Children’s Pool Concerns? Local residents behind Historic Designation say La Jolla landmark is ‘falling apart’


About a year ago, resident Diane Kane was at the Children’s Pool to take photos of La Jolla’s 1931 landmark, as part of the nomination process to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kane undertook the extensive project and submitted the report earlier this year, but on return visits to the Children’s Pool, she made some startling observations.

When she returned to retake some photos throughout the subsequent months, Kane noticed the Children’s Pool’s physical condition had worsened from the year before.

“It’s falling apart,” she told La Jolla Light. “This whole area has significantly deteriorated since last year. I was in shock when I saw how many additional stress fractures there were since last October.”

Of particular concern are changes to the areas that are currently open to the public — including the breakwater (seawall). “There have been some bad changes in places where people are walking that make me concerned that the area is becoming hazardous. I think it’s becoming a liability.”

Just what’s wrong?

Comparing photos she originally took to the current conditions, Kane observed caving in the stairs leading down to the beach, pocking of the walking surface of the seawall that can be felt through shoes (“let alone on bare feet or flip flops,” she said), cracks deepening along the walls and support structures eroding.

Assisting Kane in her effort to have the Children’s Pool listed on the National Register is local structural engineer Matt Mangano, who said he agreed the breakwater is “in need of repairs and maintenance,” especially to the guardrails that preserve the safety of those who visit it.

He explained via e-mail: “From an engineering perspective, safety is generally thought of as a shortened statement for ‘life-safety,’ meaning the structures support of and potential impact on humans. The main safety points for the breakwater would be the guardrails and the open sections of the core, which allows some flow.

“Moisture intrusion, and this is especially true for salt water, will degrade materials over time. The guardrails are embedded in the top layer of the seawall and are experiencing corrosion at the base, where there is deterioration of the surrounding concrete.

“The surface layer of the concrete has worn away, allowing the aggregate to show through. This is not just displeasing to the eye and the feet of the traveler, but it is leaving less clear cover for the steel reinforcement through the porous surface of the adhering concrete. Rebar (steel reinforcing bars) will corrode and expand if exposed to corrosive elements like salt water. This reaction causes damage to concrete, which is a very weak material in tension, and in turn causes more exposure to the reinforcing.”

And high-pedestrian activity is only part of the problem. “As with any high-traffic attraction, damage will accelerate as the initial structural integrity degrades,” Mangano continued. “I have not done an inspection or full structural observation of the wall, but I would guess that there are cracks and exposed steel elements in locations under the wall and on any exposed openings. As the interior reinforcement becomes more and more exposed, the need for repairs to prevent brittle failure becomes more prevalent.”

Is the seawall ‘safe’ right now?

All said, he opined there is not an immediate need to discourage public access to the seawall, but repairs are required.

The reason Kane is seeking Historic Preservation for the landmark is any renovation would then have to meet State Historic Building Code, which would “keep that property looking like we all enjoy it,” Kane said. Otherwise, any repairs would have to meet modern building codes, which could change the aesthetic and safety features.

She motioned to the wall along the mid-level landing, and noted it would likely be raised by several feet if renovated according to current code. “One of the things people like is the low wall; it gives this immediacy with the ocean and the pool,” she said.

Other worries are that heading down toward the seawall itself, is an eroding railing that feels like a “cheese grater” on bare hands, along with the rough paving on the seawall. “This is pretty solid, but eventually, you get to a critical point where it starts to go. I’m concerned we might be at that point.”

Kane said she didn’t know if the accelerated conditions were due to a “particularly bad winter,” or if this is just the path the local landmark might be on.

As a corrective measure, Kane said she would like to see the walls and support structures rehabilitated according to the Secretary of Interior Standards.

It has not been announced if the City has plans at present to make any repairs to the Children’s Pool.

What’s next?

Once the Office of Historic Preservation receives the report and OKs the new photos, a reviewer will be assigned to the Children’s Pool case, who will determine whether report revisions need to be made or if it will be heard at the State Historic Resources Commission meeting.

The Commission will decide whether to forward the report to another board that reviews items for the National Register. At that point, commissioners in Washington will review it and make findings.

Funded by La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps, the Children’s Pool was constructed at 850 Coast Blvd. by way of a breakwater and stairs, and opened in 1931 to provide a wave-free shoreline for children.

Additional features that make up Children’s Pool, according to Kane’s report, include: 1) the top and face of the coastal sandstone bluff that encompasses the sea caves, anchors the stairways and supports bluff top improvements; 2) a sandstone reef that anchors the foundations of the engineered breakwater; 3) a small, shallow dredged marine pool between the bluffs and reef; and, 4) a sandy man-made beach.

THEN: The condition of the walkway along Children’s Pool breakwater in La Jolla, as seen in late 2018/early 2019
(Courtesy Photo)
NOW: Pictured in November 2019, the concrete surface of Children’s Pool in La Jolla has been wearing out and becoming aggressively textured.
(Photo by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)