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SAN DIEGO AT LARGE

How the 'Golden Triangle' Got Its Glitter

April 30, 1985|MATT DAMSKER

In a boom town, you don't need a very long memory to recall the good old days. Take, for example, one of San Diego's most promising urban plots--the "Golden Triangle" area bordered by Interstates 5 and 805 and California 52, a broad middle ground between La Jolla and University City.

If you were a newcomer to this town three years ago and went looking there for a place to live, you might have likened the area more to the Bermuda Triangle. Searching through it for the perfect condo--which typically bore a false "LA JOLLA" tag in the classified listing--it was awfully easy to get lost. Streets routinely dead-ended at canyon rims or in dull, unworked scrubland. The triangle seemed a collection of landmarks (a hospital, some churches, one "Inn") awaiting shipwrecked sailors.

Still, the manicured cornerstone of University Towne Centre ("UTC," you quickly learned) assured plenty of shopping, and, farther east, along Miramar Road, the Naval Air Station abutted an endless row of fast-food joints and mini-commercial centers. On the near edge of La Jolla, UC San Diego seemed a civilized, if aloof, oasis. And in between, condo complexes and complexes-in-progress promised shelter.

Once you snuggled in, of course, it all proved quite livable. No freeway entrance or exit jams, UTC sparkling with plenty, there was a sense of more established community over in University City, and you were close to the beach. After a while, you even stopped reacting to the splintering roar of those daily jet-fighter training flights out of Miramar. Then the bulldozers made their busy presence felt.

In a flash, it seemed, there wasn't an unplowed canyon on any side, and where the vacant, peaceful mesa land had stretched flat and soundless, there was suddenly structural steel. Office complexes and bank buildings, computer stores and a Marriott Hotel, chain restaurants and --always--pricey new housing were either going up or being put on billboards. La Jolla's weekly newspaper spun off a separate edition for the area.

Even UTC--with everything plus the kitchen sink--has had to grow, sprouting a mini-mall within the maxi-mall. The crucial intersection of Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive has been widened, and at strategic spots on either street new sets of overhanging stoplights are in place. Their signals are still wrapped in fabric, to be unveiled like some new public sculpture.

This is, quite palpably, "progress," or "managed growth," or whatever, and you'd have to be utterly nostalgic to get misty-eyed over what's been lost. But you can take a certain wry, boomtowner's pleasure in telling an impressed newcomer to the "Golden Triangle" that "I can remember when this here was pretty much a wasteland."

He's Really Experienced

For close to a decade, Convention and Visitors' Bureau executive Al Reese has had only to glance out his eighth-floor office widow to be reminded of the 1960s. ConVis' offices are in downtown's Security Pacific Bank building, and Reese's overlooks the Civic Center's 11-story garage. There, on an outer wall facing Reese's view, the spray-painted legend "JIMI HENDRIX" decorates the 11th level. The name of the late acid-rock guitarist has become as much a part of Reese's daily lookout as the harbor in the distance.

"That graffiti has been there at least as long as I've been here," Reese observed. "Somebody had obviously leaned over the top of the garage with a spray can and didn't even take the trouble to write it right side up--or else they couldn't manage the difficulty of writing words upside down so they could be read right side up."

Reese is no connoisseur of graffiti, but he exhibited the slightest twinge of loss when called the other day about the Hendrix scrawl and, at first, he thought it might have been removed--finally!--by the city's graffiti squad.

"Wait a minute. . . . My God! Have they painted it out? I can't tell because the sun is shining on my window here," he said. "Let me dash over to the other office and see." He did. A moment later he was back on the phone. "No, you can still see it," he said. "But it does seem that somebody did a little washing there. Maybe they were trying to scrub it out after all this time."

Reese claims he won't really miss it when it's gone, but after all these years of being confronted by the Hendrix name, has Reese ever checked out the Hendrix sound?

"I don't think I ever listened to Jimi Hendrix in my life," said Reese, acknowledging that he was "not a rock aficionado." But had he even heard of Hendrix before the graffiti? "Oh, I know who he was," Reese said. "That's why I didn't listen to his music."

The Force of the Law

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