La Jolla Coastal Zone Nears Historic District Designation

Valorie Hirsch | July 20, 2023

A section of the La Jolla coastline has been nominated to become designated as a historic district, seeking to recognize the critical role this unique coastal zone had in La Jolla’s continued growth.

La Jolla’s Historic District- what’s included

Wondering what a historic district even is? According to the City’s Municipal Code, a historical district is “a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects that are united historically, geographically, or aesthetically by plan or physical development and that have a special character, historical interest, cultural or aesthetic value, or that represents one or more architectural periods or styles in the history and development of the City.” 

And if anything is to be known about La Jolla, her ‘special character’ is her bread and butter, and history proves that those who have had the pleasure of experiencing it become completely bewitched. 

As La Jolla lovers, we aren’t surprised that this historic district nomination will include La Jolla Cove and other neighboring iconic coastal landmarks.

Contributing Resources & Boundaries

La Jolla’s historic district will span approximately eight acres of coastal parkland surrounding The Village of La Jolla for about 2.5 miles.

According to the nomination, the boundary “follows the coastline, beginning in the north at the intersection of Coast Walk and Torrey Pines Road it runs in a southwesterly direction along the seaward boundary line of the private parcels adjacent to Coast Walk until it intersects with Coast Boulevard,” and continues south along Coast Blvd S to include Casa de Manana, and ends at the southernmost point of Cuvier Park.

The historic district includes 35 ‘contributing resources,’ or landmarks, that consist of ten buildings, eight sites, and seventeen structures. Here’s some of the standout contributing resources and the districts boundaries—

Other contributing resources include:

  • Four stairways connecting the coast with the commercial district of La Jolla
  • Two additional public beaches
  • The Children’s Pool breakwater wall
  • Two additional Belvederes
  • The Cave Store and tunnel to Sunny Jim’s Cave
  • La Jolla Recreation Center

+ more!

Founders with foresight

The nomination is more than a formality to recognize old buildings and landmarks and get a nice plaque to show off. It’s also about acknowledging and honoring what La Jolla’s earliest founders and developers had envisioned for the area and the effect their plans had.

Their intentional and thoughtful development had a profound, long-lasting impact on the community’s growth and popularity. Thankfully, La Jolla’s founders, developers, and biggest supporters had incredible foresight.

“The entire length of this scenic parkway became the focal point for suburban development of La Jolla between 1887 and 1940, transforming La Jolla from a bohemian enclave into an international tourist destination,” and it “remains a place where people find emotional and physical rejuvenation,” the nomination states.

La Jolla’s founders and developers wanted to expand upon La Jolla’s natural lands and create a space for people to get away and enjoy nature, exercise, gather, and play. 

It’s an enclave that truly brings life to and fully encapsulates La Jolla’s Spanish-sounding word ‘Joya,’ which translates to ‘the jewel.’ 

“The beautification of this coastal area was critical to the commercial success of the village of La Jolla and its historic role as a seaside destination. 

The La Jolla Park Coastal Historic District with its seaside vista drive, belvedere-outlooks, parkways, renown beaches, marine life, sea birds, and vistas, is one of the most popular destinations in the region,” the nomination concludes.

Delayed progress

The hearing initially scheduled for April to review the nomination was postponed. One of the writers of the nomination, Seonaid McArthur, told the La Jolla Light that “any public or private entity affected by the [designation] has to be notified that the nomination has gone in, and if they want to contest or support it, they can.”

Unfortunately, she says they hit a snag when the private owners of a staircase they thought was on public land weren’t notified of the nomination. The City of San Diego also came forward with questions regarding plant materials and landscaping requirements, so this information will be included in the updated nomination.

In a March meeting, supporters of the designation also addressed concerns regarding the implications of the designation on the safety and care for coastal wildlife such as seals and sea lions.

In hopes of easing concerns, they explained that the designation would not impair the ability of the federal government, the California Coastal Commission, and the City of San Diego to put in place any necessary management tools to protect coastal wildlife.

Writers and supporters of the nomination agree that the goal is to recognize the historic fabric of La Jolla and provide the designation area with an added layer of protection from insensitive alterations or construction.

They add that the designation is consistent with the goals of the National Register of Historic Places, “to ensure that properties significant in national, state, and local history are considered in the planning of federal undertakings; and to encourage historic preservation initiatives by state and local governments and the private sector.”

Benefits of the historic district designation and what’s next

After the State Historical Resources Commission meeting tentatively scheduled for August 4, once the nomination has been approved, it would move to the National Registry of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Some of the benefits of being listed on the National Register include:

  • Specific planning oversight to maintain and protect the historic resources, requiring the use of Historic Building Code for any renovations across the district
  • Prioritizes grants and funding from the City of San Diego, State Agencies, etc.
  • Will be recognized as a California Historical Landmark, encouraging heritage tourism
  • Encourages a sense of pride in the rich history of one of the region’s most unique coastal communities

Champions of La Jolla

The designation “received a clean sweep of endorsements when the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted to sign on to a letter of support” in early July according to the La Jolla Light. 

The La Jolla Community Planning Association joins three other prominent community groups who support the historical designation: the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee, the La Jolla Shores Association, and La Jolla Parks & Beaches.

The nomination was crafted by Seonaid McArthur, Chair of the La Jolla Historical Society, with the help of Molly McClain, Diane Kane, Nick Agelidis, Carol Olten, Cathay Carroll, and Brenda Fake, who are all championing this effort to see La Jolla receive this deserved designation.

“What our nomination proves is the economic well-being and development of the town is directly related to our coastline.” 

-Seonaid McArthur, The La Jolla Light

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