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Windansea surf shack, one of the ‘architectural icons of La Jolla,’ gets San Diego plaque and proclamation

The Windansea surf shack is festooned with flowers and surfboards during a plaque ceremony March 20.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

To many, the Windansea surf shack is an iconic representation of surfing culture and is part of La Jolla’s story. Now the city of San Diego has joined them.

On March 20, an official plaque was unveiled that will be posted on “The Shack,” as is it commonly called, noting its place as a historically designated site.

For the record:

3:21 p.m. March 30, 2022The caption for the photo featuring Matt Griffith has been updated to correct the spelling of his last name.

The ceremony doubled as a memorial for surfer Woody Ekstrom, one of the original builders of The Shack, who died in February. It also was the closing event of the La Jolla Historical Society’s Landmark Week.

Mike Wilson, Hans Newman and Melinda Merryweather, with Alice Ekstrom (sister of the late Woody Ekstrom)
Mike Wilson (left) of the Windansea Historical Surfriding Association and Windansea surf shack stewards Hans Newman and Melinda Merryweather pose with Alice Ekstrom (sister of the late Woody Ekstrom, one of the original builders of The Shack) and a plaque given by the city of San Diego noting The Shack as a historic site.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Shack, a simple shelter built of eucalyptus tree trunks for posts and Canary Island palm fronds for thatching, is on the bluffs of Windansea Beach. It was constructed in 1946 (though some say 1947) by surfers who wanted a place to rest their boards and be a sun shelter for their children.

The shack was designated historic by the San Diego Historical Resources Board in May 1998.

“Today we’re celebrating one of the most important architectural icons of La Jolla,” said Landmark Week chairwoman Seonaid McArthur. “The Shack is a baby boomer like many of us. She was born out of World War II by our parents’ generation, who needed a place to rest with their families. The guys coming back from war wanted a place to surf … so they built the first version of The Shack. It became a sacred space.

“Over the decades, we lived through the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy. New generations were born. But The Shack was always there. We could return to La Jolla and … a piece of our soul is always here because these guys, mostly surfers with a talent for knowing how to build, would reconstruct it. The Shack anchors us to our community. We’re here to thank everyone that has preserved it.”

The Shack has been moved twice. Both times, its orientation was kept the same — a crucial factor in maintaining its connection to surfing. The first time, on a date unknown, The Shack was moved directly inland because its sandstone base was deteriorating. In 2015, a storm destroyed The Shack and it was rebuilt by Friends of Windansea in the same area, but not the same spot.

Over the years, Friends of Windansea and the Windansea Surf Club would make repairs or rebuild it when storms or high surf damaged the structure and its roof.

During one of those rebuilds, before the structure was deemed historic, Scott Peters (now a congressman from La Jolla) was credited with “saving our fanny when The Shack went down [during a storm],” said Friends of Windansea member Melinda Merryweather. “He told us to get up early and just rebuild it.”

Peters said that when non-historic structures were knocked down, “you really weren’t allowed to rebuild it without a permit. That’s when we said, ‘Just get up early,’ because this is such a wonderful amenity for the community, for the city, for the region and for surfing.”

He called the ceremony a “major moment for this community and this neighborhood.”

Surfers and others gather March 20 to see the city of San Diego plaque created for La Jolla's Windansea surf shack.
Surfers and other Windansea Beach users gather March 20 to see the city of San Diego plaque created for La Jolla’s Windansea surf shack.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Though it historically has been topped by palm fronds, Friends of Windansea in recent years decided to remove the leafy roof when storms are expected to be large. The roof is not made to withstand the weight of water and pounding waves, according to landscape architect Jim Neri, a member of the Friends group.

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, echoed the praise for those who have cared for The Shack for more than 70 years.

“The [Friends of Windansea] rebuilds, repairs and re-thatches over the decades in the face of surf and storms,” he said. “What makes a great city is all the individuals and organizations that are willing to put in time, energy and money to make moments like this happen. You are the secret sauce of what makes us a great town and great city.”

He read a city proclamation signed by Mayor Todd Gloria and all the City Council members recognizing the day as “Surf Shack at Windansea Beach Day” in San Diego. It quotes the San Diego Historical Resources Board in calling The Shack “a quintessential embodiment of surfing culture associated worldwide with Southern California, and the oldest continuously used shelter of its kind on the West Coast.”

Matt Griffith (right) holds a San Diego proclamation honoring the Windansea surf shack while Councilman Joe LaCava speaks.
Matt Griffith (right), representing the office of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, holds a city proclamation honoring the Windansea surf shack while City Councilman Joe LaCava speaks.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

LaCava then presented the plaque, which had an incorrect date on it and will need to be recast before it is installed. The La Jolla Historical Society funded the plaque’s production and mounting.

A temporary plaque installed in March 2017 identifies The Shack as Historical Landmark 358, built “for shade and aloha.”

Joan Blankenship, widow of John Blankenship, one of the original builders, said the more formal plaque provided by the city “gives me goosebumps.”

“The Shack has been here forever; it was here long before I met John,” she said. “He would be crying right now to see it like this. The Shack is iconic of La Jolla and Windansea, and we made it as a surf culture. It’s the whole enchilada.”

Windansea Surf Club President Bill FitzMaurice said the recognition for The Shack is “fantastic.”

“It’s recognition that surfers are part of our heritage,” he said. “It’s a feather in our cap. It’s a continuation of what we are and who we are. Surfing is such a wonderful way of life, and this is such a wonderful day.” ◆