The year 2015 may have brought the La Jolla Rec Center’s centennial, but 2016 is looking like it will bring exciting changes to the now 101-year-old facility. With a capital campaign that kicked off mid-May, the La Jolla Park & Rec, Inc. board has improvements in mind, but is also reaching out to the community for ideas and programming suggestions.
The fundraising campaign has already raised $45,000 of the $200,000 the board hopes to gather by the end of the year. The two key donors responsible are Douglas Dawson of the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation, who gave $20,000; and Audrey Geisel of the Dr. Seuss Foundation, who gave $25,000.
“We are also going for federal grants … and right now I have eight in play. The grantors have all come back wanting more information, but are generally positive,” said Parks & Rec board chair Cindy Greatrex. The grants range from $5,000 to $100,000.
“One of the things we’re looking to do with the money is get bids for a rail fence where there is now a chain link to make it more attractive,” she said. “The La Jolla Rec Center is in the heart of the Village and part of the La Jolla Cultural Zone, so we try and keep the place decent looking, bearing in mind children play there.”
Another planned improvement is for new playground equipment. “We have funds in the bank to work on the playground, but it has to be ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant and ... the number of design options is too large for our board. We don’t have a preference, but we’ve gotten requests that the equipment could use some freshening up and expanding, so we need community input,” Greatrex said.
Rec Center board member-at-large Carolyn Parrish added there is also talk of minor upgrades to the facility, such as the curtains and the piano, renovated restroom facilities, and new wiring and a new speaker system for the more than 10 community advisory meetings that meet there every month.
“A lot of people think we are funded by the city so we must be fine in terms of funding, but we’re not fine. We need to get some money. We put in extra money to keep the center open extra hours, but the center could use some help,” she said. “We want the input, we want the ideas. How could we do better?”
To garner ideas, the board is planning a series of community meetings, with dates to be announced, where the board can talk about the Rec Center and learn what the community wants in terms of programming.
“Within reason, we could do anything, so long as it’s legal and ADA-compliant,” Greatrex explained. “Our programs are successful, we know that people like what we’re doing, but there might be something we’re not doing what people want. We invite as many people as possible to come and talk about our campaign, how much we have and how much we expect, and let the community decide what we should do with it.”
A children’s theater troupe?
In an early fishing expedition for ideas, Greatrex said she reached out to Dawson after the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation donation. He suggested a revival of the long-gone children’s theater company. Disbanded decades ago, the Rec Center once had such a company, and reportedly, former La Jolla Town Council president Steve Haskins starred in the troupe’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” as a child!
Last month, Greatrex and board member Gail Forbes set out to find someone qualified to lead a children’s troupe. “We’re going to start with workshops on stage building, elocution and culminate with a play, but the board does not have the skills to direct, so we’re starting there,” Greatrex said.
Of the prospect of the youth theater and other programming additions, Parrish said, “We’re going to keep pushing and keep moving. I’m excited about all the programs (we could start) for young people. Rec centers offer chances to get out there and be active. Ours is a beautiful place to run or ride a bike. There is a nice, inexpensive gym here, and the tennis courts are great.”
Greatrex and Parrish are also working to get the La Jolla Rec Center on the National Register of Historic Places. “To get on the Register would be great, but unusual, because every village has a building they think should be on the Register, and only a few buildings are granted the designation in each state,” Greatrex said.
Nevertheless, they submitted the proposal – all 32 pages of it – and are waiting for a response, which could take months. Citing its historical significance, Greatrex explained the building used modern (for 1915) architectural features and was designed by Irving Gill. Paid for by benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps, the intention was to give children a place to play, and men a spot to gather without liquor, for people of all races and genders to gather for civic engagement, and to be one of the first centers in the “playground movement” of the time.
“Ellen Browning Scripps was way ahead of her time when she came up with all this,” Greatrex said. “Generations have used it and enjoyed it, and it’s a valued part of the community. Our Rec Center is a beautiful property, but it needs more than it’s gotten, and it needs some big stuff now. We want people to feel like it’s a home away from home. I think La Jollans are going to be pleased when the (efforts this year are) done.”
— To reach the La Jolla Park & Rec, Inc. board, call (858) 922-0263 or email firstname.lastname@example.org