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Once there was a wooden bridge
Peter Jensen | El Amigo Road


Photo courtesy San Diego History Center and Torrey Pines Association. Taken from Torrey Pines park, probably between 1915 and 1920. 1) the old wooden bridge; 2) railroad underpass; 3) the Torrey Pines Garage (today’s Del Mar Car Service) on McGonigle Road (today’s Carmel Valley Road). 4) railway trestle then AND now. Click on image to enlarge.

Photo Virginia Lawrence. Taken from Torrey Pines park visitors’ center on Sunday, April 6, 2014. The water in the lagoon was still high, but the lagoon was opened the following day, on April 7. 1) site of old wooden bridge; 2) railroad underpass now entrance to North Torrey Pines parking lot; 3) the Del Mar Car Service on Carmel Valley Road; 4) railway trestle then and now; 5) newly retrofitted North Torrey Pines Bridge. Click on image to enlarge.


The seismic retrofitting of the “high bridge” and its symbolic ribbon cutting on April 15, 2014, leads us to turn to page 14 of a new book detailing the history of Del Mar Terrace. Written by longtime resident Maryruth Cox, “The Story of Del Mar Terrace” is a trove of little known facts, anecdotes, and personal recollections from many different residents of the Terrace.

An early picture of Los Peñasquitos Lagoon and Torrey Pines beach, unearthed by Mrs. Cox courtesy of the San Diego History Center, clearly shows a wooden bridge for automobile traffic, built in 1915, swinging inland across the lagoon to join McGonigle Road. No concrete “North Torrey Pines Bridge” (built in 1933) soars from beach level to the bluffs as one enters Del Mar from the south. A massive causeway of dirt “fill” can be clearly seen to route the railroad across the lagoon and up to its present grade along the cliffs (or close to it).

Mrs. Cox relates the story of the highway and bridge, starting just before 1915:
“Before 1915 the route to La Jolla from Del Mar was difficult. You could gallop along the beach (or wade) or drive south on McGonigle Road to El Camino Real and up Sorrento Valley. Near the present “merge” a canyon road climbed to the top of the mesa. A short drive west and scramble down the beach cliff brought you to La Jolla.

Ed Fletcher, early developer of Del Mar, and E.W. Scripps (newspaper mogul) decided to make a more direct road between La Jolla and Del Mar. They built a winding road down the Torrey Pines hill (now the park road) and a wooden bridge that curved across the lagoon entrance to meet McGonigle Road…

Traffic increased year by year. In 1932 a new side highway was carved from the sandstone bluffs east of the park road. Two massive causeways and two new bridges carried cars straight across the west end of the lagoon into Del Mar. (The causeways blocked tidal flow in and out of the lagoon, but that’s another story.) The tourist cabins that had been on the beach were removed to “Sunken City,” the area between the new highway and the tracks (now the North Beach parking lot). In 1943 there were 15 houses in Sunken City, which boasted trees and a salty pond that turned bright red with brine shrimp. After the state acquired the reserve the houses were moved away, some to the Terrace.

Still more and more cars jammed the highway. On holiday weekends it was a parking lot. In the fifties and sixties too often we heard the wretched wail of sirens as another car went off the cliff or smashed into the vehicle ahead.
Finally, Interstate 5 opened in 1966, and our lives changed…”

Eighty-one years after the North Torrey Pines Bridge first opened, the “new” bridge is still the “same bridge”—complete with its Gothic asymmetrical undercarriage of supporting pillars—and it will serve us well for at least another 81.

Peter Jensen is the president of Torrey Pines Association, www.torreypines.org, a non-profit organization founded by Guy Fleming in 1950 to help preserve and protect Torrey Pines. Copies of “The Story of Del Mar Terrace” are available at www.lulu.com for $17 plus $4.99 shipping.




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