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The pied piper of East Village

Posted: August 7th, 2015 | Features, Top Story | 2 Comments

By Joan Wojcik

Who was Bob Sinclair?

When it came time to name the new “Fault Line Park” located by the Pinnacle I residential high rise located on Island Avenue at 15th Street, Bob Sinclair’s name came up over and over again as a possible name for the park.

But who was Bob Sinclair of East Village?

Bob Sinclair was a businessman, an artist, a craftsman in metal, a collector of all things unusual and memorable, and an investor in interesting and historical East Village buildings. He passed away a few years ago as a result of a motorcycle accident but will long be remembered.

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The Broom Works building, located in East Village and adorned with items the late Bob Sinclair (right) had collected over the years. (Photo by Bob Feller); Sinclair (Courtesy Torrey Lee)

Bill Keller, a longtime friend of Sinclair’s, fondly remembers him as a visionary.

“Bob Sinclair was a man who saw potential for East Village,” Keller said. “Before there was East Village, there was Bob Sinclair.”

Sinclair moved to San Diego in the 1960s when East Village was known as Centre City East and he was founder of the Pannikin coffeehouses and Café Moto coffee roasters. He had the foresight to purchase the Pannikin Building, Rosario Hall, the Wheel Works, the Broom Works Building — which houses his eclectic collection of memorabilia from earlier generations of East Village manufacturing businesses — and the historic Wonder Bread building, now home to Mission Brewery.

Bob Sinclair seated in one of his original Pannikin Coffee houses (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

Bob Sinclair seated in one of his original Pannikin Coffee houses (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

As years passed, the old manufacturing and industrial businesses of Centre City East closed their doors and moved out of the area. Bob acquired much of the equipment from these businesses and that became Bob Sinclair’s eclectic collection.

The Sinclair Collection, as it is referred, depicts the rich history of the East Village industrial era and is the largest collection of memorabilia of old East Village.

Sinclair spent a lifetime collecting the most unusual items found in East Village. His collection ranges from the very simple — a San Diego manhole cover — to more complex items, such as a large, industrial motor which is on display on the corner of Park Boulevard and J Street. He even utilized his welding talents to craft a bouquet of flowers made from machinery cogs and gears.

While the eclectic collection inside the building is not open to the public, many of the signs and some of the industrial equipment collected by Bob Sinclair can be seen by walking around The Broom Works building on J Street at 13th Street. In addition, a selection of Sinclair’s East Village artifacts have been incorporated into the lobby of Form 15 apartments on Market Street at 15th Street.

Another view of the Broom Works building (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

Another view of the Broom Works building (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

There have been recent suggestions to include samples of his eclectic collection throughout East Village to catalog the rich history of the East Village District when it was know as Centre City East. In the future, you may find items along the 14th Street Promenade that are unique to the neighborhood and have been preserved by Sinclair as a remembrance of the East Village of long ago.

The preservation of the unique architecture found in East Village can also be attributed to Sinclair. He had a love for old, architecturally beautiful buildings. He purchased and renovated the old Wonder Bread building on 14 and L streets and the Pannikin building on G and Seventh streets. These buildings both add to the wonderful architectural landscape of Downtown’s East Village.

In an effort to save the Rosario Hall building, Sinclair purchased it in 1999 and renovated it over a six-year period of time. He then moved the building to its current site on the corner of 13th and J streets in East Village in 2001, where it now houses the very popular Mission Restaurant.

Various pieces of the "Sinclair Collection" (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

Various pieces of the “Sinclair Collection” (Photo courtesy Bob Feller)

To accomplish moving the Rosario Hall building from 12th Avenue and K Street — which no longer exists — to its current location, Sinclair had to work through lengthy red tape and the challenge of shutting down the trolley line and overhead power wires.

Although Rosario Hall was a very difficult preservation project to complete, Bob said, “It fit my profile, I love fixing up old buildings and renting them out.”

The preservation of the unique architecture in East Village and his eclectic collection are ways in which Bob Sinclair saved the heritage of East Village for future generations to appreciate.

So who was Bob Sinclair? He was an East Village visionary!

[Editor’s Note: Stay tuned; we plan to delve a little deeper into Sinclair’s life story for future issues.]

— Joan Wojcik is the president of the East Village Residents Group. Learn more about the EVRG at or contact joan eastvillageresidentsgroup@yahoo.com or visit evrgsd.org. Bob Keller contributed to this report.

2 Comments

  1. Charles Kaminski says:

    pioneer in all things: coffee, history, preservation, art, and enthusiast and vvisonary about downtown way before it was popular.

  2. […] We are currently working on Bob Sinclair’s profile, in the mean time you can read a great article by the San Diego Downtown News: […]

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