Background Image


El Cajon Boulevard has a rich history. In the early 1900s El Cajon Avenue was the main wagon road connecting San Diego to the east county.

In 1937,the El Cajon Boulevard Civic Association hosted The El Cajon Boulevard of Progress Festival to celebrate the acceptance of the street as the terminus of Highway 80. In June of 1953, US 80 was transferred to the present routing of I-8, which was then called Mission Valley Rd.

Route 80 received its historic designation in 2006.

The Boulevard Sign

To fill the void of lost neon signage, the spectacular Boulevard gateway sign was erected in 1989 to return to the glory of neon. City officials and local business leaders saw the sign as a major new landmark which would promote The Boulevard as a destination and encourage further community revitalization efforts. The sign was designed by Simon Andrews from Graphic Solutions. The total cost was $200,000. The sign is maintained by The North Park Landscape Maintenance District and was repainted in 2016. The sign is located on The West End of El Cajon Boulevard, just east of Park Blvd,

From Avenue to Boulevard

The Boulevard in 1910

In the early 1900s El Cajon Avenue was the main wagon road connecting San Diego to the east county. With the growing popularity of the automobile there was a movement to link local roads to form intercontinental highways. In 1912, interstate highway 80 joined the eastern end of El Cajon Avenue at the San Diego city limits. Highway 80 cut a path from San Diego County to the east coast in the 1920s. Over the years El Cajon Avenue was paved and widened. In 1937 the city council voted to change its name from avenue to boulevard to note its significance as a major thoroughfare. In the 1950s, Highway 80 was transferred to the present routing of I-8.


North Park Water Tower

The University Heights Water Storage and Pumping Station on Howard Avenue, which is actually located in North Park, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013.

The tank was constructed in 1924 to provide increased water pressure to the  surrounding community, which was expanding quickly. It was advertised at “largest elevated tank in the world”. The 127-foot, 5.5-inch tall tower served the community from 1924 to 1967.

The city of San Diego owns the structure, which sits in the center of a still-active city water supply facility. Soccer fields are on top of the reservoirs.

More information, here.

JFK Mural at Rudfords

In June of 1963, just months before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade went down El Cajon Boulevard.  One of the iconic photos from that day is the president waving at the crowd in front of Rudford’s Restaurant, which has been serving San Diego since 1949.

Image:  Julius Shulman, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Carnation Building

The Carnation building at 3036 El Cajon Boulevard (now home to Lips Restaurant) was photographed in 1965 by famed mid-century architectural photographer Julius Shulman. The KARATE studio that is currently next door cleverly readapted the sign that once read CAMERA.

Photo: San Diego Historical Society

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Building (SDG&E)

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Building (SDG&E), Substation F at 3169 El Cajon Boulevard was designed by German-born and New York trained architect Eugene Hoffman in 1926. The Renaissance Revival architecture was by a master architect who designed many other notable structures in San Diego, including the John D. Spreckles building, and William Penn Hotel. The Substation is a rare existing example of early North Park infrastructure which was needed in the development of North Park which was expanding rapidly from the period around 1907 to 1929.


Interstate 805 Completed – 1972

With increased freeway access came many years of disruptive construction and a permanent separation of what was roughly the boundary between San Diego and East San Diego. There was also the loss of many significant historic buildings that were in the path of the interstate.

One the bright side, The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association has overseen the Mid-City holiday bridge lighting project for most of its 30 year history. The seven bridge light program is a joint effort by the Adams Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard, North Park and City Heights Business Improvement Associations. Initiated in 1988 by the Adams Avenue Business Association, the holiday lighting has inspired similar displays in other locations here in San Diego and attracted attention throughout Southern California.

Photo: San Diego History Center

Keith’s Chicken in the Rough -3200 El Cajon Blvd

Keith’s was a classic drive-in restaurant. One of many that lined The Boulevard. This photo is from 1939. The building was demolished to make way for the 805 freeway.

Photo: Steve Currier

JFK at 3200 El Cajon Blvd (1963)

As President John F Kennedy’s motorcade made its way down The Boulevard, many San Diegans lined the street to catch a glimpse. In this case Steve Currier captured a section of The Boulevard that would become the 805. Keith’s can be seen in the background, along with United States National Bank.

Photo: Bill Reid – Vintage San Diego

The Boulevard at I-805(1970s)

Here is El Cajon Boulevard looking east from the 805. United States National Bank is now Wells Fargo and a part of the Food Basket sign is where Pancho Villa Market is now located.

Photo: Mary Jo Grubbs via Uptown News

The Changing Boulevard: Buick to Honda

Dick Grihalva Buick Center was located at 3400 El Cajon Boulevard. It had the most blinking neon sign, which can be seen here. In 1953 Joseph Schmith designed the 100-foot-tall sign for the Cal Neon sign company. The sign was lit by neon and thousands of yellow and turquoise bulbs. Schmith also designed the original El Cortez Hotel “Sky Room” sign.

Mike Smith’s Honda (later Mike Smith-Cush Honda) took over the dealership and sign in the 1980s. The sign was demolished sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. The Googie arches were also removed.