From the beach, walk inland up Carlsbad Village Drive. Pass the beach bungalows that rent for $4000 a month and beach mansions listed for sale at $7 million. Check out the pricey condominiums with floor-to-ceiling windows that sell for a million and a half. Cross the railroad tracks and go another four blocks through the shopping district of town. Take a right at Pizza Port — Roosevelt Street — and after a couple of blocks you’ll find yourself in a neighborhood of tiny clapboard houses, where signs written in English and Spanish hang on the outside of El Torito Market. You’ve found Barrio Carlsbad.
The heart of the neighborhood
The City of Carlsbad is 39.1 square miles and has seven miles of coastline. The barrio is near downtown Carlsbad bordered by Carlsbad Village Drive to the north, Tamarack Avenue to the south, Interstate 5 to the east, and the railroad tracks to the west.
In 1994, in the prologue to his photographic history of the City of Carlsbad, author Charles Wesley Orton wrote of the “ineffable sense of purpose and peace among the residents of the city.” Orton believed that, “Nowhere within the city’s boundaries is it more evident than in Barrio Carlsbad. Here is an enclave of largely Mexican-American citizens whose families moved into that neighborhood as far back as the late 1800s. With the help of caring residents such as Kathleen Apodaca-Marquez, Ofie Escobedo, and Connie Trejo this area is a model for the preservation of positive core values and mores.”
Two of the women he mentions — Ofie Escobedo, and Connie Trejo — are sisters who along with their sister Frances Jauregui Moreno were born to Mexican immigrants, Reyes and Dolores “Lola” Jauregui, who came to Carlsbad in the 1920s. Escobedo and Trejo have run Lola’s 7-Up store since their parents died and the store fell into disrepair in the ’80s. They remodeled the store and re-opened it in 1986 with the name Lola’s 7-Up Market & Mexican Deli. At 3292 Roosevelt Street, Lola’s is an icon in the barrio. The store is stocked with a few groceries, but the biggest draw is the deli, where Escobedo and Trejo’s family members cook and manage the busy counter.
“I wish they would fire me,” Escobedo laughed, her eyes twinkling as she stood behind the counter. “I’m hoping the next generation will take over the store and I can retire.” Escobedo is 88 years old. “I’ve been here since the beginning; I was practically born in this store,” she said. “The barrio has managed to maintain its charm and its culture. However, there are major changes coming.”
Carlsbad’s unfinished master plan may propel those changes. Two drafts have been issued — in November of 2015 and April of 2016. Both were heavily criticized by many of the city’s 112,000 residents.
“They’ve been very accommodating and have some good ideas,” Escobedo said. “But I hate to see big changes that will raise housing prices. If you do that, the people who were born here in their parents’ houses and even their grandparents’ houses won’t be able to afford it anymore.”
Lola’s, a small store and delicatessen located in the center of the barrio at the northeast corner of Roosevelt Street and Walnut Avenue, serves as an unofficial meeting house. It’s a place to visit neighbors and share stories while eating Mexican food. Older barrio residents come in regularly for a cup of coffee and to socialize with others, while high school students pour through the doors at noon for tacos and burritos.
“My parents came to the area in the ’20s and opened their first store in the ’40s catering to people who had come to the area fleeing the Mexican Revolution,” Escobedo said. “The neighborhood is changing as far as the diversity of the people. Which I think is good: there’s nothing wrong with new ideas and families in the barrio, which by the way means ‘neighborhood’ in Spanish. That’s what we are, a very close-knit neighborhood.”
As a man came up to the counter to pay for his food, Escobedo grabbed him by the hand.
“See, right here, this is a new neighbor,” she said introducing me to Kevin Sladek, a helicopter pilot and instructor at Camp Pendleton.
“Actually, I’ve lived here for three years now,” he said, laughing.
“That’s new to me,” laughed Escobedo.
“My family and I love it here,” Sladek said on his way out the door. “The location near the beach and to the village is perfect. The neighborhood has been so welcoming, especially Connie and Ofie. I’m not sure we could have been able to afford to live in Carlsbad if we hadn’t moved to the barrio.”
The demographics of the community are changing with more Hispanic families moving out of the neighborhood, which has altered the historic parameters of the barrio, Escobedo said.
“The center of the community has gotten smaller and the boundaries are changing,” she said. “Still, the majority of people living in Barrio Carlsbad are Hispanic and many of the businesses here in the barrio cater to a Hispanic clientele. The village is only a few blocks away, and they offer so many places to shop and eat. I think eventually we will change and be like them, only we will keep our community ties.”
With the median price of homes in Carlsbad during November at $717,000, the barrio isn’t far behind. In fact, in 2015, a two-bedroom, one-bath house of 676 square feet a few blocks from Lola’s sold for $770,000.
Alex Martinez, 28, was born and raised in the barrio. He pays $1400 a month rent for a tiny house with “roaches and bugs.” But it’s where he wants to live. “All my friends and family grew up here, and most of us are still here. So we pay the prices,” he says.
Martinez was sitting outside of Lola’s waiting for his food as he spoke to me. He had an easy smile, long hair, a dark beard, and tattoos covering his arms and legs.
“This barrio is mellow,” he said. “Sometimes some little homies” — gang members — “try to bang, but come on, this is Carlsbad. It’s the beach scene. I love the beach. It’s two blocks away. The barrio is my home, and I don’t think I’ll ever move away. It’s all I know.”
According to the 2010 census, the area is 56 percent Hispanic, but 87 percent of the houses and apartments are occupied by renters instead of property owners. The rise in value of their homes hasn’t matched that of nearby Carlsbad neighborhoods.
“The median price in San Diego County has increased 55 percent since 2011, whereas the barrio area has increased 59 percent, and overall Carlsbad Village has increased 96 percent,” Crista Swan, a real estate consultant who lives close to the beach in Carlsbad, explained. “So, the barrio prices have kept a similar pace of price increases as San Diego County, but overall Carlsbad Village is almost double the pace of San Diego County. Improving that area and bringing more connectivity between the two areas is a good idea. I believe if there is more of a focus on improving the barrio, prices will pick up the pace, like the rest of Carlsbad Village.”
New plans for the barrio
According to the Carlsbad city website, the new Village and Barrio Carlsbad Master Plan will replace the original Carlsbad Village Master Plan and Design Manual that was adopted in 1996. The plan regulates land uses for the city’s downtown village and adjacent barrio, west of Interstate 5 between Tamarack Avenue in the south and Laguna Avenue in the north.
At an October 19, 2016, planning-commission meeting, staff rejected several key tenets of the earlier drafts, which had been harshly criticized for recommending the building height limit be raised from 45 feet to 55 feet and calling for the creation of “urban-style streets, parks and building types…with denser housing and lodging.”
The overall tone, content, and graphics of the plan will be more Carlsbad-specific and respectful of the community’s character, according to the staff report. Most residents, the report noted, feel “certain elements in the village and barrio bear maintaining: the less dense barrio core, the Twin Inns at the northeast corner of Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive, State Street between Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue, and the very large trees along Grand Avenue.”
“The overall walkability of the entire Master Plan area and small town feel are other desirable attributes,” the report states.
Some barrio residents and business owners I spoke to worried that their neighborhood will become similar to the dense apartment complexes near the beach.
“The people with money come and put down big money and rent all the houses on the beach for the summer, and the people from Canada come in the winter,” said Sam Ortiz. “We have a completely different vibe here. It’s family and casual here, not like up by the beach. We don’t want to be them.”
Barrio Carlsbad goes to the park
3333 Harding Street, Carlsbad
Pine Park opened in 2006, on the east side of the barrio. It includes a soccer field, a baseball diamond, a basketball court, an amphitheater, and a playground. Most evenings, soccer and basketball players from all over Carlsbad — but especially the barrio — play informal games until the lights shut off at 8:30 p.m.
“I grew up in the area,” says park-goer Mario Dana, “and I go to [Pine Park] three or four nights a week to hang with my friends. A lot of people here live in apartments, so it’s a way for them to blow off steam.”
Chestnut Avenue at Pio Pico Drive, Carlsbad
But Holiday Park, which is outside of the historic boundary of Barrio Carlsbad, is considered one of the most important outdoor spaces for barrio residents. Located north of Chestnut Avenue, just east of I-5, the park is one of the primary locations for birthday parties and other social events for the residents of Barrio Carlsbad. Birthday parties are usually hefty affairs with at least 50 people attending and inflatable bounce houses for the kids. “I love the parties at the park,” Mary Salgado said. “The kids and the grandparents interact, and the food and the piñatas are so colorful and delicious. This park is so important to our culture. I think a lot of people think it’s Chicano Park, but really anyone can use it. We just seem to have more parties. We like to have fun.”
The Carlsbad Historical Society points to the Ramirez House as an important Barrio Carlsbad icon. It is located on the corner of Roosevelt Street and Walnut Avenue, diagonally from Lola’s and across the street from the Barrio Carlsbad Museum. One of the first residents of Barrio Carlsbad, Pablo Ramirez built the house in the early 1900s and it is considered the oldest home in the barrio. Owners have added to the home over the years, but the original structure is still largely intact.
St. Patrick’s Church is also geographically located outside of what are typically considered the limits of the barrio, at the intersection of Adams Street and Tamarack Avenue. According to officials at the church, it is an important place within the barrio socially because approximately 90 percent of Hispanic residents within the barrio attend St. Patrick’s. Most of the baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals in the barrio happen here. St. Patrick’s annual garage sale, for which unwanted items are donated to the church for sale, raises money to help the poor of the parish with funeral costs.
The church has also met with the Carlsbad Police Department to discuss the status of illegal immigration in the barrio. St. Patrick’s Church also owns and operates the Father Raymond Moore Hall on Madison St, located within the barrio. Hall staff help Barrio Carlsbad residents fill out important forms for social services, including those related to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (usually called WIC), food-stamp programs, and medical insurance forms. The church also provides a referral for congregation members looking for a job, which is a service particularly important for new residents without an established social network in the community.
“Everything here including the church is a big part of the social life of the barrio,” said longtime resident Christopher Donez. He said that both his parents — former migrant workers — still live in the barrio even though his mother was a school teacher at Carlsbad High School and his father a high-school counselor in Vista Unified School District. “People stay here if they can because it’s a walkable neighborhood with little crime. It’s an excellent place to grow up and live a good life.”
Barrio Carlsbad may be going through changes resulting from increased home prices and a shift in demographics, but the family-oriented nature that typified the community in the 1920s through the 1950s is still present. Neighbors still believe that the community has the small-town feel that is absent elsewhere in Carlsbad, where neighbors know who you are, residents call out to one another as they walk by, and the community is willing to help when one of their members is in need.
“The barrio is so different from the village which is only a few blocks away,” Donez said. “It’s a great place to go find a drink and party and it's got nice shops and stuff, but the barrio is a sweet neighborhood. People hear the word ‘barrio’ and they think it’s a negative thing, but it’s not. It’s family, so it’s positive.”
Crime in the barrio
“We never had any trouble in the neighborhood while I was growing up,” Donez said. “I never had any trouble back then, and I don’t now.”
In the 1970s, the Carlsbad Police Department documented two gangs in the city, a Latino gang called the Varrio Carlsbad Locos, and the Shadow Crew, a gang made up predominantly of young Caucasian men. In 2007, the Varrio Carlsbad Locos had increased in number to 115, including about 100 documented gang members and associates. The gang included at least three generations of family members, though most of the active members were from 16 to 22 years old.
The FBI index of crimes per 1000 population is a standard measure used throughout the law-enforcement community. According to NeighborhoodScout.com, during 2015, there were 1.94 violent crimes and 19.17 property crimes per 1000 people in Carlsbad. In neighboring Oceanside, the numbers were 4.03 violent crimes and 26.54 property. In the city of San Diego, it was 4.06 violent crimes and 21.63 property crimes.
Barrio history, Barrio future
The Barrio Carlsbad Museum sits at the intersection of Roosevelt Street and Walnut Avenue, near Lola’s and the Ramirez house. The museum has a collection of historic photographs, newspaper articles, and artifacts related to the history of the community. Escobedo is not only one of the co-owners of Lola’s, but is primarily responsible for the operation of the museum, which started as a temporary exhibit for the first Fiesta del Barrio Carlsbad in 1991.(The formerly annual party has been on hold for the past two years because of funds and an issue with needing new boardmembers.)
Today schoolchildren from Carlsbad elementary schools come to the museum on a regular basis, and Escobedo gives a short tour of the exhibits and imparts her own knowledge of the community.
“This museum is important to the community because it provides an important lesson to not only children, but also to educators,” Escobedo said. “It’s important that children who don’t live in this area understand…the role Barrio Carlsbad plays in the history of the larger city of Carlsbad.”
How much longer will Barrio Carlsbad play that role? Its location a few blocks from the ocean in an affluent town suggests that it can’t last, or at least that the odds are against it. But the spirit of the barrio that has helped it survive against the odds for nearly a century is still alive. Cecilia Diaz, who was born in a house in the barrio, describes that spirit as “a very small-town feel where people see many of the same people every day and keep track of people’s comings and goings. I think it’s because of the familial relationships between long-standing families in the community. These families pretty much stay in the area. If they leave, they don’t go far.”