50 Years Ago in Mission Hills

| March 6, 2021 | 0 Comments

I woke up this morning and realized that fifty years ago I was frantically looking for a place to live.  My husband heard an ad on the radio.  A company had just hired a large number of employees who needed to buy homes.  As a lark, he listed our house for sale and were immediately in escrow on an acre somewhere south of Rancho Santa Fe: an acre with an unoiled, unimproved, dirt road miles from the nearest market.  Getting legal access and water were conditions of our escrow.  

We had to find a rental quickly.  No one wanted a young couple with two Hungarian puli dogs (30-pound sheepherding dogs with dreadlocks) and a calico cat.  Luck was with us.  A couple from out of state had just purchased a duplex in Mission Hills from another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan.  They had just finished painting the exterior a sort of putrid pink and were finishing painting the vacant two-bedroom/one-bath unit Spring Green.  I hated the color.  The new owners agreed to pay for white interior paint and new kitchen linoleum if we would do the labor and to let us have our pets provided that we didn’t hold them responsible should a canyon creature cause their demise.  Done and done.

March 1, 2071 our lease took effect, and with the help of one of my Point Loma High School students, we got our unit painted, the carpet torn up, and the kitchen floor re-covered with new linoleum.  There was a single woman in the downstairs studio.  We moved into our new rental with the help of friends.

Our rent was cheap and we were given avocados, lemons and oranges from the three trees on the property.  The owners gave us permission to fence the back of the property so we could keep our dogs from roaming the neighborhood.

We fell in love with Mission Hills.  The day we moved in I went to KMar, the local market on Goldfinch that carried the best meats and freshest vegetables and fruit.  Ron Kiefer, one of the owners, cashed my check without even looking at my driver’s license.  “Oh, you just moved here.  Welcome,” he said, taking my check and bagging my groceries. 

I was floored.  No one takes a stranger’s check like that. (A footnote:  years later, after Kiefer had moved the market to Fort Stockton, a neighbor’s check bounced.  Kiefer, knowing we were close friends of those neighbors and that we were taking care of their children while they were back east, said, “Tell Jim his checked bounced, but it can wait till he gets home; I know where his kids are!” That was Mission Hills.)

One night after we had been living in the house for a week, I was preparing dinner.  Three times in thirty minutes I remembered another ingredient I did not have; each time, I ran to the Ibis Market to buy the missing item.  As I returned from the third trip, my husband came home. 

“We have to cancel the escrow on that lot,” I told him tearfully. There is no way I can be well-organized enough to live so far from the nearest market driving on an unimproved or improved road!” 

Thus, began a search for a vacant lot in Mission Hills.  I could not imagine living anywhere else. 

We had to be on a canyon or have a view of some kind.  The lot had to be quiet.  We couldn’t have a busy street.  We looked at every vacant lot and at every decrepit house to tear down.  Finally, we decided that we loved our location, and maybe the landlords would sell to us.  They said, if we could wait until they’d owned it for six months and a day, they would love to sell it to us for a five-thousand-dollar profit. They also talked us into taking over their VA loan at what was then a ridiculously low rate of 8.5 percent. 

Subtracting the monthly rent from our payment (PITI) meant we needed $43.00 a month to live here.  It was very convenient.  We quit our jobs; Carl opened his own architectural firm with three partners, and together we worked on adopting a baby.  We lived on the proceeds from the sale of our first house.

Our neighbors were lovely.  Next door, on the corner were the Fosters and their four children.  In the next house were the Guests with their two boys and a girl.  Directly across the street were the Joneses:  a widow and her son, Claude, who had grown up in the house.  Mrs. Jones told me she and the original Mrs. Morgan had landscaped both yards making low retaining walls of rocks found on the properties and building terraces into the canyon.  I assume they planted many of the trees, which are still living, the oleander at the street’s end, and the jade plant as well. 

I didn’t know the family in the middle house across the street; they had two children and both worked.  Their house sold and the wife of the new owners turned out to have gone to junior and senior high school with me in Los Angeles.  The corner house’s owners sold and took off in a bus with their kids and Samoyed.  Bob and Becky Boyle bought it and camped there with their two children.  It was missing a kitchen and had one toilet and a sink; the other bathroom had been gutted.  They paid more than we paid, and we still feel lucky that we bought what and when we did, even though we planned to either sell it and buy something more suitable or remodel it.  We did the latter, twice.  Fifty years later we are still here.

Don’t forget to watch Nan Sterman on Sunday, March 28 as she offers a Zoom presentation titled, Growing, Cooking and Eating the Mediterranean Way. For more information and to register, visit www.missionhillsgardenclub.org.


Category: Life Style, Local News, Other

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.