Scripps to replace WW II-era structures in Seaweed Canyon


By Pat Sherman

Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) will spend $6.4 million in state funds to replace Quonset huts and latrine buildings in Seaweed Canyon, located on the Scripps campus just east of the Birch Aquarium. The structures, used for research and storage, will be replaced by three prefabricated metal structures.

SIO Director of Finance and Operations, Doug Bennett, said the existing wooden structures, originally used during World War II, have “pretty much been destroyed by termites already” and will be demolished to make room for about 24,500 square feet in additional storage facilities, which are used for Scripps’ sea-going research programs.

The renovations will improve access for emergency vehicles and include upgrades to infrastructure.

California Coastal Commission staff recommended that the commission approve the permit with “special conditions” related to water quality, landscaping, sensitive environmental resources and brush management. The commission is expected to vote on the project this month.

Bennett said the existing buildings — about 15,000 square feet — have been used to store seagoing equipment such as buoys, nets and moorings that marine biologists deploy from research vessels off the coast of Point Loma.

“This is a project that’s been in the state-funded cue for a number of years,” Bennett said. “We yielded to some other campus projects that were a higher priority about a decade ago, so this project got postponed.”

The project was originally supposed to be funded through the sale of lease-revenue bonds this spring, though Bennett said the sale could be held back until the fall.

“There’s an uptick we’re hearing about in construction costs,” he said. “We’re exploring the possibility of actually using campus funds or UC system-wide funds now to keep the momentum going on the project. We’re looking at having the university pay for and finance the project with the expectation that a bond sale will occur and then we basically just have to pay monthly interest until we get reimbursed by the state.”

Southwest Fisheries construction update

Expected completion of the new $26.1 million Southwest Fisheries Science Center laboratory, located on the north side of La Jolla Shores Drive across from the existing center, has been pushed back from April to June, Southwest Fisheries spokeswoman Meghan Donahue said. A dedication ceremony is expected in the fall.

‘Seaweed Canyon’ History

• The land known today as Seaweed Canyon was part of a 1907 purchase of 170 acres by the Marine Biological Station of San Diego — later to become Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) — for $1,000. The area has been variously referred to as “eastern lands” and “rattlesnake canyon.” It wasn’t dubbed Seaweed Canyon in documents until the mid-1960s.

• In a 1930 report, architect Louis J. Gill included a map showing only one structure in the area, identified as “Mouse House and Yard.” This was a deer mice research facility supporting the work of SIO biologist Francis B. Sumner. One oral report says that earlier the canyon may have been used as a pig farm.

• During WW II there was an acute housing shortage and a number of trailers were parked in the canyon and used as residences by people, including SIO staff. There was a dump, no sewage hookups, and lots of complaints after the war from people trying to get the trailers moved out and the area cleaned up. SIO finally booted the people out when Scripps Estates was established. The dump remained there for many years, although it was used mostly for green waste and seaweed scraped off the beach (giving the canyon its present name).

• In 1952, SIO’s radio facility, WWD, and its sizable antennae were relocated from the campus to a hilltop west of Seaweed Canyon. The radio shack was later demolished to make room for the Stephen Birch Aquarium Museum. Seaweed Canyon also is believed to have been used as a pistol range for police during the 1950s and ’60s.

• During the 1960s and ’70s, as the seagoing efforts of Scripps increased, old Marine latrine buildings and Quonset huts were brought to Seaweed Canyon for use as SIO storage.

— Based on the recollections of George Shor from SIO archives.