This Month in La Jolla History: La Jolla for sale, Woman’s Club origins, USO, movie theater and more

F.T. Botsford, pictured at La Jolla Park around 1887, was known as the "Father of La Jolla."
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

This Month in La Jolla History is a recurring feature in the 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 March 9, 1882, a San Diego newspaper ad read “La Jolla for sale,” according to “This Day in San Diego History” by Linda Pequegnat.

“This famous resort, with nearly 400 acres of land and all the caves, is offered for sale at such a price that the buyer can realize a great profit by a little judicious outlay in such improvements that will attract the public,” the ad stated. “The owner resides East and wishes to dispose of it soon.”

The owner, Charles Dean, had bought the land, known as La Jolla Park, in January 1871 but never developed it. William Armstrong finally bought it in June 1884 and sold it to Charles MacArthur in January 1886.

MacArthur then sold La Jolla Park two months later, in March 1886, to F.T. Botsford, who took on a partner, George Heald, and with Heald signed an agreement with the Pacific Coast Land Bureau to develop and subdivide the land, Pequegnat wrote.

Botsford became known as the “Father of La Jolla” after La Jolla Park was developed and was sold in lots at a land auction in April 1887.

Other March events

The cornerstone of the La Jolla Woman's Club building is laid in 1913 on Draper Avenue.

March 24, 1894: The Reading Club was founded by Eleanor McGilvery, Olivia Mudgett, Ellen Mills, Eleanor McGilvery Mills, Nellie Johnson, Clara Kennedy and Eliza Jones, according to Howard Randolph’s 1955 book “La Jolla Year by Year.”

The club was formed as a reading circle that met at the La Jolla Park Hotel, Randolph wrote. After the hotel burned down in 1896, club meetings were held at members’ homes.

In 1897, the club’s name was changed to the Women’s Literacy Club of La Jolla, and in 1902, when La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps was the president, the club again changed its name, this time to the La Jolla Woman’s Club, Randolph wrote.

The club grew and needed a building of its own. Architect Irving Gill designed a modern clubhouse, Randolph wrote, and the cornerstone of the building was laid Dec. 2, 1913, at 7791 Draper Ave., where the club still operates today.

March 25, 1907: A volunteer fire department was formed, which “was superseded in 1914 by a paid fire department,” according to Randolph.

March 8, 1942: A dedication was held for the building that housed the United Service Organizations at the corner of Eads Avenue and Silverado Street, Pequegnat wrote. The La Jolla USO served as a recreational facility for Army personnel stationed at nearby Camp Callan, where part of UC San Diego now stands.

When World War II ended, the USO building became surplus, according to Pequegnat, and the property was dedicated as a war memorial in 1946. In 1952, it became St. James Hall, part of St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, and still stands as such.

The Cove Theatre, pictured in 1977, was originally called the Playhouse Theater and opened in March 1948.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

March 2, 1948: A new 650-seat movie theater, the Playhouse Theater, opened on Girard Avenue, according to Pequegnat. Four months later, the name was changed to the Cove Theatre, which showed movies until the building owners decided not to renew the lease and the theater closed in January 2003.

March 26, 1951: The Thomas Wayland Vaughan Aquarium-Museum was dedicated at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Vaughan was the second director of SIO, formerly called the Scripps Institution for Biological Research, from 1924 until 1936, Pequegnat wrote.

Under Vaughan’s direction, the facility expanded from biological studies to chemical, physical and geological studies relating to the oceans, according to Pequegnat. In 1925, its name was changed to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, making it the first oceanography institution in the country.

The Thomas Wayland Vaughan Aquarium-Museum was open to the public, with marine life on view and exhibits intended to teach about oceanography. It closed in 1992 when a larger and more modern facility, the present-day Birch Aquarium, was built on the hillside above it.

March 15, 1952: “The largest and most spectacular fire in La Jolla’s history occurred” at La Jolla Lumber Co. at the intersection of Girard Avenue and Torrey Pines Road, Randolph wrote.

“Ten fire companies were working on the blaze,” according to Randolph, “fighting an exceedingly high wind which threatened to extend the fire over the whole downtown section.”

The lumberyard and most of the buildings were destroyed at an estimated loss of $150,000 to $200,000. ◆