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Estación Federal is on its way to being a Tijuana art center again.
The first time I visited the buildings right next to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana was about a decade ago. Artist Marcos Ramírez — also known as ERRE — was hosting an art show in his top-floor studio there, and the place was bustling with live video projections, music, art installations in unexpected places and hundreds of people.
A few months later, broke and desperate for a roommate-free apartment, I found myself living at Estación Federal — that name, by the way, is emblazoned in tile on one of the two buildings that make up the mixed-use project that was built in the 1950s.
LUI Velasquez, an experimental art gallery and residency space run by UC San Diego students, was down the hall. Lucia Sanroman, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and her husband, architect Giacomo Castanola, lived downstairs.
Both before and after my year and a half at Estación Federal, several other artists, architects and writers took advantage of the cheap rent and proximity to the border crossing. Architect Rene Peralta rented a live/work unit there, where he and his coauthors wrote most of the book “Here is Tijuana!” Famed urbanist Miguel Robles-Durán, whose family owned the building, housed his architecture firm in Estación Federal for awhile and is credited for filling the space with like-minded creatives.
My time in at Estación Federal came to an end one morning when I opened up my medicine cabinet and found a cockroach camped out on my toothbrush. Back in 2006/2007, the building was dilapidated and riddled with bug, electricity and water problems. For the last few years, it ceased operating as a center for art and creativity and sat mostly vacant.
Some of the water problems still persist, but otherwise the building has recently been almost completely revamped. A hip coffee shop and a deli selling Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches now inhabit the ground-floor retail space of one of the buildings, and a nice restaurant has opened in the other. All of the apartments have either been rented out or are in the process of being turned into Airbnb units. There’s a public courtyard filled with wooden planters and benches and the building is covered in murals by area artists like Gloria Muriel, who goes by GLOW, and Paola Villaseñor, or PANCA.
Miguel Marshall, CEO of Centro Ventures, the real estate redevelopment firm behind the project, said they’re about 75 percent done. He said they’re finishing up a few more Airbnb units and completing a co-working space.
“We believe this is the what the future of redevelopment in TJ should be,” Marshall said after giving me a tour of the new Estación Federal.
Marshall was one of the partners in HUB STN, a co-working space and cultural center inside the historic downtown Mexicoach building, which has since been torn down. He said the sudden and unexpected buyout of that project brought in enough money and interest for him to launch his own company and, with the help of investors, he’s in the process of buying Estación Federal.
He said he was attracted to the buildings because of its location. It’s in Colonia Federal, one of Tijuana’s oldest neighborhoods that’s small and triangle-shaped with the border wall to its north, the new PedWest pedestrian entrance from Tijuana to San Diego to its west, the San Ysidro Port of Entry to its east and the main thoroughfare for people crossing on foot from the U.S. to downtown Tijuana to its south.
“There’s definitely something happening in this neighborhood,” Marshall said. “There’s something brewing.”
Marshall pointed out a construction zone across the street and said it was the future home of Tijuana’s new bus rapid transit station. He said he envisions more young urban professionals interested in living a binational lifestyle close to public transportation.
“This will be bustling,” he said. “That’s part of why were were attracted to the space. What we saw is that it will become a transit-oriented area for our tenants and for the people who work here. And it’s also close to the border, so we want to promote this cross-border urban lifestyle.”
To get some momentum behind the cross-border movement, Marshall has joined Barrios Hermanos, a collective of businesses and organizations from both sides of the border that are interested in revitalizing artsy, transit-oriented neighborhoods in San Diego and Tijuana.
Colonia Federal is also home to the art gallery Out Here, the Casa del Túnel cultural center and the Mariposa apartments for artists. Marshall and one of his partners in the project, designer Rodolfo Argote, wants to help further brand the neighborhood as an arts district by partnering with the other arts organizations in the neighborhood and holding cultural events. They’ve built a small art gallery inside Estación Federal and they’re setting aside one unit to be used for future artist residencies.
Argote said keeping the arts vibe alive is an important part of the redevelopment project.
“We don’t want it only to be physical – the transformation of the building – but also in essence,” he said. “We want to recreate the energy the building used to have. … We want to to bring back what Erre had going when he lived here.”
• People who know about Tijuana’s Colonia Federal neighborhood also know that it was shaped in large part by painter Luis Ituarte and his wife, poet and writer Gerda Govine Ituarte. As longtime residents, they helped found the Casa del Túnel cultural center and spearheaded a project that resulted in several large-scale murals throughout the neighborhood. The couple is still making art wherever they go: Luis was just interviewed on the Power of One blog and Gerda was recently profiled in Pasadena Weekly.
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
Meet San Diego’s Podfather
Trying to round up all of the podcasts being made in San Diego was not easy. Because there are lots.
One name I kept coming across while looking for local podcasters was Dallas McLaughlin. He’s a local writer and performer who co-hosts three shows, “Everything’s Fine,” “Dishin’ The Percolator” and “The Kept Faith,” which is now part of the VOSD Podcast Network.
“I have been called The Podfather,” he told me when I asked about his propensity toward podcasting.
In “Everything’s Fine,” McLaughlin talks about news and politics, in “Dishin’ The Percolator” he discusses episodes of the cult show “Twin Peaks” and on “The Kept Faith,” he dishes on San Diego sports. All of the podcasts include a healthy dose of humor.
McLaughlin said he likes the medium because he can do whatever he wants with it.
“It’s like complete freedom,” he said. “It gives people the length of time to talk about a subject in-depth. I mean, you can spend an hour and a half talking about the Coronado Bridge if you wanted to and who’s going to stop you? Literally no one. That’s why I love podcasts – you can start one about anything you want to talk about.”
The podcast pro said he’s called the “Podfather” because he’s been doing it since 2008. He said he often offers folks who say they’re interested in starting a show the same advice.
“Just go and do a podcast because you can totally do it,” he said. “We could have recorded one right now while talking.”
New Library Art on the Way, and Other Arts and Culture News
• The old Skyline Hills Branch Library was demolished this week, making way for its bigger, better replacement. (CBS 8 San Diego)
Here’s a look at the public art project proposed for the new library.
• Thanks to BAE Systems, the Port of San Diego’s long-awaited San Diego-Coronado Bridge artistic lighting project is $300,000 closer to the $8 million needed to make it happen.
• Hundreds of people showed up to help pull weeds and clean up Balboa Park’s crumbling Starlight Bowl. (U-T)
Here’s some background from VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt on how the outdoor amphitheater fell into such sorry shape.
• The La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest event is happening through Aug. 26. SummerFest Music Director Cho-Liang Lin went on KPBS Midday Edition to discuss the festival and La Jolla Music Society’s new performance space, The Conrad, which is scheduled to open in 2018.
• NBC SoundDiego thinks these local bands are good enough to be signed by a record label.
• San Diego historian and author Elizabeth Cobbs is riding the wave of interest in Alexander Hamilton sparked by the eponymous hit hip-hop musical based on his life.
• There is a cool subculture that quietly convenes annually in San Diego. They love tiki things. Lots of them drink rum. Many wear Hawaiian shirts. The U-T sheds more light tiki culture and the annual Tiki Oasis event.
A few years ago, I did a radio story for KPBS about tiki culture.
• Deals to rent those motorized wicker carts you’ve been seeing in Balboa Park have been appearing on Groupon lately.
• A new jazz series launches Thursday.
• Get ready to see lots of people reading this one book.
• Linda Vista’s getting a big new skate park.
• North Park’s forthcoming Barons Market is looking for local artists to help pretty up its new store.
• This experimental musician plays broken glass with his face.
• The Oceanside Museum of Art hired a new executive director.
• ArtPower’s popular annual Filmatic Festival has been expanded into the Filmatic Series.
• Ion Theatre’s West Coast premiere of “Airline Highway” is pretty darn good. (U-T)
Food, Beer and Booze News
• Chula Vista’s HarborFest is really a festival for foodies. (NBC 7 San Diego)
• Balboa Park’s Food Truck Friday event has been extended through Sept. 23.
• Every dish in this upcoming beer dinner features a brewing ingredient from New Belgium and Green Flash.
• National Lemonade Day is Saturday, apparently.
• Just try to take away our right to drink booze in hair salons, I dare you.
• There’s a new ceviche spot in the East Village. (San Diego Food Finds)
• Yelp wants to be sure the poke craze in San Diego continues.
• The thought of going to this new beer festival makes me a tad queasy.
• San Diego’s Cow by Bear pop-up dinner series is the topic of a new short documentary series. (Thrillist)
• Encinitas’ Coastal Roots Farm opened a new farm stand.
Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast. Sign up for the Culture Report here.