Ellen Browning Scripps- The Woman Behind La Jolla’s Celebrated Landmarks

The Ellen Browning Scripps Park, The Scripps Pier, Scripps Hospital–If you’re a local or familiar with La Jolla even a little, you have heard of these La Jolla landmarks but maybe don’t know the significance of the name behind them.

In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s the perfect time to learn more about the contributions of Miss Ellen Browning Scripps. A woman who was deeply involved and invested in so much of what is still a big part of La Jolla’s community today and what makes it such an iconic destination.

Keep reading to learn more about the history of Ellen Browning Scripps in La Jolla and her role in some of the most well-known La Jolla landmarks!

About Ellen Browning Scripps

Arriving in La Jolla

Ellen Scripps first visited San Diego in 1890, making the long journey from her home in Detroit, Michigan.

Once in San Diego, she traveled 14 miles of bumpy dirt roads to get to La Jolla and quickly fell in love with it. During this first visit, Ellen did what many visitors to La Jolla still do today. She walked the beach, explored the tide pools, searched for sea shells, soaked up the sunshine, and watched incredible sunsets.

After this glorious visit, Ellen decided to ditch the midwest permanently and moved to La Jolla officially in 1891. It was a move that began an epic journey of helping build up the city of La Jolla through her wise and generous efforts.

Improving La Jolla

Ellen was all in, and wherever she saw a need in the community that would improve the lives of its members, she was there. She loved nature, was interested in medicine, and always sought to nurture and stimulate the mind within herself and others.

In 1899, Ellen joined the La Jolla Village Improvement Society to attend regular meetings addressing roads, water supply, transportation, and more. She was a fierce advocate for developing and enhancing the village thoughtfully, considering the best interest of the entire community.

Investments with Impact

Ellen amassed a considerable fortune through inheritance, teaching, and work with her family’s leading newspaper and publishing enterprise out East. It allowed her to make significant impacts through her generous financial gifts and build the community with the business wits to back it up.

She considered her gifts to be investments, and because of her wisdom and foresight, they are the gifts that keep on giving.

The most important and beautiful gift one human being can give to another is, in some way, to make life a little better to live. EBS 1924

Ellen’s 7 Most Celebrated Landmarks

Here are 7 of La Jolla’s most celebrated landmarks and institutions that Ellen Browning Scripps either brilliantly founded or passionately supported.

1. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography

Although the idea for a dedicated space to study biological science came from William Ritter, Ellen Scripps quickly recognized its importance. Ritter was a faculty member of the University of California who knew San Diego would be the perfect place to settle.

In 1903, the first Marine Biological Association of San Diego was formed, with Ritter as its scientific director. Ellen was there to support him and his team. And what originally started as a small laboratory over La Jolla cove in 1907 turned into a permanent La Jolla landmark at the northern end of La Jolla Shores.

Ellen and her brother E.W. Scripps essentially bankrolled the whole operation. They secured the 170-acre parcel and funded its construction, including the pier that, like many other landmarks throughout La Jolla, was named in honor of Ellen and her generous support.

2. The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

The construction of the wooden pier was essential to the institute’s research goals. It was first constructed in 1916 with the financial support of Ellen. The over 1000 ft pier is now an iconic landmark in San Diego and an icon in research and science.

The pier you see today is from the reconstruction and concrete reinforced build completed in 1988. This was also when the pier received its new name, the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier.

aerial view in black and white of the original Scripps Pier and scripps institute of oceanography
Scripps Institute of Oceanography 1925. Image via Scripps Institute of Oceanography

3. The La Jolla Woman’s Club

In the early days, La Jolla was known for being a women’s town. Spirited women interested in literature, politics and current events, world issues, and social change. They actively fed their unending hunger for education and expanding intelligence. But, as the population grew in La Jolla and more women gathered in their shared interest to run the world, they needed a dedicated and safe space.

In 1913, Ellen secured the land for the permanent La Jolla Woman’s Club near her home, and until its completion, she opened up her own home for women to meet. The La Jolla Woman’s Club remains a sacred space for women today.

In a 1918 paper written by Ellen, she called the club a place “for serious thought and work and study; a means of mental growth, spiritual culture,” and the development of women’s “natural forces and resources.

arches on the outside of the woman's club building in La Jolla
Photo via GetArchive.

4. The Scripps Memorial Hospital

While recovering from a broken hip in 1924 in La Jolla’s only sanitarium, the Kline House, she realized that La Jolla needed a larger space to better serve the community of La Jolla lovers just like her. So she funded the construction of the La Jolla Sanitarium in 1918, just in time for the Spanish flu pandemic that arrived soon after.

In 1924, Ellen’s even larger hospital was completed on Prospect St. It would have 54 rooms and stand adjacent to the existing La Jolla Sanatorium. However, by 1959, the city began to outgrow the facilities. So, in 1964, a new, even larger hospital was built on Genesee Avenue.

And because Ellen disclosed in the Scripps Charitable Trust that the hospital must remain in La Jolla, the space on Genesee Avenue where the current hospital maintains the La Jolla zip code of 92037, so as not to violate the terms of the trust.

5. Torrey Pines Ecological Reserve

The Torrey Pines area is a protected ecological reserve because it contains threatened plants, habitats, and unique geological formations. The Pinus torreyana is the rarest tree in America, growing naturally in only two places, including La Jolla.

By 1912, Ellen had bought all three lots where the Torrey Pines Reserve rests, saving the land from being developed into a commercialized area. She deeply loved nature and wanted to ensure the land would be enjoyed and celebrated forever.

Ellen hired naturalist Guy Fleming who would live on the land while helping care for and protect it. She funded the construction of his home on the property and the Torrey Pines Lodge in 1922, now the visitor center and ranger station.

a single torrey pines tree in the canyon of the Torrey pines reserve with the ocean in view and blue skies
Photo by Patricia Barden via Flickr

6. The Children’s Pool

One of the most recognizable La Jolla landmarks is The Children’s Pool, with its 300 ft long, 16 ft high, arched sea wall. It’s also popularly known for being chosen by a rookery of seals who have called the spot home since arriving in the 1990s.

Ellen gave the idea for the iconic sea wall. Her vision and hope were to provide a safer inlet where children could be protected from the rapid cross currents.

In 1921, she hired contractor Hiram Newton Savage, who would start the preliminary surveys and figure out how they would engineer such a concept. After years of planning, designing, and waiting, the area where the Children’s Pool is today was selected to begin construction.

The wall was completed in April 1931, and Ellen’s vision was finally brought to life for the community to enjoy.

arched sea wall at the children's pool La Jolla with a large group of napping seals on the beach
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

7. The Scripps Women’s College

Ellen was asked by the president of Pomona College of Claremont if she’d like to join him in creating a group of institutions divided into separate colleges, The Claremont Colleges.

It was a relatively easy sell, and with that, Ellen founded one of the seven institutions, the Scripps Women’s College, in 1926.

As a woman of intellect and a strong champion of women, this would be what she considered her most important work. And it even landed her the cover of Time magazine that same year!

It would be a venture that would touch the core of her most profound values, expand one’s mind through education, exploration of thought, and live fully in every way.

Courtyard at the Scripps College for Women with brick tiles, terracotta roofing and white arches
Courtyard at the Scripps College for Women. Photo by Lure Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you, Ellen!

What a woman Ellen was, and we assure you we’ve only scratched the surface of Ellen’s remarkable achievements and contributions to La Jolla. The Bishops School, the La Jolla Recreation Center, and the Library Association of La Jolla are among the many more institutions she supported. She is also known to have supported other popular San Diego destinations that millions enjoy yearly, like the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park.

La Jolla is better for having been loved by Ellen Browning Scripps.

Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.
Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.

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