This downtown district occupies sixteen blocks less than a mile from the waterfront. The neighborhood, colloquially called the “Stingaree” in the city’s early years, housed saloons, gambling halls, and brothels until health and safety concerns led to mass evictions and condemnation circa 1915. After World War II, residents and commerce fled to the suburbs, and the district largely deteriorated. In the 1970s, civic leaders promoted a series of plans to establish the Gaslamp Quarter as a city center and a new national historic district. In 1974 the Marston family underwrote a plan by urban planners Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard that proposed the district as a catalyst for urban renewal. That same year, ROMA Design Group created a development plan in preparation for the construction of the six-block Horton Plaza Mall, and Kawasaki/Theilacker & Associates (now KTUA) created a master plan for the entire district in 1978. The opening of the mall in 1985 coincided with the first modern trolley line in San Diego, drawing tourists and residents to the Gaslamp Quarter. Throughout the 1980s, the city applied adaptive-reuse techniques to restore and preserve existing structures, transforming the area into the “Historic Heart of San Diego.” Various streetscape improvements by local landscape architecture firms Wimmer Yamada & Associates and Kawasaki/Theilacker & Associates, including widening sidewalks and planting street trees, helped tie the district to nearby neighborhoods.
The district’s turn-of-the-century commercial streetscape is coupled with large-scale development from the 1980s and thereafter. Open spaces between buildings are common, creating frequent internal alleys and arcades. Streetscape improvements included widening brick-paved sidewalks, installing five-globed light fixtures, and lining the roads with eucalyptus trees. An illuminated archway spans Fifth Avenue at its intersection with L Street and acts as the district’s formal entrance. Horton Plaza Park, an historic, neoclassical green renovated and expanded in 2016, is located in the northern edge of the district. The Gaslamp Quarter was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.