A black spot in La Jolla history? Local resident wants Black’s Beach renamed

Black's Beach in La Jolla is the subject of a renaming request from an area resident.
Black’s Beach in La Jolla is the subject of a renaming request from an area resident.

An area resident has requested a name change for popular Black’s Beach in La Jolla, saying the current name reflects a past of prejudice and hate.

Stephanie Greene of University City wrote a letter to the California Department of Parks and Recreation about the history of the beach’s name and asking the department to consider changing it.

“I don’t think a lot of people know the history of anti-Semitism and racism” in La Jolla, Greene said.

Black’s Beach is a 2-mile long strip at the base of 300-foot cliffs. The northern portion of the beach is owned and managed by the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the southern portion is owned by the city of San Diego and the state and managed by the city. It is officially known as Torrey Pines State Beach and Torrey Pines City Beach.

Greene said she was motivated this summer to learn more and take action after watching the KPBS-TV documentary “Black’s Beach: San Diego, California,” which mentions that the beach is named after William H. Black, a La Jolla landowner.

Black, who was born in Paris, Texas, in 1898, entered the oil business around 1917, and as a partner in the Black-Marshall Oil Co., he made a fortune in the oilfields of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, according to a UC San Diego report in 2007.

Black’s ventures included thoroughbred horse breeding and training, real estate development, banking and philanthropy.

In the late 1950s and early ‘60s he was listed in San Diego city directories as the president of the Colonial Hotel Corp.
of La Jolla, and by 1962 he had become the director of the San Diego Transit System, according to the UCSD report. In 1964, Black co-founded the Bank of La Jolla, a small charter bank that later was consolidated with Union Bank of California. He was president of the Landowners Oil Association until his death in 1967.

In 1947, Black and his wife, Ruth, bought 248 oceanside acres in La Jolla and turned the land into what they called La Jolla Farms. It featured blufftop residential lots and a horse breeding and training facility. They also had a house built for themselves that later became the official residence of UC San Diego’s chancellor.

Greene wrote in her letter that ownership in La Jolla Farms was contingent on membership in the development’s private club called Bill Black’s Beach and Bridle Club, and membership, she said, “was restricted to only those of Caucasian European ancestry, which by definition excluded all Jews and people of color.”

She told the La Jolla Light that her sources for information included a 2003 report by a writer for the San Diego Jewish Journal and an article by Mary Ellen Stratthaus that was included in the 1996 book “American Jewish History.”

According to the Stratthaus article, called “Flaw in the Jewel: Housing Discrimination against Jews in La Jolla, California,” “La Jolla’s anti-Semitism in housing goes back to the 1920s.”

The development of La Jolla Shores “restricted ownership to people with purely Caucasian blood,” according to Stratthaus. “Racist comments against non-Caucasians in La Jolla housing notices targeted Jews as well as other minorities.”

Ads for the 1926 La Jolla Shores grand opening described it as “an exclusive seaside residential district” where “race restrictions, of course, are in force.”

A clause in a 1927 Shores deed stated that “‘any persons whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian race’ cannot live upon the tract recorded unless as a servant or housekeeper,’” Stratthaus wrote.

“By the middle of the 20th century,” she wrote, “La Jolla’s Realtors had developed an effective policy to protect its unique character by excluding unwanted outsiders from purchasing property.”

“La Jolla had an unwritten understanding, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement,’” designed to keep Jews out of La Jolla “because of class fears as well as anti-Semitism,” according to Stratthaus.

The Jewish Journal report said: “When world-renowned British mathematician/philosopher Jacob Bronowski was brought to the Salk Institute by Jonas Salk in 1963, he wanted to buy a piece of land on La Jolla Farms Road for the purpose of building a house for his family. But the land was part of William Black’s Beach and Bridle Club, and the Bronowskis were required to produce three written character references.”

A glider with a swastika on the tail was seen recently at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla, causing serious concern for some.

Sept. 1, 2020

In a 1985 interview as part of a UC San Diego oral history project, Roger Revelle, who is largely credited with establishing the UCSD campus in La Jolla in 1960 and being one of its top recruiters, said: “The Real Estate Brokers Association and their supporters in La Jolla had to make up their minds whether they wanted a university or an anti-Semitic covenant. You couldn’t have both.”

The university established its own subdivision so Jewish faculty members “could own their own homes right near the university,” Revelle said.

The Real Estate Brokers Association, Revelle said, “had a rule that they wouldn’t even show a house for rental or for sale to a Jewish family. Fortunately, the Supreme Court just about that time came along and said such covenants were ... illegal as well as immoral.”

“There’s no problem now about Jewish people in La Jolla that I can see,” Revelle said. “But you wouldn’t believe how much there was in 1950.”

Charles Stephens, the current REBA president and chief executive, did not respond to the Light’s request for comment.

The La Jolla Historical Society provided the Light with the Stratthaus piece from its archive. Executive Director Heath Fox said it “is the best historical record that we have on housing discrimination in La Jolla.”

“I am not aware we have any additional evidence as it relates to William Black,” Fox said.

The Historical Society addressed the issue of housing discrimination in La Jolla and San Diego in three exhibitions over the past few years, Fox said: “Home of Your Dreams: Early La Jolla, 1887 through the 1920s” in 2014, “From Jazz Age to Our Age: Landmark Homes in La Jolla” in 2016 andIn Plain Sight: Mexicano|Chicano Stories in San Diego” in 2018.

Greene said she “had known for a long time that Jews were excluded from living in La Jolla. I was more keyed into it because I’m Jewish.”

Delving into the history of it and learning the origin of the Black’s Beach name “stuck with me for a week. We need to do something about this; we need to change this name.”

Greene spoke to her friends and asked for support on the social networking platform Nextdoor. Several friends and Nextdoor users expressed interest in writing letters similar to hers, but none had been written to Greene’s knowledge.

“Given the current national movements to rename and remove the old vestiges of racism, such as renaming Confederate-named military bases and removing Confederate statues and generally acknowledging the history of systemic racism and oppression in this country, the time is right to also change the name of Black’s Beach,” Greene wrote in her letter.

Fox said the Historical Society feels that any proposal to rename a site “would need to go through a thorough public vetting process.”

Greene said she hasn’t heard from the state parks department, which did not respond to a request for comment from the Light. ◆