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Logan’s Run

The little ’hood that could is a destination for foodies, art lovers and architecture renegades.

Architect and professor Hector Perez in one of the live-work studios at his new project, La Esquina, in Barrio Logan. His tenants include three fellow professors. “There is a community here that I am creating and that’s what I am most proud of,” he says. Next up: Perez is erecting a cornfield in the adjacent lot.

Where the artists go, the rest shall follow. It’s a basic tenet of urban development, or at least a deeply held belief for those who decide to buy in early. In Barrio Logan, a ’hood tucked between downtown and the bay, the artists came and waited—and then waited some more. But as the saying goes, if you build it, they will come.

Just ask Hector Perez, the up-and-coming architect behind La Esquina, a new mixed-use building on Logan Avenue. Translated, it means “The Corner,” a name that is both geographically accurate and evocative of Perez’s hope for his seven live-work lofts and ground-floor commercial space.

Perez, who was recently appointed director of graduate programs at the nearby Woodbury School of Architecture, worked tirelessly to procure backing from hesitant lenders. “Banks don’t want to invest in unknown areas because they don’t have anything to compare it to,” says Perez, who lives in La Jolla. “But small-scale development like this really improves the community infrastructure and social fabric.”

He’s just one of a handful of architects who collectively purchased individual lots here several years ago, a group that includes big names like Ted Smith and Lloyd Russell. Perez is the first to build, and he’s had no trouble finding tenants. Among them? Three architecture professors.

“I designed the units for people like myself,” he says. “They’re open and naturally ventilated. The people moving in are all one degree of separation from me.”

The door of each loft is a different color, an idea suggested by Perez’s 11-year-old son, Adrian, a prolific young artist who has already shown at La Jolla’s Athenaeum as well as the Bakery, a small artist cooperative-cum-gallery that’s also in Barrio Logan. It was one of the area’s early arrivals.

“He said, ‘Papito, this way people will know which unit is theirs; numbers are so boring!’” It’s also less confusing for visitors (and tipsy tenants, Perez laughs).

Adrian also urged his proud papa to create a 3-D riff on a longstanding neighborhood tradition. Unlike Barrio Logan’s Chicano Park murals under the Coronado Bridge—a world-famous collection originally done in the ’70s that recently earned a Grand Orchid Award for its community-driven restoration—this 3-D portrait of César Chávez is rendered in blue and red glass.

Not far from La Esquina, 15-month-old Mollie Mae is already comfortable cruising around the industrial warehouse digs at artist collective Glashaus, one of the first on the Barrio Logan scene. “She’s a shop baby,” says her mom, Morgan Devine, who runs the space with her husband, the highly in-demand sculptor Matt Devine.

The couple recently expanded Glashaus, taking over the second half of the warehouse to give Matt a dream studio, which includes an on-site gallery. The timing is perfect, as he’s just been commissioned to do a 25-by-25-foot piece to go down by the harbor. Morgan, meanwhile, launched Coop, an in-house art school that will offer lessons in all things creative.

“We have really made it a community of artists and a mixed-use space where all types of people can support art,” says Morgan. “And where we can support the community.”

And the community keeps growing. Glashaus’ lure is bringing A-list artists south like Laguna Beach ceramicist Doreen Mellen, who has a light-filled studio on the ground floor. Meanwhile, affordable housing in the ’hood is getting major architect cred with Mercado, an eye-catching mixed-use development by Safdie Rabines.

Then there’s the San Diego Public Market, a Pike Place-inspired addition where a mix of farmers and artisan vendors peddle their organic wares twice a week. It launched after an impressive Kickstarter campaign raised $150,000.

In other words, not only is the community showing up, they’re backing the Barrio with cash.