Largely white Bankers Hill

Bankers Hill
  • Bankers Hill
  • Image by Salvatore Filippone

Bankers Hill. The name has a regal sound to it. Bankers Hill has been called "Pill Hill" for its many doctors' offices and "Gill Hill" for Irving Gill, who built the historic residences that grace its streets. These days it might be called "Lawyer's Hill," for the lawyers who have bought the Victorian houses and turned them into law offices.

There never were many bankers living here. According to Patty Fares, who conducts walking tours of the neighborhood, "In reality -- through home records at the city or historical society archives -- I found most residents weren't bankers. Many were retired and/or widows." She believes the name is "just symbolic of the wealth of early residents, rather than occupation."

Bankers Hill, bounded on the north by Upas Street, on the south by Elm, on the east by Fifth Avenue, and on the west by State Street, is almost entirely a residential area. There are a few commercial sections, although that's changing with the high-rise condos and apartments being built or already completed near Balboa Park. Most of these buildings have commercial space on the street level and businesses are moving in. We have our own Starbucks (on Fifth between Laurel and Kalmia), and that's an omen.

I moved here from about a mile away, from First Avenue in Hillcrest. Bankers Hill is to Hillcrest as La Jolla is to Mission Beach: more upscale and less diverse. It's largely white and WASPy rather than multicolored and ethnic. People worry about things such as making sure that the parking-garage door is fully closed before they pull out of the driveway.

But downtown, Little Italy, the Embarcadero, Hillcrest, and Balboa Park are within walking distance. As you stroll through the neighborhood, you can check out one impressive structure after another. Start at the old Park Manor Suites at Fifth and Spruce; stop and have breakfast at Jimmy Carter's just across the street, where you can have an Indian breakfast of dhosa, a crepe made of rice and lentils, or huevos rancheros. Take the footbridge at Quince and Fourth over the canyon and notice the huge old weathered shingle house on your right below. Check out the pine tree on the corner of Second and Quince. Then walk over to the corner of Albatross and Kalmia, where the Old Town tourist trolley stops, to admire the view of San Diego Bay.

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