This Month in History: Glimpses into La Jolla’s past

A San Diego Union article from Aug. 8, 1915, reports on fires that damaged or destroyed three buildings in La Jolla.
A San Diego Union article from Aug. 8, 1915, reports on fires that damaged or destroyed three buildings in La Jolla.
(La Jolla Historical Society)

This Month in History is a feature in the La Jolla Light highlighting local happenings from yesteryear. If you are aware of historical events from any year in La Jolla history that deserve recognition, email

On Aug. 14, 1898, Bert Reed, son of San Diego Mayor D.C. Reed, suffered serious injuries when diving from the cliffs above the La Jolla caves. According to an article in the Los Angeles Daily Herald published Aug. 15, 1898, Bert Reed dove 90 feet into shallow water, striking the bottom. He was in a “state of semi-unconsciousness … paralyzed from the chest down.”

The Los Angeles Daily Herald reports on injuries Bert Reed suffered in a La Jolla dive in 1898.
The Los Angeles Daily Herald reports on injuries Bert Reed suffered in a La Jolla dive in 1898.

He never recovered. According to “This Day in San Diego History” by Linda Pequegnat, he died several months later.

Torrey pines protection

On Aug. 10, 1899, the San Diego City Council passed an ordinance designating 369 acres as a public park in a measure to preserve the rare Torrey pine trees that grew there.

The ordinance set aside the Torrey Pines Park, between La Jolla and Del Mar, four years before California opened its first state park, Pequegnat wrote. The tree was only known to grow there and on Santa Rosa Island off Santa Barbara. It was named in the 1850s after American botanist John Torrey.

Ellen Browning Scripps contributed to the preservation of the trees and park by buying adjacent lots from landowners intending to develop the land.

La Jolla on fire

A photo shows the La Jolla Cove Bath House following its reconstruction after a 1905 fire destroyed the original.
(La Jolla Historical Society)

In 1905, the original La Jolla Cove Bath House burned down Aug. 28, 11 years after its construction. Pequegnat wrote that the fire was due to a defective gasoline lamp (electricity didn’t arrive in La Jolla until 1910).

The Cove Bath House was rebuilt in 1906, larger and with a swimming pool and restaurant overlooking The Cove, Pequegnat wrote. It eventually fell into disrepair and was torn down in 1924.

Three buildings within blocks of one another sustained heavy fire damage on Aug. 7, 1915.

St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church’s vestry erupted in flames around 8:30 p.m., destroying the vestments, community service and other plates, according to Howard Randolph’s book “La Jolla Year by Year.”

Members of La Jolla’s volunteer fire department extinguished that fire quickly, wrote Molly McClain in “Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money & American Philanthropy,” but returned to the area only an hour later when smoke was seen coming from Virginia Scripps’ Iris Cottage and her sister Ellen Browning Scripps’ home, South Molton Villa, on Prospect Street.

Firefighters were unable to contain the Iris Cottage fire, McClain wrote, and worked to save South Molton Villa, but struggled to control that fire as well. The building was saved from complete destruction, with Ellen Browning Scripps’ library spared, but many letters she considered invaluable were lost, McClain wrote.

Randolph wrote that “oiled rags had been found in the burning buildings,” and an investigation into the fires later found former groundskeeper William Peck guilty of arson. Peck admitted to setting all three fires as retaliation for being let go, according to McClain, and served 12 years in prison.

Ellen Browning Scripps commissioned architect Irving Gill, who also designed The Bishop’s School, the La Jolla Recreation Center and the La Jolla Woman’s Club, to rebuild South Molton Villa. Gill planned a “fireproof concrete structure,” McClain wrote, and finished construction in July 1916, with both Scripps women moving in shortly afterward.

Iris Cottage was never rebuilt. Virginia Scripps instead sold the lots to Ellen, who built a garage and chauffeur’s house on the land for her first automobile in 1916.

La Jolla airstrip

On Aug. 2, 1928, a landing strip in the Muirlands neighborhood was commissioned as an airport, serving air travelers between La Jolla and Mexican resort Agua Caliente, according to Pequegnat. The strip, nearly 1,500 feet long, extended from the present-day Hartley Drive across Buckingham Drive and La Jolla Rancho Road. ◆