La Jollans, to paraphrase an old Kingston Trio song, may well be wondering, “Where have all the people gone?” The office vacancy rate is fifty percent, local realtors say, and recently completed office buildings along Fay Avenue and Pearl Street are nearly empty. Plush new restaurants like Pax and Pancho Wellington’s on Prospect Street aren’t doing nearly as well as their owners expected, and it’s become hard to keep track of the various boutiques and other businesses that have shut down in the last year alone. But those intent on seeking answers need look no farther than La Jolla’s own back yard: Pacific Beach, a few miles to the south, appears to be the new commercial hub of the coast, and its dramatic renaissance has coincided with La Jolla’s decline.
The most visible signs of Pacific Beach’s rebirth can be found in its night life, in the past always La Jolla’s forte. Steamer’s, a plush seafood restaurant on the southwest corner of Garnet Avenue and Everts Street, opened last November and is still filled to capacity virtually every night; on weekends, waits for tables average more than an hour, and lines of people waiting to come inside the adjacent cocktail lounge – a mecca for young beach-area singles – stretch for nearly a block. The Improv, a comedy nightclub three and a half blocks farther west on Garnet that also opened last November, is sold out most nights. Right next door to the Improv, Club Diego’s continues to be one of San Diego’s most popular discotheques; last week, says owner Michael Mangnanti, he began a month-long, $200,000 remodeling job to make it even more “classy” for the growing crowd of patrons. Just a block to the east, the five-month-old Mannikin disco has achieved similar success.
Other development has also been booming in Pacific Beach lately. SeaCoast Square, a two-story building on the southeast corner of Garnet and Mission Boulevard, opened in May of 1983 and, in less than two years, all 35,000 square feet – containing room for thirty-five offices and seventeen retail shops – were rented out. Smaller office/retail complexes have since been constructed, remodeled, or planned on the corners of Garnet and Cass Street, Grand Avenue and Bayard Street, and both the east and the west corners of Mission and Felspar Street. Pier One Imports is opening a new store at Fanuel and Cass streets at the end of May; Numero Uno, a large new pizza store is opening later this year at the corner of Mission and Hornblend Street; and the Wherehouse Records chain, which shut down its only Pacific Beach store several years ago, is returning to the area this summer with a new store, located just a few doors down from its previous location near the corner Garnet and Gresham Street.
All this rests quite well with developer Roger Boesky, who unabashedly takes credit for starting Pacific Beach’s current boom. Back in the early Eighties, when most of his cohorts were busy building wherever they could in La Jolla, Boesky’s Muirlands Development Company was already eyeing Pacific Beach. Demographic studies conducted at the time, Boesky says, showed the area far more conducive to night life and commercial enterprise than La Jolla: forty-seven percent of the people living within a mile of Mission and Garnet, Boesky says, were reported to be between the ages of eighteen and thirty-six, “which makes Pacific Beach the heart of where the yuppies live, a demographic that every smart developer realizes is the new generation of growth.” Furthermore, Boesky says, La Jolla developers were not creating sufficient parking, nor were they anticipating the congestion all the new uses would bring.
So he began working in Pacific Beach, starting off with a two-story, 10,000-square-foot commercial building on Emerald Street just east of Mission Boulevard (completed in June of 1981) — and including the SeaCoast Square project. And now that virtually all of the problems he predicted for La Jolla seem to have come about, he expects even greater things for Pacific Beach in the future — at the continued expense of La Jolla. “La Jolla has almost no parking, yet we have loads of it,” Boesky says of Pacific Beach. “La Jolla has a problem with access: there are only two ways to get there, from the freeway over Ardath Road or up the coast along La Jolla Boulevard, and that creates tremendous congestion. Again, you don’t have that problem in Pacific Beach. And thirdly, all the new construction in La Jolla pushed the rent prices sky high; the same type of office or retail space that rents for $2.50 to $3.50 a square foot along Prospect or Girard would only cost a dollar or $1.25 here in Pacific Beach.”
Not everyone shares Boesky’s vision, however. La Jolla realtor Del Partridge, who works with John Burnham and Company, admits there is currently a glut of office and retail space in La Jolla, but he says the problems are merely temporary. “I’m hoping to see a turnaround by 1986,” Partridge says. “By then, the buildings that are there will be even more valuable because you can’t build anymore, and La Jolla is such an attractive place that a lot of businesses will still want to come here even though the rents are lower in Pacific Beach.” La Jolla’s hurting nightclubs, Partridge says, are mostly “upstairs/downstairs establishments that have traditionally had difficulties.” Their successful Pacific Beach counterparts, on the other hand, tend to “follow fads and trends and though they may be popular in 1985, they may not be popular in 1986… La Jolla will always be the most desirable place to work and go out,” Partridge says, “and I don’t see Pacific Beach presenting a challenge at all, at least in the long term.”