This Month in La Jolla History: Tunnel to Sunny Jim Cave; glass-bottom boat; more

Professor Gustav Schulz spearheaded building a tunnel to La Jolla's Sunny Jim Cave.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

This Month in History is a recurring 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 Nov. 1, 1902, professor Gustav Schulz hired two men to dig a tunnel to Sunny Jim Cave, one of the seven caves along the base of the cliff at La Jolla Cove below Coast Walk Trail that until that point were accessible only by rowboat or on foot at very low tide.

Schulz, a native of Germany who came to San Diego in the 1880s, lived in a cabin over the caves on land he bought from Anna Held, according to the “Cave Curio Store History” prepared by Alexander Bevil as part of a 1996 historical property assessment.

“Since its completion in 1903,” Bevil wrote, “Prof. Schulz’s tunnel has made the Sunny Jim the only one of the seven sea caves readily accessible by land.”

“As a professor of geology, he thought that The Cave could be used to teach geological formations to an informed public,” Bevil wrote. “As a civil engineer he would come up with a plan to make the interior of The Cave more accessible to the general public and to his fellow scientists,” charging admission.

The two men Schulz hired to carve out the tunnel “dug through the sandstone by hand,” according to “This Day in San Diego History” by Linda Pequegnat. The discarded material was hauled away via a wheelbarrow pulled by rope.

On Sept. 10, 1903, the San Diego Union wrote, “Prof. Schulz’s tunnel is a success and is paying well,” according to Howard Randolph’s 1955 book “La Jolla Year by Year.”

The tunnel was originally accessed by crawling on hands and knees, Pequegnat wrote. Steps and a wooden platform at the foot of the tunnel were added later.

Other November events

The Viking was a glass-bottom boat built at The Cove by two Scandinavian men.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

Nov. 22, 1899: Construction began at The Cove on a glass-bottom boat built by two Scandinavian fishermen and boat builders named Thorson and Larson, Pequegnat wrote.

Randolph wrote that the boat, built behind the original bathhouse, was a larger version of one the uncle-nephew duo launched Aug. 22, 1899.

It took the men nearly eight months to build the new boat, called Viking. It was launched July 26, 1900, taking “large fishing parties out to see the sights on the ocean bottom in La Jolla Bay,” Pequegnat wrote.

“The launching was a great success,” Randolph wrote, and Viking sailed for six years before it was wrecked in a storm.

Nov. 30, 1917: The San Diego City Council designated this day “Ellen Scripps Day,” according to Molly McClain in “Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money & American Philanthropy.” The honor was bestowed in recognition of Scripps’ donation for the construction of a YWCA hostess house that served as the headquarters for visitors who came to visit enlisted men at Camp Kearney, a “war suburb” in Miramar.

Nov. 17, 1919: Tracks of the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroad were removed, Pequegnat wrote, quoting a San Diego Union article that said “6,000 tons of steel, part of the equipment of the disbanded La Jolla railway, will be loaded aboard the steamer Colorado Springs for shipment to Japan.”

Prospect Street in La Jolla was paved after the railroad was discontinued, “because the tracks that were torn out had left unpaved ruts in the center of the street,” Pequegnat wrote. New tracks for an electric trolley system were built in 1924. That system lasted until 1940. ◆