Inside the Icon: La Jolla Children's Pool
The cove has served as a wildlife refuge, swim spot, and occasional site of bitter protests for nearly 90 years
Visit the Icon850 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla
La Jolla’s rocky coastline and dangerous cross-current had claimed numerous lives by the 1920s. Ellen Browning Scripps, founding donor of the Institution of Oceanography, commissioned a seawall at Point Mencinger to create a protected cove where children could swim. The pool officially opened on April 4, 1931.
The seawall’s designer, Hiram Newton Savage, abandoned the project over creative disputes in 1923 and fled the country. City officials tracked him, sending urgent telegrams to Italy, Java, and Sudan before catching him five years later in Paris and demanding he finish the work. Savage agreed only on the condition that he be “free from political interference.”
Humans enjoyed the pool uncontested for sixty years, but a colony of harbor seals took up residence in the mid-’90s, and ever since, the city council and various state organizations have been wrestling over its status as a public space vs. a protected animal reserve. Visitors are currently permitted, but should keep their distance: Disturbing wildlife means a $500 fine.
Fishing for Trouble
The pool hosts a long-standing and highly publicized feud between animal rights and shared-use advocates. The SDPD responded to 227 calls there in 2013 alone and has made arrests for everything from an illegal “swim-in” to the use of a stun gun. The FBI even got involved after a woman who’d reported divers for seal harassment received death threats from a marine scientist.
The water has long held unsafe bacteria levels from seal waste, local restaurants have complained about sea lion stench from neighboring cliffs, and three lifeguards have gotten meningitis from seagull guano. But we can’t cast stones: The new lifeguard tower was forced to close after one month due to backup from people flushing foreign objects down the public toilet.
Coming Up Roses
There’s a bright side, though: The Children’s Pool Beautification Project, beginning this June, will add new planters, wider sidewalks, and more observation walls along Coast Boulevard for a more pleasant sealwatching experience.