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COMMUNITY PROFILE / Del Dios

Del Dios Is Tucked Away Somewhere Between a Rock and a Wet Place

May 31, 1990|BRIAN ALEXANDER

You can't trust the signs in Del Dios. Right there, at the entrance to this tiny village at Date Lane and Lake Drive, there's a sign proclaiming the World Famous Pancake Breakfast at the Firehouse.

Not true.

Oh, there was a pancake breakfast April 22 at the volunteer department's firehouse. It's just that it's not world famous. Nothing about Del Dios is world famous. Call around county offices looking for information about Del Dios, and you're liable to hear something like "Del Dios? Where is that?"

Where Del Dios is is between a rock and a wet place. It is tucked hard against Lake Hodges and sandwiched between booming Escondido to the northeast and chi-chi Rancho Santa Fe to the west. You wouldn't think Del Dios could exist as you drive along the Interstate 15 corridor and look at the condominium and housing developments that have transformed the formerly rural region. But there it is, a tiny village about 1,000 feet wide and a mile long just 3 miles from North County Fair and down the road from the "estate homes," with columns and wide porticoes and swimming pools, that line Via Rancho Parkway.

Del Dios is dotted with shacks and lined with oddly angled blacktop lanes. Maxine's restaurant anchors the east end of town and Hernandez Hideaway, where the locals go for Mexican food, holds down the west end.

This unincorporated area of the county is a pick-up truck sort of place where locals wear their beards long and shaggy and dressing up means putting on a clean T-shirt. In Del Dios, sometimes you get a building permit to add on and, well, sometimes you don't.

That's about the way it has been since the San Dieguito Water Co. decided to build Hodges Dam in 1917. In 1925, the city of San Diego bought the dam and the lake, and varying amounts of frontage land along the lake shore. The ribbon of land between Del Dios and Lake Hodges is owned by the city of San Diego.

The location next to Lake Hodges has protected Del Dios through its various incarnations. Before World War II, the village wasn't even a village, just a general store, a cafe and some spots to unload a boat. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration wanted to make a new dam--called Super Hodges--and flood what was to become Del Dios. Those plans never panned out.

After the war, the village was a collection of fishing shacks on tiny lots where people came for the weekend. The luxury models had indoor plumbing. Most of the lots were so small that all the land was needed to accommodate the septic tanks.

Even today, there is no sewer system in Del Dios and the septic system cannot be expanded. That means you can't build much of anything in Del Dios, so aside from a brief hippie invasion in the 1960s, the village has much the same flavor it had in the 1940s.

The people living in Del Dios' 138 homes say they like it that way. When Sam and Maxine Gross bought the old general store and cafe last year and remodeled it, some thought they were making it too fancy. The place still has pine board floors, a fireplace and a wood bar, but the Spanish stucco exterior is sort of spiffy. Still, the locals got used to it soon enough and gather there from lunchtime on for beers and burgers and fried fish.

"Del Dios is basically the same place it's been since I've been here and that's over 20 years," said 61-year-old Harry (Spoony) Weatherspoon, one of Maxine's customers.

But maybe not for long.

According to William Knowles, property manager for San Diego, the city owns most of the buildable lots in Del Dios.

"We're sitting on them waiting for the time when they can be marketed," he said. "I think the city can make an awful lot of money."

Weatherspoon bought his home for $8,000. He pays $98 a year in property tax. He was recently offered $138,000 for his house, which he described as a cabin. He won't sell.

But there are warning signs with the words "For Sale" all over Del Dios. New folks are moving in. They work in Escondido or San Diego or Rancho Bernardo and they bring with them that most telltale sign of change, the Volvo.

"We got a lot of professionals living here now," Weatherspoon said. "A lot of them have college educations."

College educated or not, they can't do any building as long as there's a sewer and septic moratorium on. That's the wall that keeps the condos out and the locals like it that way. Knowles thinks that a sewer line will eventually be built if engineers can be sure of protecting San Diego's Lake Hodges water.

Weatherspoon looked down at his jeans and flannel shirt, then stared out over the lake.

"If they run a sewer down here," he said, "you can kiss this good-bye."

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