By Jay Powell
“An unarmed Minuteman-3 intercontinental ballistic missile was test-launched (on April 7, 2006) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile’s single, unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 8,200 km (5,100 miles), striking a pre-determined water target near Guam in the Northern Mariana Islands. The launch was part of a developmental test to demonstrate the weapon’s effectiveness at an extended range. The Minuteman-3 missile originated from the 564th Missile Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.” (from various news releases including “The Mercenary Missileer’s Missile News”).
It is also a little under 5,000 miles to the Marianas (just above the equator between Longitudes 145-165 E to Brooklyn Heights, San Diego (Lat 32.724, Long – 117.129 W). But more about that later. Now, about this “Do I live in Golden Hill or South Park?” controversy. As the old Americana saying goes: “you can call me Jay or you can call me Ray, just don’t call me late for dinner. “ For a variety of political and geographic and geologic reasons, place names evolve. Sometimes it is very much a matter of branding for real estate purposes.
This name of place issue kind of parallels the name of the community of City Heights which was taken in 1981 by the Community Development Corporation founders led by Jim Bliesner from the name of the largest subdivision in what had been the “Golden Rule” city of East San Diego. Later there were some residents of the City Heights neighborhood of Cherokee Point who thought they ought to be a part of North Park because they had a 92104 zip code. But it was still in the officially adopted community plan area of City Heights. Regardless of what the real estate salesperson or the post office, or the subdivision map or the City says, the people who live in their neighborhood get to call it whatever they want.
We bought our first family home on Date between Fern and 30th with the help of Linda LeGerrette (of “Golden Hill”) in 1979. It had been the guest and/or servants house for the two story next door. We shared a driveway.
Our oldest son attended Brooklyn Elementary. He took his first bicycle ride across the street from Thomas Bikes. He helped deliver his brother in that home. Our friends Lynn Eldred and Peter Brown started Grassroots Events next to the Big Kitchen. Our friends John Wester and Jim MacDougall performed poetry and song at Grassroots. Interesting to me that in all the recent controversy over South Park vs. Golden Hill, we never hear much about Brooklyn Heights. Which was a sort of another mini-subdivision portion within the Greater Golden Hill area.
We had the remnants of a gas station, car repair garage (Ted’s Porsche Repair) two cottages and a large two story strange “mixed-use” building across the street to the south. We were up a little higher on that side of the street because we were on our own little hill that was carved up into lots above the street level as you headed north.
The folks who owned that entire south side of the street had their own economic system going. Over the years they pretty much did whatever they needed to do to make money from rentals and other enterprises. Tow trucks operated in and out of the mixed use building mostly in the wee hours of the morning with motorcycle couriers popping in and out between other deliveries. At the opposite end of the block the old gas station and garage and lot were turned into a “non-conforming” junk yard.
Finally, with continued communications to our Councilmembers over the years, Lucy Killea, Uvaldo Martinez and then finally through Bob Filner we got the attention of the code compliance division and the City Attorney’s office. It was an interesting sight to stand on the grounds of the property in early 1989 as the Judge of the Superior Court had her bailiff call the court to order. After informing everyone that ”My Court is anywhere I chose to set it” she issued her decree for the tenants and property owner to remove the barbed wire fence and all the cars and debris under threat of imprisonment.
The judge and marshals standing there that day didn’t realize that 100 feet away, at the other end of the block there was something even more dangerous brewing. Sometime later in the early 90’s after we had moved it was discovered during the infamous “Triple Neck” laboratory sting that one of the mixed uses in the strange corner building was a methamphetamine kitchen. The somehow-extended family of the owner had a baby named Crystal who was kidnapped and discovered a decade later in Florida.
But perhaps the saddest chapter in this wonderland was the other extended family living in the two cottages between these two special mixed uses. Occasionally to the accompaniment of a visiting motorcycle or tow truck, a collective of voices chanting and singing into the night in an unfamiliar foreign language would travel across the street from the backyards of these cottages. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel the tears and pain streaming through the notes.
I learned that our neighbors were from the vicinity of the Marianas Islands. Mostly youngsters that had been separated from their families and relocated to the US. I remembered that it had something to do with making way for the expansion of the US missile test range. The US had expanded the range so they could launch from places like Vandenberg to see just how accurately we could target potential enemies halfway around the world “in order to ensure the weapon system maintains the capability to deter, and if necessary, defeat our nation’s potential adversaries” (are ya lis’nin Kim Il, young buddy?).
The ballistic missiles travel from today as yesterday across the international date line to tomorrow climbing slowly first and then falling at a blinding speed in an arc described by Thomas Pynchon in his novel of the same name as “Gravity’s Rainbow.” Of course, Pynchon worked in a lot of other meanings over the 700 plus pages covering the use of Britain as a rocket test range during WW II.
Most of the voluminous file of photos and documents on this case has been recycled, because after all, that was the past and the property was eventually sold — or confiscated and sold — and the cottages and building were extensively renovated, while the gas station and lot have been replaced by condos with parking spaces. Some might call that gentrification. Others redevelopment. All I know is that people ought to be able to live in a quality, quiet, safe environment with good schools for their kids no matter what their economic station or how far they came to live here.
I don’t know what happened to the young Pacific Islanders. Maybe they were able to finally return to their homeland. Then again, there’s just no end to the saber rattling. After all, where else would you suggest as the end of the ballistic rainbow? Just this week the Air Force Global Strike command reported another Minuteman III launch was scheduled for the pre-dawn hours of today …May 21: “the …missile is expected to travel approximately 4,190 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands” (just a few hundred miles to the east from the one that plopped into the waters of the Marianas a little over seven years ago….).
Maybe one of these former neighbors or one of their friends, will read this and can tell us where they think they lived. I doubt they were too concerned over whether they were in South Park or Golden Hill or Brooklyn Heights. I fervently hope they are in a place they now can call home and are singing songs of forgiveness, thanksgiving, survival and celebration across the arc of another kind of rainbow.
Jay Powell lives in the Mid-City community of Normal Heights. He served as Executive Director of the City Heights Community Development Corporation from 1992 to 2011. He continues to promote “cooperations” * in the areas of community economic development, managed growth and environmental projection (*”the association of a number of people in an enterprise for mutual benefits….”)
bob dorn says
Wow! I think there are only two people I’ve known who’ve read Gravity’s
Rainbow, and I’m one of them. Aside from that, I have to say this is one
tender and spirited little memoir. I was down in Golden Hill by the mid-70s,
in my one bdrm workers cottage in a cul-de-sac overlooking state 94, and I
can well remember the unofficial sorts who lived there, to the right and left
of me. You got it down to the page with real brio, Mr. Powell.
Bob, I’m a HUGE Pynchon fan. Am anxiously awaiting the new novel, which is scheduled to come out in September.
Anna Daniels says
Jay- I thoroughly enjoyed the Pynchonesque trajectory through time and space. I think you are quite right- your neighbors probably weren’t giving much thought as to whether they lived in Golden Hill, South Park or Brooklyn Heights…
John Oldenkamp says
JP: A moving piece, no pun. As a Fern Street Speedway res, lo these many years, both the telling and the point of view say a lot about the character and tone of this still quite diverse urban outpost. Gotta love those real estate adverts beckoning one and all to this “highly desirable” location.
Three more twists to your tale come to mind, one, those South Sea Islanders sang so well and of course we missed their music the instant they left, and, secondly, that mixed use blue (nee green) two-story building at the corner of 30th and Date exploded with high energy felt everywhere within a hundred yards with a smelly fire following, both exposing and terminating the kitchen you described. Third, and last, the garage/junkyard/homeless hangout now replace d by the Fern and Date condo “development” was once the manufacturing point for those ubiquitous teardrop trailers from the late ’30s, 40s and 50s. South Park aeronaut and musician Floyd Fronius worked there after school for his grandfather doing chores and fabrication.