Monday, June 16, 2008 | Among the scattered business buildings, dusty roads and rusting fences near Chula Vista’s shores sits one of the city’s last surviving relics of the Industrial Revolution: a salt factory whose methods for extracting salt from the sea have changed little since the 19th century.
But in the wake of a new initiative to restore the salt ponds, mudflats and wetlands around the South Bay Salt Works factory and a renewed focus on the development of Chula Vista’s bay front, the company’s long-term future has come into question. Now, community organizations and residents are using their imaginations to envision a new face for the 17-acre property, which they say is poised to become an unusual nexus of history, environmentalism and public use, should it transform into an educational visitor’s center.
Situated on the edge of Chula Vista’s bay front, the Salt Works is a faded, time-worn array of rusty conveyer belts and storage barns dating back to the early 1900s. To the company’s north lie chiseled white mountains of salt, reaching heights of 40 feet. The company has been harvesting salt since the 1870s — making it the longest-running business in San Diego aside from The San Diego Union-Tribune, which started in 1868 as the San Diego Union.
As San Diego’s second-oldest commercial business, the company has weathered the test of time as well as the tides of globalization. Countries like China and India have nearly doubled their salt exports since the 1990s, and only one other salt pond system currently exists in California, on a 9,000-acre site in San Francisco.
“It’s the epitome of a landmark,” Save Our Heritage Organization Executive Director Bruce Coons said. “It’s not normal for an industrial property to engender that much affection, but people really like the Salt Works.”
But because its salt ponds will be partially or completely eliminated in the near future, the Salt Works may have to shut down — raising questions about what to do with the factory and the land it sits on. And unlike other contemplated projects in Chula Vista — the Chargers stadium and the Gaylord Entertainment hotel being the most notable — the Salt Works site has the potential to become a verifiable environmental, educational and historical focal point, local groups and residents say.