La Jollans remember their village during WW II


By James L. Lambert

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, signaled a period of change for everyone in America. It also would alter the face of our small beach community of La Jolla forever.

Doug McKellar, a young radio station news broadcaster and future La Jollan, remembers that day in December well. Working for ratio station KGU in Honolulu on that fateful December morning, McKellar, according to his younger brother Jim, was one of the first radio broadcasters to report the horrific Japanese surprise attack that pushed America into World War II.

It didn’t take long for the U.S. military to react to the surprise attack that occurred 70 years ago next month. By the summer of ’42 thousands of military recruits were ordered to report to bases in San Diego including Camp Elliott, now part of MCAS Miramar, and Camp Callan, located on what is now the Torrey Pines Golf Course, the Glider Port, some business and research facilities, and a part of UCSD property. It was common during these years that many basic necessities were rationed because of the demands of war.

Housing for troops

Jim McKellar remembers the time well. He was a Stanford University student who spent his summers in La Jolla living with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Scripps Kellogg. By 1943, he was stationed at the U.S. Naval base in Coronado.

William S. Kellogg, the son of F.W. Kellogg, made his fortune in the newspaper business and later sold his holdings to Ira C. Copley in 1928. In 1920, Kellogg built a summer cottage on Prospect Street in La Jolla. It didn’t take him long to develop a keen appreciation for the La Jolla coastline and its fine coastal property. In 1935, Kellogg acquired the property that would become the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

Seven years later, America was in the throes of war. Housing for recruits stationed in San Diego and La Jolla was scare back then because of the huge influx of military personnel. To help out, the Beach Club owners opened facility to the service members who would come to call San Diego their home.

One such officer, Capt. Ralph Emerson Wyer, who received two Presidential Citations, described his arrival in La Jolla in correspondence he wrote in 1945.

“I was ordered to the West Coast late in May. Camp Elliot, later given to the Navy, was the Marine headquarters for the Pacific at that time. I procured a house on the ocean in the La Jolla some 8 miles distant, and settled down in the sunniest part of California.”

Arriving by sea

Summer of ’42 also brought hundreds of Marines to the beaches of La Jolla aboard amphibious naval landing Craft. This occurred “once a day for months,” according to Jim McKellar, who remembers the landing craft disembarking from large Navy ships anchored off the La Jolla coast.

McKellar remembers the soldiers entering the beach just north of the beach club.

On one particular morning William Kellogg’s wife, Desdy J. Kellogg Baggott (she remarried after he died), remembers inadvertently running into a bunch of Marines when she was wading in the ocean with her teenage friend Jean in front of The Marine Room. Both young girls were somewhat startled by the sudden appearance of the Marines so they wasted no time in getting out of their way, she said in a recent interview.

It was common for the Marines, according to McKellar, to proceed up the embankments of the Shores, hiking up the small hills with their rifles and machine guns. Each afternoon, the Marines would take their ranks back to base and the whole operation would begin afresh the next day.

McKellar recalls that these daily landing sessions were a prelude to the Marines’ overseas exploits and invasions in the Pacific including Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and Saipan.

Watching for invaders

It was also during this time that the military and many local citizens were preparing for a possible Japanese invasion on our own coastline. Cement-encased bunkers were built all around Mount Soledad.

Almost all of these WWII bunkers, including some in the Muirlands, were removed in the last 40 years.

Other higher elevated grounds also had military uses. According to KPBS television, even the tower of the La Valencia Hotel served as a lookout and observatory for military activity at sea.

By 1943 and 1944, housing was at a premium in La Jolla. By then, the Beach & Tennis Club offered discounted housing to military personnel and their families. As a young child, La Jollan Joan (Lambert) Capen remembers her stay at the LJBTC with her mother during 1945 when her father was overseas in the Pacific.

Joan and her mother, Joanne, were waiting for Joan’s father, Jim Lambert, to return from the war. By 1948, the Lamberts would join the growing number of WWII veterans who would later call La Jolla their home. (The author of this piece is their son.)

The Grande Colonial Hotel, which opened in 1913, also played host to San Diego’s growing military population. According to General Manager Terry Underwood, the hotel provided temporary housing in its historic Sun Room near the entry of the hotel for soldiers from Camp Callan.

Desdy J. Kellogg Baggott even remembers USO events being held at the La Jolla Women’s Club to help entertain recruits during their free time.

Relocating after the war

La Jolla’s other links to many of these military operations included the local residence of Gen. Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, a highly decorated Marine general who served during WWII. Some experts have called him the “father” of American amphibious warfare. During the war, Smith was commanding general of the Fleet Marine Force in the Pacific.

Upon his retirement, Smith settled in La Jolla, where he pursued a hobby of gardening and became particularly good at growing avocados in the back yard of his home on Viking Way. During his later years, the general was friendly to the children in his neighborhood.

Hayden Price, now a resident of Portland, Ore, remembers Smith giving him his first bike. He also remembered Smith’s colorful office in the back of his home. The decorated three-star general took great pride in showing neighborhood guests his prized pictures and mementos from his time with the Marines.

Hayden’s father, Col. Eugene Price who lived close by, was also a decorated war veteran who served on the Pacific islands of Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambago and Guadalcanal. Both distinguished veterans died in the 1960s and are interred at the Fort Rosecrans cemetery in Pt. Loma.


The La Jolla Historical Society will open its exhibit, “Homefront La Jolla: An American Community During World War II” on Dec. 7. The exhibit, which will run through May 27, will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sundays. Admission is free. Watch

for more information.