Then known as the Community House and Playground, the La Jolla Rec Center opened in 1915. Previously, in 1911, Ellen Browning Scripps had decided to do something for the “ordinary” people of La Jolla. The result was the most completely equipped playground and community center in the country at that time.
Rededication ceremony emcee Ron Jones noted there were only 350 people living in La Jolla in 1900. He said, by the time the rec center opened 15 years later, that population had swollen to 4,000. In 2004, La Jolla’s population was estimated at nearly 43,000.
Noting La Jolla Rec center was designed by renowned, turn-of-the-century architect Irving Gill, Speaker of the Assembly Toni G. Atkins said, “It’s fitting we will reveal a new plaque to mark the centennial.”
Thanking Ellen Browning Scripps for her “countless contributions,” Atkins pointed out La Jolla’s park and rec center “holds a special place in the hearts of children. It can be the inspiration for some of their sweetest memories, where many made their first friends and made craft gifts to take home to their parents.’
“But the programs here aren’t just for children — they’re for sports leagues, senior dances, La Jolla Town Council,” said Atkins concluding, “It is the heart of the community in many different ways.”
Council President Sherri Lightner, a La Jollan whose First District includes her community, talked of her personal experiences enjoyed at the rec center.
“I still remember the dance lessons I had,” she said. “You remember the Baby Elephant Walk? That was our song.”
Lightner noted the rec center “isn’t just a place to play, it’s also a place for civic meetings,” she said noting she spent countless hours there.
Noting some of the meetings she attended at the rec center were “contentious and memorable,” Lightner said, “All of the action happens here. And I’m proud to have such a historic and amazing asset in my district.”
Current La Jolla Town Council president Steve Haskins noted that “a lot of the great battles of La Jolla over high rises and the destruction of historic homes and buildings have been fought at the rec center.”
Haskins, too, offered a personal reminiscence of the facility. He said he and other children would accompany their parents to the rec center and kids would tie someone to the curtain rope on stage and they would “pull the curtains open and the kid would go all the way up to the rafters.”
“It brought a whole new meaning to the term wreck center,” joked Haskins.
La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox discussed Miss Scripps’ directive for the rec center, which he said was to stipulate that it “be a facility open to all, young and old, rich and poor, and be a gathering place for everyone regardless of race or creed, where they can express their views.”
Of the rec center, Fox said Ellen Browning also said, “Play makes people happy, puts music into their souls and teaches people the art of working together.”
Fox spoke for all in stating, “We celebrate the centennial anniversary of this iconic building.”
La Jolla Rec Center was designed in the same architectural style as the nearby La Jolla Woman’s Club and The Bishop’s School using tilt-slab concrete construction. The facilities provided mind-body activities including exercise. The original facility had an auditorium, locker rooms and an adult clubroom used as a library/reading room.