La Jolla Rec Center renovation plans get conceptual approval from Community Recreation Group

A rendering depicts plans to renovate the La Jolla Recreation Center.
A rendering depicts plans to renovate the La Jolla Recreation Center, with the parking spaces along Prospect Street (in front) changed from parallel to diagonal.

The La Jolla Community Recreation Group voted unanimously Dec. 9 to give its Visioning Committee conceptual approval for the committee’s plans to revamp the 105-year-old Recreation Center at 615 Prospect St.

While the plans presented by the committee, which includes some CRG members as well as others in the community, include many details about the proposed overhaul of the historic building and its grounds, the committee was looking only for approval “of the conceptual ideas being presented,” CRG Chairwoman Mary Coakley Munk said.

The committee had already presented to several other community groups, winning approval from all, since first introducing the plans to the CRG in March.

The plans come from the combination of four years of “thinking how the Rec Center could be better,” said Visioning Committee member, architect and urbanist Trace Wilson. “It’s really only because we love the place that we’re here.”

Committee member Diane Kane presented the CRG with the history of the Rec Center, starting with its opening in 1915. It was founded by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and designed by architect Irving Gill.

This Month in History is a new feature in the La Jolla Light highlighting local happenings from yesteryear.

At the center of the Rec Center grounds — then called the community house — was the playground, which Kane said “was a groundbreaking enterprise. When it was done, it was the first playground and Rec Center in the country and it is historically designated for that locally,” with plans to have it registered nationally.

The playgrounds at the La Jolla Recreation Center are open again after being closed briefly as a result of new regional coronavirus restrictions imposed by the state.

Due to the historic designation, the committee looked at “character-defining pieces that are important to keep and enhance” throughout a renovation, Kane said.

Kane also reviewed how the Rec Center building has changed over time. “There’s been a lot of alterations, some additions to the back of the building,” she said, showing plans from a 1974 reconfiguration in which supervisors’ offices were removed and restrooms were moved to allow for more activity spaces. “The whole back of the building was changed out.”

More additions were made in 1985, when semi-circular windows that replicated those in the front of the building were added “in order to provide a lot of light,” Kane said.

A drawing shows changes made to the Recreation Center in 1974.

The front of the building is largely unchanged, Kane said.

“We want to make the building more usable and porous to the south side, the playground,” Wilson said. Citing a lack of connection between the north and south sides, he said the aim is to add a hallway through the building, plus a foyer with doors that mimic those on the front of the building.

“This is our city hall,” Wilson said. “We think it’s important to open it up and make both sides of the building open to the public.”

Further changes will make better use of all three stories of the building, Wilson said, netting meeting rooms out of the largely unused loft and adding a rooftop deck. The plans also would repurpose the basement for yoga or other workout rooms, with an atrium space connecting all three floors.

Wilson said the committee has “been working hard on the playground, diving into the detail.”

Committee member Jill Peters said “it is our priority to maximize the activity and exercise and creativity elements of that area. We are making sure that every piece of equipment is usable.”

The plan also is incorporating as many Americans with Disabilities Act elements as possible, Peters said.

The group has made progress on its plan to vacate the portion of Cuvier Street adjacent to the Rec Center in order to have more land to work with, Wilson said. “We do have a draft application to the city of San Diego to vacate Cuvier in partnership with The Bishop’s School.”

The Bishop’s School would share the real estate provided by vacating Cuvier and has supported the efforts thus far. “We’ve done a lot of work on that in the last few months,” Wilson said.

One “exciting thing,” Wilson said, is that the neighboring La Jolla Tennis Club, which originally didn’t want to be included in the plans, has “asked to be part of the project.”

“Now we can incorporate the clubhouse, the Tennis Club area,” Wilson said.

The plan still proposes to move the Rec Center basketball courts from their current location toward the La Jolla Tennis Club to make room for a larger play area that opens onto the Draper Avenue side, Wilson said.

The plan also still proposes changing Prospect Street parking spaces from parallel to diagonal, Wilson said, “which increases our parking supply” and would replace the parking lost by the vacation of Cuvier.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about what makes [the Rec Center] special, how we tie into the artistic qualities of La Jolla,” he said. “We’re also branching out and deepening our understanding of what we want.”

The next push, Wilson said, is to dive “further into the microdetail” as well as fundraising. The project is estimated to cost more than $10 million and be privately funded, he said.

Wilson said members of the board and public will have the opportunity to weigh in on details from landscaping to colors. “We’re just not there yet,” he said. ◆