BY Justin Ocean
October 08 2009 10:00 AM ET
In 1996 city officials chose the North Park Main Street organization to revitalize and preserve the neighborhood’s historic heart around 30th Street and University Avenue. Since then development has seen a notable upswing. Early on, the Mission (see sidebar), a gay-owned breakfast restaurant, along with the gay-friendly Claire de Lune coffee lounge and Caffé Calabria Coffee Roasting Co ., opened shop, jump-starting the area’s reboot as a morning-to-evening destination. Today, roughly 15% of the 500-plus members of the Main Street program are gay- or lesbian-owned. Where 99-cent stores and urban blight once reigned now flourishes an eclectic blend of independent local shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries, along with retail boutiques and a variety of offices. Many of these businesses are housed in the neighborhood’s numerous historic buildings, which were paradoxically saved from the demolish-and-rebuild ethos of the ’90s by the locale’s onetime undesirability.
Unsurprisingly, with its colorful mix of fashion- and design-forward residents, North Park has emerged as a player on the arts and culture scene as well. There are two monthly art walks (read: booze- and music-fueled shop hops) to choose from: the smaller but more established Ray at Night (RayAtNight.com; second Saturday) based around the Ray Street art galleries, and the more sprawling and younger North Park Nights (NorthParkNights.org ; third Saturday). The FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival will return to the historic Birch North Park Theatre this April 16–22.
Some locals lament the transition of classic strictly gay leather bars Wolf’s/ReBar and Shooterz into the more straight-mixed venues Bluefoot Bar and Lounge and True North Tavern, but to many involved in the neighborhood’s revitalization, assimilation is the point.
“Here you find gay and straight couples going out together,” says Jay Turner, the out former executive director of North Park Main Street. “We built if that way from the beginning. It happened on