Iconic Bird Rock collapses

Bird Rock earlier in 2010 (left) and on Dec. 22, the day after the arch in it collapsed. Photos by Dave Schwab
Bird Rock earlier in 2010 (left) and on Dec. 22, the day after the arch in it collapsed. Photos by Dave Schwab

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Bird Rock’s signature rock has a medical condition: fallen arches.

The environment has taken a huge bite out of the “doughnut-like” hole beneath an arch in the rock which has been gradually enlarging since 2007.

During Tuesday's rainstorm, high surf and winds, the arch finally gave way.

“I would say the northern quarter of the rock is all gone,” said Bird Rock resident and La Jolla Historical Society member Don Schmidt on Wednesday morning, glancing out his living room window at the landmark a quarter of a mile away. “The hole that was getting bigger which formed a bridge collapsed. It must have happened mid-day yesterday (Tuesday) with the strong surf and the water rising.”

“More of it broke off today,” e-mailed Joe Parker, Bird Rock Community Council president.

“Say it ain’t so,” e-mailed Joe LaCava, La Jolla community Planning Association president.

“We saw it around 4 p.m. (yesterday) and just walked down again around 5 p.m. and people were there taking pictures,” e-mailed Sharon Wampler, who’s lived in Bird Rock since late October. “Very sad. I recall recently the BR community talking about reinforcing the rock as a community project.”

Schmidt said the landmark’s been diminishing, eroding away, for a long time. “We’ve probably lost 20, 25 feet of that northern part of the rock in the last 10 years,” he said.

Back in April, Schmidt predicted the days of the  landmark, with its characteristic hole, were numbered. But he expected to be tipped off somehow when it finally happened. But the landmark went quietly.

“I didn’t hear the collapse,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything with the wind and the rain and the heavy seas.”

Longtime Bird Rock resident Philomene Offen, caretaker of a community historical exhibit now inhabiting a room at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, said it’s regrettable Bird Rock’s landmark landform got rocked by the storm.

“It’s really sad to see it’s finally gone because it’s always been a symbol of Bird Rock,” she said, adding it’s been nice having a trademark landform as a reference point. “Tourists always ask, ‘Is there actually a Bird Rock?’ And we tell them where it is and they go down and take pictures of it. I used to take my kids down there during low tide and we stood out on it: It’s a symbol of the neighborhood.”

The identity of the landmark rock and the community have merged over time, though details of how exactly that’s happened are sketchy. Most trace the origins of the community being named for its trademark rock back to pioneer developer Michael Francis Hall whose M Hall Company, Schmidt said, originally subdivided the coastal community in 1906 dubbing it “Bird Rock City By The Sea.”

Schmidt said there’s an old urban legend talking about Hall having a friend named Mr. Bird and that’s how the rock’s name got started. But he questions that.

“I think it (the rock) got its name because all the birds are on top of the rock when it’s calm,” he said.

However it actually came about, Schmidt noted, the community and its landmark have become joined at the hip.

“It’s really a landmark ... for surfers, for the community, and has been since people started moving here — maybe even before people lived in Bird Rock,” he said. “It’s the logo of the Bird Rock Community Council: The pelican standing on top of it. It really is kind of our symbol.”



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