La Colonia de Eden Gardens faces ‘many challenges’ in maintaining historic roots

La Colonia de Eden Gardens celebrated its centennial in 2021.
(Luke Harold)

Longtime residents of Solana Beach’s La Colonia de Eden Gardens remember a close-knit Mexican community where everyone knew each other and almost everyone was related.

“My dad used to say, ‘It’s God’s country. Where else would I want to go?’” said David Huizar, who grew up in La Colonia before leaving in 1980 for the Air Force. He now resides in San Marcos.

But factors such as the rising cost of housing have changed the makeup of the community. La Colonia celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021, honoring its longtime heritage even as more and more newcomers settle in the area.

Lisa Montes, a cousin of Huizar’s who still lives in La Colonia, is vice president of the La Colonia Community Foundation. Part of the organization’s mission is to bridge the gap between longtime neighbors and newcomers.

Lesa Montes
(Luke Harold)

“We need their viewpoint, we need to teach them,” Montes said. “And then they need to teach us, too, so we can come together, we can collaborate.”

She added that one of her goals is “to hang on to some of the character of this community so it will never be forgotten.”

The La Colonia she grew up in was defined by the Mexican families who put the neighborhood on the map. Many children had parents who had agricultural jobs in Rancho Santa Fe, but couldn’t live there because of a “protective covenant” that included racial restrictions at that time on who could buy property.

La Colonia, Montes said, “was a very happy place.”

Montes' parents, Louis and Celia Carmen Montes, were married at St. Leo's on Oct. 5, 1947.
(Luke Harold)

“People had peacocks and roosters and chickens and goats, and there were dirt roads when I was very little,” she added.

Another tradition from years past was Santa Claus jumping out of a plane and parachuting into the nearby fields. Santa made a more modest entrance into La Colonia this year, appearing at the community center, park, and riding throughout the city with fire, sheriff and marine safety personnel.

“There are a lot of wonderful resources here but it’s going to come down to whether we have adequate affordable housing for families, because if not this community is going to be totally affluent,” Montes said. “It will not be diverse.”

Solana Beach City Councilwoman Jewel Edson said she spent summers in La Colonia throughout her life. Her mother worked at General Dynamics and was friends with the Rincons, one of La Colonia’s founding families and owners of the Blue Bird Cafe.

Edson said she knocked on every door in La Colonia when she ran for a council seat.

“Gentrification has created many challenges when it comes to the changing fabric and culture of the community,” she said.

Through the last decade, Solana Beach has been divided into four census tracts, which are small geographical subdivisions that the Census Bureau uses to show hyperlocal data. The tract in Solana Beach that includes the La Colonia neighborhood has had more new residents move in compared to the city’s other census tracts, according to the most recent data available on residential mobility.

Raphael Rodmel, who grew up in La Colonia in the 1970s and ‘80s, said it’s sad that La Colonia is less affordable for the next generation, but “by no means are any of us victims.”

“Our grandparents came to this country, they worked their butts off, they bought land,” he said. “What’s going on is this is prime real estate, it’s a great location. Our children have benefited because we have great public schools here. I benefited.”

Rodmel said that several longtime pillars of the community are still intact, including the church, the park and the community that comes together for events such as Dia de los Muertos.

“I could sell my property today, but where would I go? I would rather continue to be part of this community,” he said.