By Diane Y. Welch
Cedros Avenue Design District, formerly home to carpenters, contractors and electricians when Sean MacLeod became acquainted with it in 1992, has since become iconic as an important facet of the city’s more recent history and representative of Solana Beach’s unique culture.
The two-and-a-half-block street which in the early 1950s was home to defense contractor Bill Jack, who built the quonset hut structures to house the Jack and Hines Company, was on its way to being transformed into an eclectic, hip focal point in the community, almost 20 years ago, due largely to MacLeod’s vision.
Dave Hodges, a Hermosa Beach native, became the tenant in one of the quonset huts that stretched the long block on the west side of the avenue in 1974. His reuse of the arch-shaped corrugated metal structure, which Hodges then purchased in 1976, sparked a slow but steady metamorphosis of the avenue into the vibrant lifestyle destination that it is famed for today. Hodges’ Belly Up Tavern helped put South Cedros Avenue on the map and although he sold it in 2006, it continues to be an anchor tenant and a big attraction for music lovers.
In the early 1980s sidewalks were installed, the first of several street improvements, said Hodges, who actually met MacLeod for the first time in the Belly Up Tavern in 1992. “At that meeting Sean came up with the idea of the Cedros Design District and we discussed the future of the avenue,” Hodges recalled. “Since then Sean and I have worked very closely over the years to create a buzz about the district.” In 1997, the street arches were installed, designed to echo the curved silhouette of the quonset huts, which give the avenue its signature look.
MacLeod, a California native, was born and raised in Los Angeles, is a UCLA undergraduate, who majored in motion picture and television production, then gained an MBA in marketing and finance from USC. His profession is in real estate finance, mortgage banking and adaptive reuse of buildings.
Property owners and merchants were brought together by MacLeod in the early 1990s when the Cedros Design District Association was formed. Over the years, mainstay businesses have helped the avenue weather a lagging economy. Like the Antique Warehouse, formerly a roller skating rink, which was transformed in 1982 into a 15,000-square-foot mall with over 100 dealers of antiques, collectibles and memorabilia; Cut and Dried Hardwood, which has now evolved into the David Alan Collection, importers of Balinese art and antique; and Leaping Lotus, with over 20,000 square feet dedicated to home decor accessories, art, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and clothing.
Over the past decade the avenue has evolved from mostly home furnishings and décor businesses to include health and beauty, fashion and footwear, fitness and well-being, bistros and cafes, galleries and gift ware businesses, designers and architects.
And despite the recent economic downturn there has been a resurgence of energy over the last 12 months, said MacLeod. “From the customers to the farmers’ market attendees, to the merchants, everybody seems to be happier. This is like our own little community and we’re an optimistic group. We’ve seen business improve 30 percent in general, “ he said. Now Cedros Avenue is “the avenue with everything” to quote its website, with more than 85 unique shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants.