Agency Spotlight: San Diego Park and Recreation, California

July 1, 2015, Department, by Catrina Belt

La Jolla Recreation Center is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with a Centennial Celebration and Rededication Ceremony.Essential Information

41,712 acres of park land, 400 parks (including Balboa Park, home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo), 56 recreation centers, 280 playgrounds, senior centers, teen centers, 350 athletic fields, 135 tennis courts, 13 swimming pools, 155 outdoor basketball courts, campgrounds, nature and visitor centers, gymnasiums, meeting rooms, weight rooms, historic sites, amphitheaters, five skate parks, boat launches, docks, fishing piers, 26 miles of oceanfront coastline and more.

Connecting to the Community

The city of San Diego Park and Recreation Department operates and maintains a valued park system that enriches the lives of millions of residents and visitors each year. Every day, the park and recreation department works hard to live up to its mission: To acquire, develop, operate and maintain a park and recreation system that enriches the quality of life for residents and visitors alike and preserves it for future generations. With more than 41,700 acres of parks, open space and aquatic areas available throughout the city, the park and recreation department provides a wealth of valuable opportunities for individuals, families and groups to enjoy leisure time. Both landscaped and natural environments offer healthful outdoor settings for people to be active and pass the time. Additionally, the hundreds of recreational facilities and programs provide activities that promote community wellness and bring together people from diverse backgrounds.

Celebrating 100 Years

2015 is a year of celebration for the San Diego Park and Recreation Department. It marks the 100-year celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In the early 20th century, San Diego was a small town of 40,000 people and Balboa Park, known then as City Park, was a large, empty expanse of California coastal sage scrub. The park was later named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who is credited with being the first European explorer to have crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean. In 1909, G. Aubrey Davidson, the president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, suggested that an exposition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 would help put San Diego on the world’s map. A century later, structures built for that celebration — the California Tower, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Cabrillo Bridge and the park’s wooden lath Botanical Building — are still part of the makeup of Balboa Park. The nickname “Garden Fair” has also stuck, and today, patrons can’t visit the park without experiencing its amazing gardens.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the city of San Diego, in collaboration with organizations within Balboa Park and throughout the region, created a centennial celebration that “Elevates, Celebrates and Promotes” the park now and for the next 100 years. The centennial celebration kicked off December 5, 2014, during the park’s December Nights celebration and includes special events and exhibits that allow visitors to rediscover Balboa Park. Patrons can enjoy the centennial music series, outdoor international film series, the San Diego Maker Faire and the Grand Finale of the 2015 centennial during this year’s December Nights celebration.

San Diego Park and Recreation is also celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the La Jolla Recreation Center. La Jolla has historical significance in the field of recreation as one of the oldest recreation centers west of the Mississippi River. It was designated as a historical building by the San Diego Historical Society in 1973. La Jolla opened in 1915 as a gift from Ellen Browning Scripps, a major cultural and civic philanthropist in La Jolla and San Diego. The center was designed by the noted architect Irving Gill, who also designed many other civic buildings in La Jolla and San Diego. At the time of its opening, the community center and playground represented the state of the art for play equipment and park amenities in the United States. 

Today, the La Jolla Recreation Center continues to provide recreation for all patrons and be a place to promote community and civic participation. “There are a number of larger-than-life figures that play prominently in the history of La Jolla and the rec center. Ellen Browning Scripps’ dream for the rec center was to offer a place for fitness and sports for kids and families. It was a novel dream then, but that goal has never changed in 100 years,” says Doug Fitzgerald, president of La Jolla Rec Center.

“Ellen Browning Scripps would be proud about what has come from her dream and how consistent the rec center has been to its original goals. However, I think that many things would be beyond her imagination, such as classes in yoga, karate and our senior dances that have strong appeal,” continues Fitzgerald. “As we think about the future, we want to remain focused on our original goal but be flexible in our offerings and continue to appeal to the next generations of families and children.”  

The Centennial Celebration and Rededication for La Jolla Recreation Center will be held July 25, 2015, and includes a plaque dedication and a time capsule burial. La Jolla Parks and Recreation, Inc. is sponsoring the celebration of the centennial in partnership with the city of San Diego. It also plans to partner with city staff to update playground equipment and other facilities at the site.

Catrina Belt is an Editorial Intern for Parks & Recreation magazine.