Longevity in La Jolla: Schenck reflects on La Jolla’s growth


By Jonathan Horn


Spend 30 minutes with contractor John Schenck in his La Jolla Shores office, and you will probably learn at least a couple new factoids about this coastal village. Ask him anything.

“I just have a lot of good old stories,” he said, sitting at his desk overlooking Avenida de la Playa. “There are a lot of things you don’t want to know, but there’s also a lot of good stories.”

Some of the things he will share: how the Marine Room restaurant shaped up after waves destroyed its glass windows in the early 1980s.

“The waves were breaking over the building,” he said. “The kitchen was filled with water. The refrigerators were floating like battering rams.”

Or he could explain why the skyscraper at 939 Coast Blvd. towers over every other building on that street.

“There was a thought of San Diego becoming Miami Beach,” he said of late 1960s legislation to cap building height in the area. “I’m a firm believer of putting a few of those in so a lot of people can enjoy an area, but not stacked together … in Waikiki (Hawaii), the sun doesn’t come up until after 1.”

Schenck has served on the La Jolla Shores Coastal Review Committee and the La Jolla Shores Association, and was a La Jolla Town Council trustee. The man who grew up in 1950s Mission Beach has seen La Jolla from all angles.

After graduating in 1974 with a business degree from USIU Cal Western, now Point Loma Nazarene, Schenck decided to work with his father, Bob, in construction.

“Back then, business was about small banks, and I just didn’t enjoy anything,” Schenck said. “So I went to work for my dad.”

Schenck’s father got his hands on projects all around La Jolla, including several homes and what is now the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

It was also at one of these sites where John Schenck first met his longtime friend, Fritz Liebhardt.

“There was a big hole in the ground, and down in the bottom of the hole was this guy working on something. That was John,” Liebhardt said.

Fast forward a few decades, and Schenck, who owns a contracting company, is now building, modernizing and maintaining homes for La Jolla residents and those who live elsewhere.

“A typical thing we would do would be to go into an older house and update it,” he said. “Because the prices are so high in La Jolla, people come from all over the world, buy second homes here and update them.”

His remodeling work has been featured in several magazines, but Schenck would not be quick to tell anyone. (In fact, he did not share his magazine spotlights for the first 25 minutes of the interview for this story.)

“I would say that one thing about John and about his business is that he’s quiet about it,” Liebhardt said. “He’s not out there trying to be flashy or showy or anything like that, he’s just trying to do high-end work.”