Mata Park at 50: A look at the concrete slabs that line La Jolla Shores pocket park from a half-century ago
For Norman and Judith Solomon, the concrete blocks that line Laureate Park, also known as Mata Park, serve as a bit of a time capsule. A half-century after many of them were created, some of the blocks are eroded, some are cracked, but others are perfectly preserved.
Almost all of them bear the names of businesses or families in the area, some with handprints or mottos.
The public pocket park is on Avenida de la Playa between Paseo del Ocaso and El Paseo Grande, fronting La Jolla Shores Plaza. There are no tables or chairs, but there are spacious areas of grass. And along the perimeter are the concrete slabs that were engraved 50 years ago this month.
The park was created in 1972 as Mata Park. On April 8 that year, residents and owners of various businesses were invited to go to the park, donate to the maintenance fund and, in exchange, write what they wanted in blocks of cement.
“We wanted to do it because we just moved from the East Coast,” Norman Solomon said. “We wanted to be part of the neighborhood right away and thought it would be fun.”
Though the Solomons had decided on La Jolla Shores, they wouldn’t move into their home until May 1.
Hoping that Judith was pregnant, the two doodled a baby face and wrote “The Solomon Family” and “Love” on their block. It turned out she was pregnant, and their son was born in December 1972.
Norman said walking along the park and looking at the slabs is like “going down memory lane.” Some of the businesses have closed and some of the residents have moved or passed away.
One block was engraved by the Blendinger family with their names and a fish because the Blendingers had a pool in their backyard and taught neighborhood children to swim.
Other slabs were engraved by Harry’s Barbershop and La Jolla Shores Market, which have since closed.
“There is a lot of history on those little slabs,” Norman said.
In the years after the establishment of Mata Park, a project was broached to convert it to a tribute to Nobel Prize laureates in La Jolla and elsewhere in San Diego.
There was discussion of placing pillars or busts with Nobel winners on them, but for fear that it would ultimately look like a cemetery, “it never went anyplace,” La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson previously told the La Jolla Light.
But the park name stuck and it is now known as Laureate Park.
A pump station went in later, necessitating removal of some of the blocks.
“The city came out and started digging things up and threw away the pavers [with people’s names],” Emerson recalled. “My family’s block got thrown away. The few that are there are there because we threw a fit to keep them.”
Since then, the pump station has been replaced or repaired several times, postponing maintenance of the park and occasionally damaging some of the concrete blocks. One of the most recent replacements was during the Avenida de la Playa roadwork of 2013-17. ◆
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