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La Jolla Then and Now: La Jolla Shores, 1920s vs. 2020s

La Jolla Shores is pictured in 1925.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventures into this century’s decade of the ‘20s, the La Jolla Light takes a look back at what the ‘20s looked like the last time around in La Jolla and what they look like now.

With the 2020s comes the 100th anniversary of the establishment of La Jolla Shores. And while much has changed in the past century, the community maintains the deep ties to the ocean that were there in the 1920s.

The earliest establishments in The Shores, originally called Long Beach, include what is now known as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Beach & Yacht Club, dairies, ranches, farms and about 120 residential lots.

A 170-acre parcel where Scripps Oceanography now stands was secured, funded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and her brother E.W. Scripps, and the first laboratory, the iconic pier and other key fixtures were built. The first iteration of the campus was completed by 1925.

At the time, there were only a few oceanographic institutes — one in Monaco, one in Norway and one on the East Coast — so scientists came from all over the world to see the work being done at SIO.

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventures into this century’s decade of the ‘20s, the La Jolla Light takes a look back at what the ‘20s looked like the last time around in La Jolla and what they look like now.

On Feb. 21, 1926, the La Jolla Shores residential development celebrated its opening day with a “well-advertised affair,” according to “This Day in San Diego History” by Linda Pequegnat. She wrote that nearly 10,000 people attended the grand opening, and about 120 lots were sold totaling $240,000, or about $2,000 per lot.

Less than a year later, Pequegnat wrote, the cornerstone was laid for construction of the La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, which later became the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

“There was a woman who wanted to develop the area as the ‘Newport of the West’ after Rhode Island. She joined up with another family and they purchased the parcel of land to set up the Beach & Yacht Club,” said La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten. “They wanted to dredge a lagoon to have a yacht harbor but soon discovered that every yacht would crash there. They ended up not dredging it.”

The clubhouse and surrounding property were sold in 1935 to Frederick William Kellogg and his wife, Florence Scripps Kellogg, Pequegnat wrote. The Kelloggs began to build what would become the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, which still stands.

In the 1920s, La Jolla Shores ranches, farms and dairies provided food and milk to surrounding areas. Farmers based at La Jolla Shores would roam the streets with vegetable wagons, selling produce from their crops to the fledging La Jolla Village.

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventures into this century’s decade of the ‘20s, the La Jolla Light takes a look back at what the ‘20s looked like the last time around in La Jolla and what they look like now.

After World War I, large-scale agriculture became less prevalent in the area, and the land once used for grazing was developed into lima bean farms, Olten said. The ocean made the area a fishing destination.

“People were drawn to The Shores because the lots were cheaper; there was not much in terms of views because The Shores is flat until you go up the hill,” Olten said. “So if you were to live in La Jolla, you would live in The Shores. If you were to walk into La Jolla [Village] for some bread, it was a long walk on dirt roads.”

A map shows the La Jolla Shores subdivision as lots were being sold in the 1920s.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

As roads were developing, places like the Spindrift Inn were very popular in the ‘20s, Olten said. One could load up the car, get some lunch or dinner and proceed to locations like Los Angeles.

Over the years, parkland developed, such as the shoreline Kellogg Park in 1951 and the pocket park called Mata Park (aka Laureate Park) on Avenida de la Playa between Paseo del Ocaso and El Paseo Grande in the 1970s.

Businesses also sprang up along Avenida de la Playa, establishing it as a main thoroughfare for the area, with everything from retail to restaurants, ocean concessionaires to art galleries.

Now, “this is a lovely, family area with cute shops and wonderful restaurants all packed into a small area around the beach,” said La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson.

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventures into this century’s decade of the ‘20s, the La Jolla Light takes a look back at what the ‘20s looked like the last time around in La Jolla and what they look like now.

The connection to the ocean is as strong as ever. “It is world-renowned for diving, surfing, swimming and SIO,” Emerson said. “Part of the thrust for the La Jolla Shores Association is to enhance the character as a small destination as well as an area that is moving forward with environmental concerns like recycling, beach fires and pollution of the oceans.”

But life in this particular beachside enclave has had its challenges, especially with one main thoroughfare as its commercial district. In 2013, the city of San Diego started a project to replace the sewer and water lines under Avenida de la Playa and feeder streets, along with an outfall structure that was supposed to take a few months. It took four years.

The work went over budget by millions of dollars and required The Shores’ main street to be torn up and fenced off, leaving businesses fighting for their lives.

“I think that’s a miracle that all those restaurants and retailers were able to survive the dust and the filth and the noise,” Emerson said. “And now again, we have been creative and restaurants have survived COVID. That’s part of who we are. We try to make it better for us and everyone that comes here.”

La Jolla Shores implemented an ongoing outdoor dining program amid the COVID-19 pandemic to help restaurants stay afloat.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To help restaurants cope with pandemic restrictions on indoor dining, Shores leaders arranged for Avenida de la Playa to be closed to vehicles between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata to enable restaurants to place seating on the street. Participating restaurateurs are pursuing a permanent street closure with the city. ◆