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La Jolla History: Fiery tragedies of yore

Catastrophic fires reduced two businesses in the Village of La Jolla to ash in 1921 and 1952

As the YMCA Firehouse begins remodeling the building that once housed a fire station serving the Village from 1913 to 1976 (Station No. 13), La Jolla Light looks back on the Village’s two most catastrophic conflagrations.

A 1921 automobile garage fire turned “proud packards, Cadillacs and other high class cars” into indeterminable heaps of twisted metal and pools of rubber.
A 1921 automobile garage fire turned "proud packards, Cadillacs and other high class cars" into indeterminable heaps of twisted metal and pools of rubber.
Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

1921: A fire broke out at La Jolla Garage on Herschel Avenue the evening of July 3, 1921, destroying 24 autos stored there. According to news reports archived at La Jolla Historical Society, the blaze was discovered by the night watchman. Although fire engines arrived “promptly, a lack of water pressure for 20 minutes made it impossible for the fire department to do much. Most of the cars left in storage were locked and could not be started without the key. The flames went straight up, and were visible for miles. … A party of tourists in a beautiful new car drove into the garage about 
7 o’clock, left their car and all their baggage, including suitcases, furs and wraps, while they went to get a bite to eat,” the report states, adding, “One man, who lost an almost new Packard, bought another on Wednesday. He didn’t seem worried.

This fire broke out at La Jolla Lumber Co. March 15, 1952.
This fire broke out at La Jolla Lumber Co. March 15, 1952.
Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

1952: The Village’s next massive fire occurred March 15, 1952 (pictured above), when La Jolla Lumber Co. burned to the ground at 7600 Girard Ave., near the current site of Vons grocery store. According to a news report, “Flames vaulted 
60 feet in the air. Hampered by high winds, but aided by civilians, 10 fire companies battled the blaze.” The fire, sparked by an electrical short circuit in the building’s wiring, caused an estimated $200,000 damage.” According to a La Jolla Light reader John Sullivan, La Jolla Lumber Co. was rebuilt one block over on Fay Avenue, across the street from the forthcoming Boffo Cinema complex. Eventually, it became Westy’s, one of the retail branch yards of National City-based Western Lumber Company.