William J. Kellogg, 66, is not the imposing figure you would expect to be upholding a legacy as imposing as his family’s. Along with the Scripps, the Kelloggs shaped modern La Jolla and, through their La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, have catered to its elite, as well as Hollywood’s, for 90 years.
For starters, the president of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club calls himself Bill. He laughs a lot, sometimes nervously. And he seems like he’d be way more comfortable in tennis shorts than the suit he’s wearing while chatting this afternoon in his office off the pool.
Like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Pt. III,” Bill confirms, he was doing his own thing when the family business pulled him back in. “I did sort of feel that way,” he says. “The general manager of the beach club, Bill Bond, retired in 1979. So my brother, Bob, called me up and said, ‘Bill, you’ve got to help me out!’”
Raised in the Altadena suburb of Los Angeles, Bill had only visited La Jolla for short bursts previously. And he had already forged his own identity running the Westlake Athletic Club near Thousand Oaks. But Bill was also newly married, just had his first child and was doing everything at Westlake.
“I was the chief cook and bottle-washer, the head tennis pro — whatever needed to be done, I did it all,” he recalls. “I would come home on the weekends, my daughter would look out of the crib and scream, like, ‘Who’s that?!”
Ultimately, being told he would only have to work six days a week, from 9 to 5, was all the arm-twisting it took.
Yes, there are corn flakes in Bill’s family. Will Keith Kellogg, the former broom salesman who founded the cereal company in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1906, is a distant relative.
“We’re not the cereal branch of the family, but the Kelloggs all do connect,” Bill says. “There was a break. We had one branch of the Kelloggs who started a sanitarium, invented cereal as part of their treatment.”
According to Bill, his Scottish family name derives either from “keel logs,” meaning they were boat makers, or “kill hogs.” (“I like the first one better,” he says.)
Bill calls his side of the family “the newspaper Kelloggs.” They merged with another newspaper (and La Jolla) family, the Scripps, thanks to Bill’s great-grandfather, Frederick William (F.W.) Kellogg, who merged with Florence Scripps, whose father was the half-brother of Ellen Browning Scripps. (Are you following this? There will be a test.)
Born in Cleveland, F.W. was the editor of the Detroit Daily News. He also created a chain of Kansas newspapers. Then he and Florence moved to California, in 1915, to start the Pasadena Evening Post and Glendale News-Press. But, according to Bill, “he got bored.” F.W. sold his newspapers to the Copley chain and retired, Bill says, spending more time at the family’s summer compound in La Jolla.
F.W. had already co-founded the La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, which had built a pier and dredged a channel into the harbor. So, when winter storms filled in the channel, and the Depression emptied the pockets of his fellow investors, F.W. bought them out in 1935. The idea for a new club direction came from F.W.’s son/Bill’s grandfather, William Scripps (W.S.) Kellogg.
W.S. was a tennis fanatic who had played at Stanford. “He convinced his dad to install four tennis courts and name it the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club,” Bill says. “And how crazy was that? There were no roads and you couldn’t even get here. You had to take a train from Pacific Beach.”
For 34 years, W.S. invited the best tennis pros in the world to play tournaments and exhibitions and stay for free at the club. “Being in the newspaper business, one of the things he understood was that if you wanted to put a place on the map, what you needed was an event, so you could write articles about it and bring people to town,” Bill says. “So he got Pancho Gonzales, Bill Tilden, Bobby Riggs — the biggest names ever — to come down, and what he did was build the reputation of La Jolla, as opposed to San Diego, as an entity.”
Watching all these pros play as a kid, then getting to meet and hang out with them, is what got Bill into tennis. A former top-ranked SoCal junior, Bill went on to represent Dartmouth in the NCAA championships in 1974 and, to this day, his playing record ranks among the top-ten all-time best for the college. (Bill was recently inducted into the Southern California Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame.)
Hanging with the stars
With all the attention (and money) the tennis generated, W.S. made the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club a world-class resort. He completed the Marine Room restaurant — which Raymond Chandler used as the inspiration for the “Glass Room” in his novel “Esmerelda” — and added a nine-hole golf course.
“Gregory Peck was down here a lot, as was Cliff Robertson,” Bill says. “I got to meet them and do a lot of things with them.”
Although a familiar sight at the club until the early ’80s, W.S. retired in 1973, passing the reins to Bill’s Dad. William Crowe (W.C.) Kellogg, a former geologist and geophysicist, added two more tennis courts and performed extensive club renovations.
Bill has run the club, the Marine Room and the neighboring La Jolla Shores Hotel and Shores Restaurant since 1989. But at 12:30 p.m. every weekday, he still drops whatever he’s doing to pick up a racket for his regular game.
“I’ve been playing the same people, the same days, for 30 years,” he says. “We go out and we battle, we chase each other around. And it’s a whole lot more fun than going to the gym.”