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First and tallest at North Park’s ‘Busy Corner’

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Communities, Community Voices, News, North Park, Top Story | No Comments

By Katherine Hon

For more than 100 years, the intersection of University Avenue and 30th Street has been North Park’s “Busy Corner.” While buses dominate the public transport scene today, the No. 2 and No. 7 lines were originally streetcars. The San Diego Electric Railway Company cut through the ridge at Georgia Street and laid track along University Avenue out to Fairmount Avenue in 1907. This became the No. 7 line. In 1909, the No. 2 line along 30th Street reached Upas Street by spanning Switzer Canyon on a steel truss bridge; by 1911, the No. 2 and No. 7 lines connected at University Avenue. At last the prediction made in the San Diego Union on Aug. 11, 1907, came true: “The beautifully located territory at the intersection of that [University] Avenue and 30th Street is sure to be the most valuable of that section … With two lines of transportation, [the area] is to become a highly favored section.”

What is now the Western Dental Building on the northwest corner was among the first and is still the tallest of all commercial buildings at the Busy Corner. Carter Construction Company built the three-story structure in 1912 for the real estate partnership of William Jay Stevens and John (“Jack”) Hartley. The original architecture featured transom windows at the first floor and a projecting tile roof above the third floor windows. A pharmacy dominated the first floor for more than 80 years, starting with J.L. Haggard’s soda fountain, then Joseph Hallawell’s North Park Drug Store, and later Robertson’s Pharmacy and Pioneer Pharmacy. Through the 1920s, a special counter in the drug store served as the U.S. Post Office for the community.

Stevens Building and Annex, 1928 (Courtesy of the Hartley Family)

The famous Stevens building at the corner of University Avenue and 30th Street
(Courtesy of the Hartley family)

Stevens & Hartley opened an office in downtown San Diego in 1905 and moved to their new office building in North Park in 1913. Jack was the eldest son in the Hartley family. In 1893, his father James bought 40 acres between Ray and 32nd streets from University Avenue to Dwight Street and named it “Hartley’s North Park,” starting what eventually became the collective name for the general area. The Hartley family provided land for the community’s first fire station, developed the row of shops on the south side of University Avenue between 30th and Ray streets (“Hartley Row”), and later operated a service station on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Ray Street. Will Stevens was Jack Hartley’s brother-in-law, having married Hartley’s sister Delia Anna in 1901. From their prominent office at the Busy Corner, Stevens & Hartley sold commercial and residential properties.

In 1926, Carter Construction Company built an arcaded, Mediterranean-style annex that extended to the west along University Avenue. A two-story tower unit roofed in red tile anchored each end of the annex, with four units in between. Henry and Daisy Leighton operated their cafe on the first floor and lived on the second floor of the western tower. Dan Harmer and Robert Dent operated a shoe store in the eastern tower. Other early businesses included Mrs. Head’s confectionery shop and Lee Millikan’s men’s haberdashery. When his partnership with Jack Hartley ended in 1927, Will Stevens took an office in the annex, keeping his name on the three-story commercial building.

After 1945, a smooth “slipcover” modernized the original facade of the 1913 building and its ornate annex. But the tops of the two towers are visible from an upper floor of the North Park parking garage. Imagine how grand it would be to see the whole annex restored to its original arcaded glory!

For a detailed history of the commercial area and the Hartley family’s extensive role in the development of North Park, go to Paras Newsstand at 3911 30th Street for Donald Covington’s book, “North Park: A San Diego Urban Village, 1896-1946,” published by the North Park Historical Society. Also available at Paras Newsstand (among other North Park stores including Pigment, Kaleidoscope and North Park Hardware) is the North Park Historical Society’s latest book, “Images of America: San Diego’s North Park.” This summer, the North Park Historical Society and North Park Main Street will present a commercial walking tour focused on the Busy Corner. Watch their websites and email blasts for date, time, and tickets.

—Katherine Hon is secretary of the North Park Historical Society.

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