In 1915, La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps made one of several donations to her community: the La Jolla Recreation Center. A century later, the facility has become exactly what Scripps intended: a community hub for all of La Jolla.
Throughout its storied existence, the rec center has served people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors, offering a broad array of recreational services as well as hosting public meetings of virtually every important community group in town, including the La Jolla Town Council and the La Jolla Community Planning Group, which makes land-use recommendations to the City.
“For 100 years, the rec center has served its major purpose — community life,” said Carol Olten of the La Jolla Historical Society. “Through many years, thousands of families, children and sports enthusiasts have enjoyed its facilities ranging from toddlers to serious tennis professionals.”
Olten said the rec center has become all things to all people.
“(Public) meetings are held there,” she said. “Yoga is practiced there. Basketball, tennis and soccer are played there. Swings and slides and other funny tots stuff are played upon there."
But perhaps the most important function the rec center serves in the community is as its sounding board.
“Disputes over parking, signs, sidewalks are resolved – and not resolved – there,” Olten said, adding that “If the rec center walls could talk, they would probably say, ‘Please, La Jollans, after 100 years, we’ve had enough.'”
La Jolla Rec Center director Nicole Otjens noted that the facility provides recreational amenities, including grass playing fields and basketball courts, for everyone.
“We’re a hub of recreation for people of all ages,” said Otjens, noting the center features three playgrounds for kids and outdoor basketball courts and a weight room for adults. “We have yoga and fitness classes and a youth flag football team, the La Jolla Sharks,” she added.
Otjens pointed out the La Jolla Recreation Council, which supports the center, raises funds to purchase “hours,” allowing it to be kept open longer to serve patrons. But providing recreation is only one of the center's functions.
“We do 10 to 12 community events a year,” Otjens said, “including an egg hunt, a children’s Halloween costume judging and the December holiday celebration.”
The La Jolla Recreation Center was formally dedicated on July 3, 1915. It was the product of the combined vision of philanthropist Scripps and progressive young architects Irving and Louis Gill. Together, they conceived of the “La Jolla Community House and Playground.”
In her bequest of the center as a gift to the city, Scripps was adamant about the building being open to any person regardless of race, creed or opinions. That was stipulated as a “condition” in the deed turning the property over to the city for public use.
The center and numerous buildings surrounding it, including the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the earliest buildings at The Bishop’s School and the La Jolla Woman’s Club, together form the historical cornerstone of La Jolla Village.
Four years after the Rec Center opened, Archibald Talbot, a young man from Iowa who came to California to study law, took what he thought would be a temporary job as director of the rec center. He held that position until his retirement in 1952. While rec center director, Talbot and his wife Agnes developed a vigorous program of sports, including basketball and tennis tournaments. Among the prime achievements of the Tallboys was creation of the annual La Jolla Tennis Tournament. In 1968, Mr. Talbot was honored as La Jolla’s “Mr. Tennis.”
“The Tallboys took the lead in carrying out Ellen Browning Scripps’ ideas of making the rec center a true Community House — a gathering place for the creation of strong minds and bodies,” said Olten. “Their spirits linger on as one of our keepsakes: the La Jolla Recreation Center.”