going to move into the top floor suite.
According to one Maryland Resident, “The top floor is pretty posh.”