Concept for memorial ‘picnic grove’ in Scripps Park gets approval from La Jolla Parks & Beaches board

This Scripps Park picnic area slated for renovation sits on dirt and includes tables and Australian tea trees.

Could the Selma Malk Picnic Grove be coming to Scripps Park?

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board approved conceptual plans March 22 to renovate a picnic area in the park to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, upgrade the tables and benches, replace a dying tree and honor Malk, a late longtime La Jolla resident.

The project would be funded by Malk’s children, Brian Malk and Ann Lipschitz. A total cost was not immediately available.

The board voted to enter a contract with Pacific Beach-based Neri Landscape Architecture to design and execute the project. It also decided to establish a working group as a liaison between the donors and the city of San Diego, and created a separate subaccount that the funds donated for the project would go in and out of, consistent with LJP&B’s donation policy.

Jim Neri of Neri Landscape Architecture presented conceptual plans and said: “This is a sloping site that is not accessible to wheelchairs, with three picnic tables, three trash cans, a barbecue and hot coal bin. We also have these beautiful and sculptural tea trees around the area and some signs that have been installed asking people not to climb on the trees.

“We would like to provide universal accessibility to the site. It slopes too greatly to be considered ADA-compliant. The intent is to level the internal area but make it a natural surface that doesn’t need to be treated, that water flows right through, and relocate the picnic tables, trash cans, the barbecue and hot coal bin.

“I also propose to create a monument sign for the area that identifies it as a picnic area and call it a picnic grove. Instead of having a memorial plaque that identifies the donor and who it is in memorial of, I think it’s important to identify the place. We could say ‘Picnic Grove’ and in small letters write ‘In loving memory of Selma Malk.’”

He said one tree that is in poor condition may be removed but that eight new trees would be planted for every one that is removed.

This picnic area in Scripps Park could become a "picnic grove" in memory of late longtime La Jolla resident Selma Malk.

The city once had a memorial plaque program through which donors could buy a plaque to affix to a bench in honor of a loved one, but it has been halted because “they are labor-intensive to maintain,” according to LJP&B member and San Diego Parks Foundation founder Ann Dynes.

To include the memorial sign, the Parks Foundation would be willing to apply for a right-of-entry permit to install the plaque and maintain it, Dynes said.

“I’m optimistic there is a way we can get this done,” she said.

Though a timeline was not released, Dynes said she would like to have the picnic grove plan completed before or at the same time as the Scripps Park restroom facility that is under construction and slated for completion in the fall.

Lipschitz said she is “extremely excited about this project and I really hope it gets off the ground. My mother loved La Jolla and lived near this park for more than 30 years. It would be wonderful.”

LJP&B member Melinda Merryweather agreed, saying: “I think it’s a great idea. The area is so sad now; this would bring it to a whole new level.”

Selma Malk lived for 32 years at La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel and volunteered at the Birch Aquarium and Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park. She died in La Jolla in 2017 at age 103.

“I knew Selma and she was a wonderful person and great character,” Merryweather said. “She was amazing and I hope someone writes a book about her. ”

LJP&B trustee Patrick Ahern, known for his involvement in Scripps Park projects, said: “I like what Jim [Neri] has done, which is different from other proposals we got in the past that didn’t fit in as well. We don’t want to commercialize the area, so we can talk about the plaque. But I like where this is going.”

Previous plans for the picnic area were deemed unsuitable for the park. The most recent, in 2019, proposed to trim the trees, remove the tables, install new rounded concrete tables and fixed stools and add statuesque features to provide shade. LJP&B voted down the proposal. ◆