This is the first article in a series about the history of Eden Gardens. Part two will cover how the community banned together to overcome crime in their neighborhood.
SOLANA BEACH — Less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, La Colonia de Eden Gardens is the oldest community in Solana Beach.
Bounded by Interstate 5, Via de la Valle, Stevens Avenue and Academy Drive, it is surrounded by a mix of commercial buildings and expensive homes.
The neighborhood was first developed around 1920 for Mexican workers who tended the large citrus groves in Rancho Santa Fe.
The farmers wanted their families nearby, so La Colonia, or The Colony, was created. The name Eden Gardens was added later by a land developer who thought it would be a good marketing tool.
In many ways not much has changed in the past century. Residents are still primarily Hispanic. Several buildings along Valley Avenue, considered Eden Gardens’ “Main Street” and known also as Avenida Valle, have been part of the community since the early days.
Don Chuy restaurant dates back to 1932, when it was a mom-and-pop grocery store started by Jose and Elvira Granados. La Tiendita, or The Little Store, was one of two markets that served the first settling families. They were given credit and accounts were settled at the end of each week.
La Tiendita was also a meeting place where friends could catch up on the latest news and gossip. In 1943, Jesus “Chuy” Cuellar Granados took over the store from his father and renamed it Granados Market.
Large-chain supermarkets began to dominate the area, forcing the market to close in 1970.
But a few months later the business reopened as the Market Café, serving customers for about 25 years, until it was renovated by the Granados family and renamed to honor “Don Chuy.”
Another landmark, Tony’s Jacal, or “old building,” opened in 1946. The restaurant could serve a maximum of 26 customers at a time and was only open weekends. Catalina Gonzales cooked and her husband, Tony, having just returned from military service, helped serve the food in what was his parents’ home.
The restaurant expanded several times and is now run by Tony and Catalina’s two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In the the early 1960s, when Fidel Montanez decided to serve tacos at his barber shop, Fidel’s Little Mexico was born.
The tacos sold like hotcakes, Fidel’s evolved into a neighborhood cantina and through the years the building was converted from a two-story residence into three different levels that include a courtyard, a few bars, outdoor patios and a taco bar.
Originally called Solana Iron Works and located on Cedros Avenue, Baker Iron Works is the city’s longest continually running business. When Charlie Baker bought the metal company in 1927 he changed the name and moved it to Eden Gardens.
Although many buildings have stood the test of time, others have given way to apartment complexes, condominiums and commercial offices.
The second market that once served the original families along with La Tiendita was eventually demolished and is now the overflow parking lot for Tony’s Jacal.
One-story homes built nearly 100 years ago have been sold, torn down and rebuilt into two-story dwellings that seem somewhat out of place.
As developers attempt to replace abandoned lots with mixed-use complexes, longtime residents are steadfast in their efforts to retain the community character and Hispanic culture that have always defined Eden Gardens.
“Back then everybody knew everybody,” 53-year resident Alice Granados said. “When I first came here and married into the Granados family I met three generations of cousins. Everyone was related in one way or another.”
“But time changes,” said Granados, whose husband’s grandparents started Don Chuy. “Little by little, the elderly people have passed away. I miss the older people who made La Colonia.
“There used to be a church at the corner of Valley and Hernandez where people would gather and talk,” she said. “That is what I miss. To me that was La Colonia.
“I’ve seen a lot,” she added. “And in some ways it’s changed for the better.”
Those improvements include upgraded streets and sidewalks that were part of a 1995 master plan for the area, which was adopted when Eden Gardens resident Terri Renteria was serving as mayor.
But perhaps the biggest changes occurred when drugs, gangs and prostitutes became commonplace.
In a 1990 article in the Los Angeles Times, Granados said sometimes there were so many drug dealers that “the residents couldn’t drive past without one of them pushing his wares against their closed car windows.”
Next week this series will focus on how Eden Gardens went from a migrant community to an area known for drugs and gangs and what residents are doing to reclaim their neighborhood.
Update 4/8/14: The headline of this piece was changed to better reflect its focus on the founding of Eden Gardens. The series note at the beginning of this piece was expanded to explain the future parts of this series.