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Quiet Cardiff-by-the-Sea Fights to Protect Identity

April 19, 1990|DON PATTERSON

After state highway workers took down the Cardiff-by-the-Sea signs posted along the freeway, resident Betty Knutson organized a protest that brought the signs back within a year.

Cardiff residents had been willing, in 1986, to join in the incorporation of Encinitas, but they weren't willing to give up the identity of the small beach community.

"We put up such a fuss," Knutson said. "We want to keep the Cardiff-by-the-Sea name. It means so much to so many people."

Which explains why, when the Rand McNally Road Atlas omitted Cardiff in 1989, Irene Kratzer of the town Chamber of Commerce voiced her disapproval with help from 500 Cardiff schoolchildren, who wrote letters asking for their community name to be put back in the next edition. In the 1990 version, you'll find Cardiff.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a coastal community just north of Solana Beach, has retained more than its name. Because the community is largely built out, and much of the surrounding land has been designated as state parkland, Cardiff also has held onto its quiet, small-town atmosphere in spite of San Diego's recent real estate boom.

There's nothing in town noisier than the sea breeze and the crash of the waves. And when people move to this community of about 16,000 people, they tend to stick around.

"It's a destination point," said Mike McCune, a Cardiff real estate agent.

Cardiff, all 3.4 square miles of it, was founded in 1911 by a painter named J. Frank Cullen, who arrived in 1910 and plotted the town. Cullen had visions of making Cardiff a recreational resort, but according to Irene Kratzer of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, he ran out of money before completing his plans and Cardiff became a residential area.

Originally, the community was to be called San Elijo, but Cullen's wife, who was of Welsh descent, persuaded her husband to name it Cardiff after the capital of Wales. Street names were given a British flavor such as Cambridge and Glasgow, which took the place of the originally planned Spanish names.

The connection has stuck. Today, schoolchildren in Cardiff correspond frequently with their counterparts in Wales as part of a pen-pal program set up by the elementary schools. If visitors from Wales let the town know they're coming, they are treated to tours of the town sights.

Cardiff is nearly surrounded by recreational spots, including the Cardiff State Beach and the San Elijo State Beach and Campgrounds. Surfers, campers, boaters and hang-gliders all converge on the area. On the south, the town is bordered by the wildlife of San Elijo Lagoon.

While many Cardiff houses are still the old-style beach cottages, developers in recent years have made maximum use of space by building wooden duplexes which fit in pairs on lots that used to hold only one cottage.

According to real estate agent McCune, houses in Cardiff have a broad range of prices, selling from $225,000 east of Interstate 5 to more than $1 million west of the freeway. More than half of the houses, McCune said, have ocean views.

While the houses on the west side might be more expensive, figures show a generally more upscale community on the east side of the freeway: the median household income west of the freeway is $30,024; east of the freeway, it is $44,266.

Stroll up Birmingham Drive from the beach and you'll find a sidewalk owned and designed by Cardiff residents. The town council developed the idea a few years back when the county refused to fund a sidewalk because of cost. Squares were sold from $15 up. Designs range from handprints and family names to slogans such as: "Cardiff Youth Soccer--Soccer by the Sea."

The town's oldest building, built around 1911 and situated at 2189 San Elijo Ave, now houses Ranch and Sea Realty. Originally a mercantile, this building has served as a hotel, grocery store and library over the years.

Population (1989 est.): 16,535 1980-89 Change: 25.6% Total Housing Units: 6,137 Average household size: 2.2 west of I-5; 2.9 east of I-5 Median age: 31.2

Racial/Ethnic Mix: White, 81.2% Latino, 12.5% Black, less than 1% Asian/Other, 6.0% Sex: 50.5% female; 49.5% male Median Household Income: $30,024 west of I-5 and $44,266 east of I-5

Education No high school diploma, 11.1% High school graduate, 27.6% Some college, 28.3% College graduate, 32.9%

Source: San Diego Assn. of Governments. Demographics are for two census tracts, an area slightly larger than the community of Cardiff.

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