May 20, 2005

National City Spotlight:

What Might Have Been

by Ted Godshalk

San Diego is known for more than its world famous Zoo, and I am not alluding here to the recent political scandals. Many visitors and locals alike enjoy visiting Old Town Historic State Park and the collection of shops known as Bazaar Del Mundo. As of this last weekend, however, the Bazaar is no more. Even with an income for the State of California that is unsurpassed by all other parks combined, the operating contract has been let out to a new company in a colossal example of lack of vision. We will all miss the originality of the place. Inside the walls of the Bazaar, Wal-Mart does not intrude. Inside the walls, fast food does not exist. Inside the walls, crude signage does not offend. I recollect scenes not encountered anywhere else in San Diego: a grown woman gleefully rocking on the wooden Rocking Horse, raindrops sparkling off the miniature Christmas lights on miniature Christmas trees, Los Peruanos playing their pipes with their sounds of the Andes, the warm comfort of tortilla soup on a rainy weekday when few visitors circulate through the grounds. I cannot help but feel San Diego’s loss should have been National City’s gain. Let me explain.

Seven years ago, the National City redevelopment agency (CDC) held hearings on the Harbor District properties near 24th Street (now known as Bay Marina Drive.) A new vision for the area was the topic. What was an abandoned meatpacking warehouse was slated to be developed into a tourist-oriented destination. During open meeting discussions between the Planning Commission and the City Council, I introduced photographs and sketches of a highly visited, attractive, family oriented establishment I thought would do well financially for the city as well as celebrate our community’s heritage. The enterprise I promoted at that meeting so long ago was a second Bazaar del Mundo. While some agreed that day that the Mexican food and shops were natural fits for our city, as far as I know then CDC Director Paul DesRochers and Mayor George Waters never pursued the idea. Perhaps they were busy landscaping the median along the Mile of Cars. If they had talked with the Bazaar’s operator, Diane Powers, back then and held out the carrot of low cost land located in one of the prime spots south of San Diego, I can’t help but feel that when Powers was shopping around for a replacement location for her Old Town business she would have already had the ideal place in mind.

National City is placed half way between San Diego and Tijuana, along the freeway and trolley line, and close to San Diego Bay. Last Sunday, the Bazaar’s most famous restaurant, Casa De Pico closed to reopen in a month in Grossmont Center. This location simply will not have the same cache that Old Town State Park has and the restaurant may consequently slip into mediocrity. I will not likely drive out there for the meals I have enjoyed for the last twenty years. I will miss the Muchisimos Taquitos and the Pico Quesadilla, El Bandido and Tacos al Pastor. Moreover, I will rue the missed opportunity to see the colorful market umbrellas and hear the mariachis playing in a patio overlooking Paradise Marsh in National City. Oh, what might have been.

Today, the 24th Street site is being cleaned up with a State grant. Toxic soil has been removed and the lot is being prepared for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay tribe to build a hotel and restaurant. The vision is incomplete at this time and we can only hope today’s city leaders will insure that the facility will be as attractive and culturally vibrant as Old Town’s former glorious tenant, the Bazaar Del Mundo.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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