Strolling down grand Girard Avenue
by Carol Olten
Published - 06/21/07 - 05:30 PM | 4587 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The opening next month of a major new business in one of Girard Avenue's signature older buildings after considerable restoration triggers renewed interest in La Jolla's main business corridor, its continuing metamorphosis and its rich commercial history.

The business is Pharmaca, opening in the old Lion clothing company building at 7848 Girard, a new neighbor to several other commercial endeavors in the same block that have either moved locations recently or opened as new stores "” among them Everett Stunz beds and fine linens and the eclectic Past & Presence.

All testify to the continuing transformation that has characterized Girard since its beginning as a dirt road bordered by a few beach cottages and an occasional store.

Girard, first called Grand in the early La Jolla Park subdivision of the village in the 1880s, was named in 1900 after Charles Frederic Girard, an American naturalist and zoologist of the 19th century. At that time, many streets and avenues were renamed after famous scientists, supposedly at the suggestion of prominent La Jolla resident Ellen Browning Scripps.

The first businesses on Girard were general stores, grocers and hardware enterprises, with an occasional curio shop or two. La Jolla's pioneer merchants were Chase and Ludington, who owned a general store bearing their names at the corner of Prospect and Girard. It opened at this location in 1899 and also once housed La Jolla's post office. A few years later, La Jolla's post office moved to become part of a modern new grocery store building at 7824 Girard called Barnes & Calloway. (The building is still standing today and is home to Burns Drugs, one of the present-day street's long-lived businesses along with Warwick's, Adelaide's, Meanley's, Bowers, Harry's Coffee Shop and Jane's Fabrique.)

Girard's character changed considerably in the early 20th century with the arrival of the automobile. The street was paved and more storefronts started to replace the old cottages that had sprung up haphazardly along the thoroughfare. Also came car dealerships such as Mission Garage, which proudly displayed Model Ts along a strip about where the U.S. Bank parking lot is today.

Movie theaters also became an important part of the commercial mix. In the teen years of the past century, La Jollans could choose between three Girard movie houses with seating capacities in the hundreds to see "The Perils of Pauline." In 1924, a site on Girard at Wall saw the arrival of one the street's grandest buildings. It housed the Granada Theater, an imposing structure with an ornamental Moorish façade, which seated more than 700 persons in the superb plush fashion of the old movie palaces. Another highly ornamental building of architectural prominence that once stood on Girard (at Silverado) was the First National Bank, demolished in 1972.

While ornate banks and movie theaters had their heyday (and after the demise of the Cove several years ago now there are none!), so did that familiar venture of the mid-20th century known as the department store. Illers Inc. was a popular emporium in the 1940s, followed in later times by Walker Scott, Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin "“ all within easy walking distance of each other and a fine complement to the aforementioned Lion clothing store that offered a fashionable array of men's and women's apparel in one of Girard's smartest structures of the 1960s, with snappy striped awnings and a handsome little lion logo. Too bad the Lion itself isn't back, but at least the building is after months of much-needed restoration and being left for years in a sad state of funk.

Everyone has their own fond memories of what has come and gone on Girard over the past few decades "” Jurgensons, Marsi's, Petits Lighthouse Interiors, Rexall drugstore and any number of fashionable small boutiques. The sad news is that the stores are gone. The good news is that more are always coming. 

Welcome to the new stores on the street, and let's hope they'll not too soon become part of Girard history. n

"” Olten is the historian for the La Jolla Historical Society, 7848 Eads Ave. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Society is dedicated to the preservation of La Jolla history and the dissemination of information about La Jolla's past as well as its future.
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