california theatre

San Diego's Seedy California Theatre Driving Businesses Out of Downtown

The theatre has been closed for more than three decades and bought and sold several times, but the planned redevelopment never happened

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s been called “the boulevard of broken dreams.” The C Street corridor in downtown San Diego runs right past city hall, and the building that fills the block directly east looks like a vandal’s dream.

It’s covered in graffiti. Most of the windows are shattered, and access points are boarded up, but those boards don’t do much to keep people from getting inside to do more damage to the building that, in its glory days, was known as the California Theatre.

The theatre has been closed for more than three decades and bought and sold several times, but the planned redevelopment never happened. 

Mina Desiderio, who owns The Local on 4th Street told NBC7 she’s been waiting 19 years for the building to be renovated and the neighborhood to get a fresh breath of life. Instead, she said it's gotten worse. Desidiero used words like “filthy,” “awful” and “disgusting” to describe the block across from her restaurant and shared videos she shot on her phone of homeless people camping out on the sidewalks, doing drugs, and acting strangely.

Several long-time employees of The Local have turned in their notices, said Desiderio, including one manager who was chased by a man with a knife. 

“The safety of my employees is more important to me than making money,” said Desidiero, who is working on an “exit strategy” to close The Local. That’s a complex issue, because her restaurant has investors who may not feel the same way. 

Around the corner, Coal Bros Taqueria is the new kid on the block. Abner Figueroa and his brother-in-law opened it a year ago. “One of the main reasons that we opened this location was because of the development across the street. And we just learned that it's being postponed or may be not happening,” he said.

Word on the street is the developers, Cayden Property Group of Australia, may be trying to sell the property they bought in 2019. The city of San Diego approved their plans to build a 41-floor condominium complex with retail and a boutique hotel on the lower floors.

NBC7 reached out to Cayden Property Group and to a realtor said to be handling the potential sale. Our calls and emails were not returned.

Figueroa says his taqueria is fighting to stay afloat on a street that has little foot traffic because many of the buildings, like the California Theatre, are boarded up and the area is blighted.

“I’m an optimist at heart,” Figueroa smiled. He hopes a private developer and the city can work together to clean up the C Street corridor, making it more inviting to customers.

Already Mayor Todd Gloria and Padres Pitcher Joe Musgrove have dined at Coal Bros, and Figueroa hopes word of mouth will make his restaurant a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.

If things don’t work out by the time his three-year lease is up, Figueroa says he’ll probably have to close the restaurant and find a job to pay off his debt. 

He hopes that won’t happen. “We’re gonna give the fight and do our best,“ he said.  “I think we’re gonna be OK.”

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