By Katherine Hon
The Art Deco building deliciously painted in raspberry and mint at 3793-3795 30th St. on the southeast corner of 30th Street and North Park Way is hard to miss. And you shouldn’t miss going into the delightfully eclectic Verbatim Books store, whether you are looking for a book, zine or painting. Verbatim Books primarily sells used and rare books, but owner/manager Justine Epstein supports the local community far beyond providing such selections. On any given evening, you might find a poetry open-mic event, square dance with live music, or local author reading.
Verbatim Books’ website at verbatim-books.com presents their upcoming events, buying/trading policies, and local author program. Why go to the trouble of running a physical space for books instead of just being online? Epstein notes on the website that, “We feel that one of the benefits to being a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the age of instant gratification is to experience the pleasure of browsing the unknown and unfamiliar, and the joy of discovering something new.”
The store opened in 2015 in the smaller space at 3793 30th St. and then expanded gloriously about a year ago into the larger space at 3795 30th St. The expansion exposed transom windows with ornate wrought iron grates that had been hidden for years. The bold exterior colors highlight the Art Deco zigzag roofline parapet and arrow-shaped trim on the columns.
The building was constructed by Joseph Carlson Kelley in 1931. The first occupants were the Great Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) Tea Company grocery store in the corner location at 3795 30th St., and Fred C. Fahrner’s radio store in the adjacent space at 3793 30th St.
A&P grocery stores started in 1859 as a small chain of retail tea and coffee stores in New York City. The company grew to a grocery chain of 1,600 stores by 1915. In 1930, A&P had 16,000 stores throughout the U.S. By 1936, there were six stores in the city of San Diego.
The A&P grocery store left its 30th Street location in 1939. The space was soon occupied by the J.C. Campbell dental office, which opened a second location at 3795 30th St. in 1940 while maintaining their original Downtown office. Dental offices anchored this spot for decades.
Beer and liquor replaced the radios next door in 1934. In 1939, medical professionals Delmar B. Cosby and Lawrence J. Crow set up their offices at 3793 30th St.; by 1950, Cosby was running the Physicians & Surgeons Group there.
A house had been on this lot in the West End subdivision starting in 1920. The 1921 Sanborn Map shows single-family homes filling each of the six lots along the east side of 30th Street between Gunn and Wightman/North Park Way. By the mid-1930s, nearly all of the homes along 30th Street in this block were operating as stores, although only the house on the northernmost lot had been demolished for a new building. More recently, all the homes along the block have been replaced with commercial buildings.
Builder Joseph Carlson Kelley had extensive experience with residential and commercial projects well before the 1930s. He was born in San Diego in 1893. He worked as a mail carrier at age 17 but was employed as a carpenter by age 24. His other commercial building projects include 3794 30th St. — now the home of Waypoint Public — in 1929 for the Home Supply Company grocery store. He built homes in various styles, including a Tudor Revival house at 3406 Texas St. in 1925. Consistent with his grocery store connections, in 1926 Kelley built a Spanish Colonial Revival home at 3594 28th St. for Dudley D. Williams, who came to San Diego in 1922 and established Piggly Wiggly grocery stores throughout the city.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.