There is something about Barrio Logan that will not tolerate ugly. Beauty has sprouted like desert flowers on bridge supports and freeway abutments, utility boxes, sidewalks, walls, fences, mailboxes and concrete benches.
Chicano artists did not stop with Chicano Park. They have also breathed beauty into grey, industrial warehouses with art studios, galleries and creative cocinas. Artisans and entrepreneurs converted these locales into venues that open their doors to monthly art crawls garnering attention of the San Diego art world.
Logan Heights, locally known as Barrio Logan, has had a strained relationship with the city of San Diego that dates back to the early 1930s. Evident in the architecture, a stroll through the area shows remnants of a World War II military-industrial takeover, which obliterated neighborhood homes to make way for warehouse factories, junkyards and city infrastructure incompatible with the existing community. In 1970 the people of Barrio Logan said ya basta! (enough) and took over the land underneath the Coronado Bridge and created the now-iconic Chicano Park murals.
New galleries and studios do not seek to gentrify Barrio Logan, but to pay homage to its rich culture and promote awareness of the artistic inspiration fired by strong community values. La Bodega Gallery, opened in 2014, has revolutionized the San Diego art scene by offering the same accessibility and strong community ties of the local tiendita through monthly galleries that present upscale art to enthusiasts of all types.
Soni Lopez-Chavez, who co-founded La Bodega Gallery with her husband, Chris Zertuche, said they saw promise in the area despite the Barrio’s dull urban faćade.
“(Logan Avenue) was completely dead,” she said. “But at that time we felt like San Diego was really craving a space to showcase artists and bring the community together. It worked perfectly.”
Lopez said she and Zertuche have been active in the San Diego art scene for 10 years and initially used the space to showcase the work of friends.
“Little by little outside artists started hearing about our gallery name and they wanted to participate and it’s been like that ever since,” she said.
Lopez-Chavez said La Bodega relies heavily on social media to promote events. It showcases sartists from throughout the globe. Families come with children to teach them about their heritage and expand their appreciation for art. It fueled a Logan Renaissance.
“Nobody was coming to this area,” she said. “When we opened La Bodega a lot of our friends were happy with the area and what we were doing, so they started to open up businesses right next to us.”
Today Logan Heights is an art lover’s wonderland. Gallivanting gallery goers come for the art and stay for the craft beer, coffee, record stores, lively music and Mexican street food. Neighboring the La Bodega Gallery is LB Studios, home of radio stations such as Impulso and art studios where artisans sell handmade crafts. Across the street is Salud, a hip cocina specializing in Mexican street food that regularly has a line snaking out the door. Just down the street is the cozy coffee shop Por Vida, home of the horchata latte and delicious jamaica iced teas.
Border X Brewing Company serves up delicious Mexican-inspired brews such as the German style gose dubbed “El Saladito” and the Horchata Golden Stout to accompany an order of tacos prepared from their beer garden.
Barrio Logan’s lively gastronomic and art attractions have increased the foot traffic of surrounding art studios which pre-date the founding of La Bodega. Bread & Salt is a gallery established in a former bakery warehouse that dates back to 1876. Building manager Jim Brown said that the gallery has been active in the Logan Heights community since 2011. Bread & Salt is much more than a gallery, he said, it is a space that doubles as a venue that regularly hosts community events such as baptisms and quinceañeras. It also hosts guest lectures, art workshops, fundraisers and community classes such as the “Escuelita Aztlan” which teaches young students about Chicano culture.
Most galleries and studios in Logan Heightws are community-oriented. Adrian Sierra Garcia, an ephemeral artist and architect, carefully crafted using light fixtures to fit the aesthetics of the space. Sierra set up his installation at the BasileIE gallery on Logan Avenue and it is one of a kind. This exhibit was curated by Chris Martino, manager of CM Curatorial, a company that draws in artists to their Barrio Logan gallery.
“(CM Curatorial) is doing a great job.” Sierra said. “They’re really bringing high quality artists into (what is) a very, at the moment, underground stage and that’s kind of a pity.”
Sierra says that the underground reputation of Barrio Logan makes it harder for companies like CM Curatorial to recruit world-class artists, but the artists that do venture out of the beaten path are attracted to the freedom to experiment. Sierra, a Tijuana native, said he has spent the last decade in France using his architectural background to study and create site-specific installations in unconventional urban settings. One was displayed at the Simon De Beauvoir footbridge in Paris. It immersed passersby in an interactive red light display. Sierra adapted it to the BasileIE gallery’s space. The final manifestation of each installation, he said, is based on the architecture of the site. Barrio Logan has changed dramatically in the past decade, he said.
“I think that the art around here is pretty good,” he said. “You know people are not just doing it for art’s sake. Everyone is really passionate and they’re really trying to put something forward that is really meaningful.”