What’s in a Name?


La Jolla thoroughfares christened for people, places of note

By Pat Sherman

Though most of La Jolla’s street names have changed since land speculators Frank Botsford and George Heald laid out the La Jolla Park subdivision in 1887, a handful remain untouched by time — notably those the former New Yorkers dubbed with the “Big Apple” still in mind: Park Row, Exchange Place, Wall Street and Pearl Street.

Other streets named by them, which have not had their titles altered, include Prospect, Ravina, Cave and Silver streets.

“A number of streets were (originally) named after states,” said La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten. “We had a Connecticut Avenue and Washington Avenue.”

Most La Jollans seemed content with the street names Botsford and Heald established until the dawn of the 20th century, Olten said.

At that time, many of the streets adopted the surnames of scientists who had made their mark in biology, zoology or other fields — a transition believed to be inspired by Ellen Browning Scripps.

“She was by that time the major La Jolla philanthropist,” Olten said. “She had a great admiration for science and the arts. … Maybe she thought that would make the town a little bit more sophisticated.”

According to Howard S.F. Randolph’s book “La Jolla: Year by Year,” the following street titles were changed to reflect the names of once-prominent scientists.

  • Agassiz Avenue, now Olivetas Avenue, and formerly Vine Street, was named for Swiss naturalist and geologist, Louis John Rudolph Agassiz (1807-1873), noted for his studies of fossilized fish and geological evidence of the ice ages.
  • Borden Avenue, now La Jolla Boulevard and formerly Olive Avenue, was named after American civil engineer and inventor, Simeon Borden (1798-1856).
  • Draper Avenue, formerly Orange Avenue, was named after John William Draper (1811-1882), an American chemist, historian and photographer who is credited with producing the first clear photograph of the female face and the first detailed photograph of the moon.
  • Eads Avenue, formerly Washington, was named for James Buchanan Eads (1820-1887), an American engineer who held more than 50 patents. He designed and built the first road-rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River, at St. Louis.
  • Fay Avenue, the former New York Avenue, was named after Theodore Sedgwick Fay (1807-1898), an American diplomat, poet and writer.
  • Girard Avenue, formerly Grand, was named after Stephen Girard (1750-1831), the American banker and philanthropist who is credited with saving the U.S. government from financial collapse during the War of 1812.
  • Herschel Avenue, formerly Lincoln, was named after Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), a German astronomer and composer who is credited with the discovery of Uranus and two of its moons.
  • Ictinus Avenue, the former Garfield, and now Ivanhoe, was named after the architect of the Parthenon.
  • Jenner Street, the former Franklyn Place, was named after either Edward Jenner (1749-1823), English physician and discoverer of vaccinations (including smallpox), or Sir William Jenner (1815-1898), also an English physician and pathological anatomist.

According to Randolph, some of these names “proved a little too high-brow, even for La Jolla.
“Perhaps Ictinus and Agassiz were not always easy to pronounce — and spell,” he posits.

In August 1913, Ictinus Avenue became Ivanhoe, with more name changes occurring in December of that year. Agassiz became Olivetas; Borden became La Jolla Boulevard; Connecticut became Silverado; Boulevard became Coast Boulevard; and State Street was changed to Torrey Pines Road.

Since College Street had been used elsewhere in San Diego, it became Scripps Street on May 12, 1930. However, that name also had been used, prompting its rebirth as Virginia Way, in honor of Virginia Scripps, half-sister of Ellen Browning Scripps.

Name of the Lane

In San Diego, La Jolla also has the distinction of referring to its alleyways as “lanes.”

“Again, I think that’s an Ellen Browning Scripps inspiration because she was from Great Britain and, of course, in Britain you have lanes,” Olten said, noting several of their mellifluous titles, including Roslyn Lane, Bluebird Lane and Drury Lane, which takes its name from the theatrical group, Drury Lane Players.

In August, 2008, the formerly undesignated alley between Eads and Draper avenues beginning at Silver Street was christened Mabel Bell Lane, in honor of the late Mabel Bell, a pioneer of La Jolla’s early black community who resided at the site of the La Jolla post office annex on Silver Street.