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.