La Jolla’s coastline being considered for designation as a historic district

Benches at lookouts along Whale View Point in La Jolla provide a place to sit and watch the ocean.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A State Historical Resources Commission hearing on the nomination by a local group is set for April.


A segment of the La Jolla coastline may be designated as a historic district in coming months, centered on the theme of access to the ocean.

The planned La Jolla Park Coastal Historic District would include:

• Eight acres of coastal parkland surrounding The Village
• Areas such as The Cove, Boomer Beach, Shell Beach and the Children’s Pool
• Historically designated sites such as the Casa de Mañana retirement community and Red Roost and Red Rest cottages
• Longtime structures such as the cobblestone wall at Whale View Point, beach access staircases and belvedere shade structures

Belvederes such as this at Scripps Park would be included in the planned La Jolla Park Coastal Historic District.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The nomination may be heard by the California Office of Historic Preservation’s State Historical Resources Commission in April, marking a pinnacle in years of work.

A team led by Seonaid McArthur, chairwoman of the La Jolla Historical Society Landmark Committee, spent the past few years preparing the nomination and having it vetted by local historical agencies.

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McArthur said the entire La Jolla community is shaped around access to the ocean, noting that its founders had property set aside as early as the 1880s as public open space as part of the American Park Movement.

“It’s our lifeblood and our heartbeat,” McArthur said. “Even the street layout is influenced by the coastline. The [proposed] Coastal Historic District is unified by access to the sea and our enjoyment of it.”

During the time La Jolla was being developed, McArthur said, “people realized how important it was to have public space in the midst of industry so people could breathe and enjoy nature and get some exercise. Our town stretches the whole coastal zone because that is what our founders set aside for us.”

Thus, the nomination includes beach accessways and visual access points.

“The contiguous coastal parkway shaped the development of the picturesque suburb of La Jolla, led to the construction of small cottages, bungalows and hotels and was the center of entertainment and leisure activities,” the nomination form states. “Ellen Browning Scripps Park, a 5.6-acre public park, provided access to La Jolla Cove, one of few naturally protected swimming areas along the coast. Locals and tourists gathered in this district to socialize and engage in leisure activities such as shell collecting and bathing.”

The historical period of significance begins in 1887, when La Jolla Park was subdivided, roads were built and residential and business lots were auctioned, according to the nomination. Additional significant developments include completion of the Children’s Pool in 1931 and construction of the La Jolla Adult Recreation Center in 1939.

The period of significance ends in 1940, when the last of many recreational buildings was constructed and community development began to focus on areas farther from the coast.

“It’s our lifeblood and our heartbeat. Even the street layout is influenced by the coastline. The [proposed] Coastal Historic District is unified by access to the sea and our enjoyment of it.”

— Seonaid McArthur, chairwoman of La Jolla Historical Society Landmark Committee

The nomination form says the historic district would provide “public access to some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in California.”

“Trails, a footbridge and stairs originally allowed access to the famous sea caves located beneath high cliffs along Coast Walk,” the nomination states. “Cement sidewalks are set back from the sandstone bluffs and bordered by grass, resilient ground cover and heritage plantings. Belvederes provide seating and shade. Stairways lead from The Village to white sand beaches with rocky outcroppings. Early architecture typifies the beach bungalow and one of the earliest Spanish Revival hotels in Southern California. The district encompasses ... part of Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. ... Scripps Park includes heritage plantings of trees, shrubs and grass.”

La Jolla's Children's Pool would be part of the La Jolla Park Coastal Historic District.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The idea to create a historic district came while a plan was taking shape to designate La Jolla’s belvederes (also known as gazebos) as historic structures. In looking at the belvederes’ surroundings, including many buildings that have been designated on state and local historic registers, and the long-standing open space, some suggested creating a historic district to include local parks and beach accessways.

Over the past few years, McArthur’s team pored over maps and other documents, used a drone to get photos of the coastline and researched other communities that set aside open space for the public.

Designation as a historic district would recognize the coastal zone’s role in the growth and development of La Jolla. Such designation comes with limitations on what can be built in the area, and any change to the area would have to be in line with the terms of the designation.

The nomination will be reviewed in coming weeks and is tentatively scheduled for consideration by the Historical Resources Commission during its April 21 meeting.

Those involved in the nomination say their ultimate goal is for the historic district to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. A hearing on that could occur later this year. ◆