La Jolla’s best-known stairway painter finds ‘satisfaction’ in new role as San Diego city volunteer
Joseph McGoldrick has picked up where he left off — this time officially — in repainting peeling railings at Windansea Beach.
Joseph McGoldrick has lived in La Jolla for nearly 70 years, but he has never been quite as visible and recognized as he has been so far this year.
He brushed his way into the spotlight in February after repainting wooden stairway railings leading to Windansea Beach at the foot of Nautilus Street — to praise from locals and grumbles from the city of San Diego. In the process he became a bit of a folk hero in La Jolla.
Now he’s a sanctioned city volunteer.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, McGoldrick was painting the handrails for the stairs at the end of Westbourne Street. Like at the other location, he coated one side at a time to preserve public access to the beach.
“It’s coming along,” he said while wearing paint-stained gloves.
Soon, a pair of beach-goers stopped to ask if McGoldrick “is the one that’s been doing all this [painting] work” and thanked him for doing so.
“People have been so positive about it. They stop me and thank me and tell me someone [has to] do it,” McGoldrick said. “I get personal satisfaction out of this, knowing I did something for the community. I think the city is overwhelmed and they are not doing the job that needs to be done. My biggest pet peeve is the roads and the potholes. … The community never used to be this way and I’ve lived here since 1954. Work needs to be done.”
McGoldrick grew up in La Jolla and frequented Windansea Beach during his years attending Bird Rock Elementary School, “La Jolla Junior/Senior High School, for what that tells you about how old I am,” and throughout his various careers.
After graduating from San Diego State University, he returned to La Jolla High School as a teacher’s assistant in — what else? — wood shop.
“I loved it,” he said. “But it wasn’t a profession for me.”
In the years that followed, McGoldrick worked as a stockbroker, an insurance agent and in various jobs in air travel.
“I was part of the quality-control team [at United Airlines and others], making sure things were working properly,” he said. “I tend to be a detailed person.”
Now retired, he has continued to apply that quality-control mentality to projects in the community. He gained notoriety with his painting of the stairway railings at the foot of Nautilus Street, as well as a structure at the top of the stairs known as the “penalty box.”
“The paint was peeling and cracking and people could get hurt,” he said at the time. “[Now] it’s quite pristine, and that’s how I wanted to leave it. I wanted it to be beautiful and safe.”
A month later, after his work on the Nautilus stairway brought some backlash from city representatives who felt he should have gone through normal channels to get the stairs repainted, McGoldrick applied to be an official city volunteer so he could carry out other projects.
He sent inquiries to San Diego Parks & Recreation Department leaders and was told the steps he needed to take to become a recognized volunteer, including filling out paperwork, learning the process for logging hours worked, completing onsite training and partnering with a ranger to review work plans and equipment.
Since becoming an official volunteer, things have gone “very well,” he said, and he has been assigned a supervisor, though they have minimal correspondence.
“The process was so much easier than I thought it would be,” McGoldrick said. “I thought I would have to go downtown or take lessons on how to paint, but everything was online. … It’s been really wonderful; no issues.”
“People have been so positive about it. They stop me and thank me and tell me someone [has to] do it.”
— Joseph McGoldrick
McGoldrick worked with the city to get the paint and approval he needed to paint more stairway railings in need and to perform maintenance in coming years.
“Community service is a great thing,” he said. “But now people are asking me to repaint the curb or fix the streetlight in front of their house. I tell them, ‘No, that’s a city thing.’ And I’ve been approached about repainting the fences in other areas of La Jolla, but I’m working on the Windansea area.”
When he’s done repainting the stairway railings, McGoldrick plans to “just sit on the beach at Windansea,” he said. But he knows other projects may come up.
“It’s just the kind of stuff that needs to be done, but needs initiative,” he said. “I’ve always been a hard worker and think that is why I’ve been successful. I love my community and my home, so I like applying that hard-work ethic to those things.” ◆