A few days ago I was in a historic part of San Diego called City Heights.
City Heights was founded in the 1880s by Abraham Klauber and Samuel Steiner. In November 1912, residents voted to incorporate as the city of East San Diego, which was annexed by San Diego in December 1923, reverting to its original name of City Heights.
During the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, City Heights was an important commercial center. It wasn’t until 1959 that its importance started declining as merchants and shoppers abandoned City Heights for the new and fashionable Mission Valley and its upscale Fashion Valley shopping mall to the north, and the College Grove shopping center to the east.
It always has been known for its ethnic diversity, currently having high concentrations of Hispanic, Northeast African, Near Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian immigrants. City Heights has become home to many thousands of residents who were displaced from their home country by war and strife.
Which brings me to a fascinating building that I discovered at the corner of Euclid Avenue and University Avenue.
The uncovering of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 resulted in a significant interest in Egypt, including here in San Diego where Egyptian Revival architecture gained a foothold.
The building above was built in 1923 as an electrical substation and terminus for the East San Diego trolley street car line. There were three substations built at the time, all in the Egyptian Revival architectural style, to serve the booming residential areas of North Park, Kensington, and East San Diego.
Shortly afterwards, though, cars and buses began competing with the street car lines, and this substation was sold to Paul and Francis Harvey in 1925. They operated it as the Egyptian Garage until the early 1930s.
The Egyptian Garage has large, flat, attached pilasters topped with Pharaoh heads. Leaded-glass designs of lotus blossoms used to grace the second story windows on the north side of the building but the windows are long gone.
The semi-obelisk shown in the second picture above rises above the roof line and has a bas relief of the Egyptian god Thoth, the ibis-headed moon god.
One of the walls curves out at the top over outstretched vulture wings with a sun disc in the center guarded by a cobra on each side.
The Egyptian Garage is the only remaining example of Egyptian Revival architecture in San Diego, currently housing Big City Liquor, Big Boy’s Barber Shop, and Cerberus Motorcycles. David Ryan, a paving contractor and painter, added the southern portion of the building in 1927 when he remodeled the Egyptian Garage.
The presence of Cerberus Motorcycles brings the garage almost full circle back to its beginnings and presents its own unique aspect to the garage. Earlier I said that City Heights had become home to many people displaced from their home countries by war and strife. Well, Cerberus Motorcycles is owned by Dave Hargreaves and Erik Borowitz, two of those displaced people. In this case, though, they were displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and now make City Heights their home.
Although I have not been inside the building, sources indicate that it has 4,000 square feet, high arched ceilings, exposed wooden beams, and an enormous skylight.
Cerberus Motorcycles (Cerberus, in mythology, is the three-headed dog figure that guards the gates to the underworld) is a custom motorcycle repair and assembly shop complete with eight motorcycle work bays, an engine building space, a metal working space, an electrical work station, an upholstery sewing area, motorcycle storage area, and space to just hang out. Although they will do custom work on your motorcycle, they encourage you to become a member and do it yourself, offering a workbench, a lift, use of their tools, guidance, and much more.
Dave plans on restoring the broken lotus windows and installing a huge wooden sliding door along the existing track where a corrugated pull down shutter door now exists. He is replacing the lights on the outside with authentic period lights; San Diego Gas & Electric, just a few blocks away, has provided some of the lights.
I look forward to driving by on a regular basis to see any progress made on restoring the Egyptian Garage, and since they have a “meet and greet” each Monday at 5:00 p.m., you might see interior pictures sooner than soon!
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