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La Mesa Then & Now: Revisiting 1980s series on San Diego neighborhoods

News 8 looks into the history of La Mesa and what it's like today. Shawn Styles heads to his hometown to revisit the Village, Oktoberfest and more featured in 1987.

LA MESA, Calif. — Skateboarding the hills of La Mesa is where it all started for me. The home I grew up in is now a Historical Landmark thanks to my dad, Hugh Styles and his architecture. From here it was a quick skate down to the streets of La Mesa

Mark Arapostathis or Dr. A as he's known has been the mayor of La Mesa since 2014 and as a native La Mesan like me we've watched "the Jewel of the Hills" change but stayed the same

"It has a great downtown," he said. "We have streets that make our downtown the focal point. More people have discovered La Mesa and it's become more of a destination as opposed to when we grew up, it was just our hometown."

The trolley connects La Mesa to the rest of the East County and to Downtown San Diego which has made it more accessible. 

Jeff Abbott is a 30-year resident.

"Fantastic weather, tremendous. We're on the side of a hill, [so it's] a little bit cooler than most places in the East County," he said. "You can see the East County and the coast."

Being on that hill is where the slogan, "Jewel of the Hills" comes from - and the homes and architecture.

"They're all different, they're all not the same, not cookie cutter."

Today a lot of those homes are still standing. The Hodgens house was built in 1914. Legend has it that it was built by the royal family of England for their daughter.

The Hodgson House was one of the first of many beautiful homes built in La Mesa's Mt. Nebo neighborhood. This year's...

Posted by La Mesa Historical Society on Sunday, August 26, 2018

La Mesa has also had a little Hollywood history. In the early 1900s, Westerns were shot in and around the area. And when it comes to sports, it has always been part of La Mesa, with names like Reggie Bush, Alex Smith and of course NBA star Bill Walton.

You can't say La Mesa without thinking of Oktoberfest which began in the '70s and is now considered the largest west of the Mississippi.

Gy Kirk opened Sheldon's five years ago during Oktoberfest and kept the building pretty much the same as it was originally built.

"Almost 100,000 people in three days. It means everything for it to be here in La Mesa," Kirk said. "My mantra is 'caffeine, coffee, and community.' I wanted to give back and keep the authenticity of La Mesa, it's well established."

As community-oriented as La Mesa is it has still had its troubles including the peaceful protests in May 2020 that were hijacked by rioters.

"It was possibly the most tragic time that has happened in the city of La Mesa," said Mayor Arapostathis. "The next day people showed up at 6 a.m. and by 8:30 there were thousands on the streets cleaning up and [by] the late afternoon the town had been cleaned up and businesses had been helped."

It's that spirit of community that makes La Mesa special.

"La Mesa is an extremely strong community," said Dr. A. "We are such a strong group. That's what defines La Mesa. There are people that want to help each other. It's always about the people."

The downtown of La Mesa still retains its charm. The old drug store will keep its design but now be a gourmet ice cream shop and there are plans to have a sign over La Mesa Boulevard telling you have arrived in "the Jewel of the Hills."


Celebrate San Diego was a 1986/1987 series about neighborhoods of San Diego County. CBS 8 anchor-reporter Connie Healy and a team of photographers roamed the county and delivered in-depth profiles of several towns and communities in the area. They were history lessons focusing on changes and progress. 

Many long-term residents she spoke with reflected on what it was like to grow up in their town and what they thought of all the changes they had seen. One really gets a sense of what the character and personality of the community were like in each profile - and how diverse the county really is.  

Thirty-five years later, we're sending out a team of reporters to see how things have changed or stayed the same in each of the nearly 20 neighborhoods we covered in the mid-1980s. 

Connie shares her memories below of working on this fantastic series:   

"I love talking to people. People make the news, not newscasters. They simply report how we live our lives. But sometimes it enriches that picture to add a little perspective by not just looking at where we are today, but how far we've come. In the 1980s, Celebrate San Diego did just that. It painted a picture of daily life that was much different from the one we live today, and a city that many of us wouldn't even recognize. 

Talking to people, listening to their stories is what reporters do every day. But these stories of life in San Diego 50 to 100 years ago were amazing. This city has come a long way in the last 30 years but some of the people in these stories saw change at the speed of light. I would encourage you to take some time to take a look into our past, revel in the present and celebrate the wonderful city that we all call home."