That challenge faces the Visioning Committee of La Jolla Recreation Center. The committee is planning long-term for bringing the facility, commissioned and completed in 1915 by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, into the 2020s and beyond.
The committee has been working tirelessly the past three years to lay the groundwork for the renovation of the facility, which began, in a small way, with the repaving of the basketball courts recently in the rear of the rec center. Those courts will likely be moved further back closer to the existing tennis courts in the reimagining of the rec center.
“Part of the rec center project includes a large landscaping element,” noted committee member and La Jolla contractor Tom Grunow. “There are plans to get more trees into the area. The museum (Contemporary Art closed for an architectural refit) has some landscape plans for the front of the new facility (reopening fall 2021).”
Trace Wilson, another Vision Committee member, and an architect and urban designer, was dismayed by the rundown state of the rec center building. That convinced him to get involved.
“Ellen Browning Scripps was progressive and wanted change and progress and would have approved of improving the site bringing it into the future,” Wilson said. “There were no shade trees, playground equipment was rusted, the big asphalt field was cracked, etc. What we have now is a Vision Committee with a lot of healthy design debate about site planning.”
Grunow noted there is “momentum behind” greening up the La Jolla Rec Center and environs, which is the community’s historical-cultural hub. Concerning the center’s now-dilapidated playground equipment, Grunow said, “We’re very motivated to do something there.”
Wilson said the committee may have found the answer to its playground updating needs with an overseas firm that does such work.
“Over the last six months we met with five different equipment vendors,” Wilson said. “We ultimately found one, MONSTRUM out of Denmark, that does amazing work.”
Added Wilson, “We’re envisioning redoing the rec center playground with a sea creature and coastline theme, with a giant climbable whale, a Torrey pine tree slide and a play tide pool. A lot of fun stuff.”
Wilson guesstimated that the rec center refit, already three years in the planning, could ultimately take about 10 years to do.
“We will likely take two to three years to fundraise for it, and another two to three years to go through the permitting process,” Wilson said. “If we found $10 million tomorrow, it would still take us at least two years to get started (remodeling) and then at least two more years to complete.”
Wilson estimated both the new playground equipment and the rec center renovation will each cost about $3 million.
“We’d also like to create an endowment to keep the place clean and nice over time,” Wilson concluded.
La Jolla Recreational Center was built on property adjacent to Ellen Browning Scripps’ home. It was designed by San Diego’s renowned architect Irving Gill, who designed other structures nearby including La Jolla Woman’s Club and early buildings at The Bishop’s School.
The facility was originally called the Children's Playground and Recreation Center. It has always included a children's play area as well as the recreation center building.
Scripps stipulated in her gift bequest of the rec center that the building must be open to any person, regardless of "race, creed or opinions.”
The first recreation director, Archibald Talbot, was hired in 1919 and remained until 1952. He and his wife Agnes developed a vigorous program of sports, particularly baseball and tennis.
Now known as the La Jolla Recreation Center, the facility is operated by the City of San Diego. The building's appearance has not been substantially altered from the 1915 original.
Besides hosting a variety of sports and recreation programs, the rec center is the meeting place for many civic groups including La Jolla Town Council, La Jolla Community Planning Group and La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc.