La Jolla then and now: the food scene, 1920s versus 2020s


As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventures into the decade of the 20s of this century, La Jolla Light looks back at what the 20s looked like last time around in La Jolla and what they look like now. .

Looking at today’s Village and its many restaurants, it’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t walk the streets to sample Italian, Thai, Irish, French or international cuisines. But by the 1920s preservation methods were minimal and local offerings plentiful, so La Jolla’s food scene was mostly confined to the home.

In the early 1900s, La Jolla had a grocery store called Barnes & Calloway where the Brooks Bros. building. is now on avenue Girard. At the time, shopping carts did not exist, so grocery shopping was limited to what a person could carry on foot or in a delivery wagon. Alternatively, farmers based at La Jolla Shores roamed the streets with vegetable carts, selling their produce. The people who cooked at home also used the bounty of the ocean to feed their families.

“This is one of the things that attracted people to La Jolla – you could live cheaply by the ocean and eat whatever you found there,” said Carol Olten, historian of the Historical Society of La. Jolla. “Seafood was a big time for the home cook. … They went to look for fish, abalone, etc. After World War II and environmental regulations came into effect, people were limited with what, when, and how much they could take from the ocean.

People have also used the kitchen as an opportunity to socialize. The ephemeral La Jolla Social Club, considered a precursor to the La Jolla Woman’s Club and La Jolla Library Association (now the Athenaeum Music & Arts library) has created a cookbook of its members. Among its contributors were “Mrs. WS Lieber ”, wife of Walter Lieber, who bought land in La Jolla in 1915 and built cottages to rent to vacationers, and Virginia Scripps, sister of La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.

“Ellen Browning Scripps didn’t like fine dining very much, but Virginia liked it,” Olten said. “Ellen’s favorite food was a baked potato, so when Virginia traveled she left Ellen able to enjoy her favorite foods in peace. Virginia liked things like curry and other more refined foods.

In the Social Club cookbook, Virginia contributed her recipes for curry, oatmeal wafers, and nut cookies (see below).

“The recipes were fun to read because it seemed like there was a whole other language,” Olten said. One recipe calls for “a knob of butter the size of an egg.” The Virginia nut cookie recipe calls for “floured nut meats.”

But as the Roaring Twenties became a “party time” and the wealthy moved to La Jolla to occupy newly created subdivisions, dining out became a lavish affair, Olten said.

“In 1924, the Casa de Manana opened [as a hotel] and there was a large dining room with elaborate holiday menus, ”she said. “The hotels all provided places to have a good dinner out. There was a hotel at the time, the Windansea Hotel, originally built in 1909 and closed in the 1940s, which offered fancy meals. … The cinemas were busy showing silent films. People were in the mood to party. So when people went out, it was white, high-end tablecloths.

The Spindrift Inn was a hotel and cafe where The Marine Room is now located on Spindrift Drive.

(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

In the 1920s, a restaurant called the Brown Bear on what is now Prospect Street was “a big deal in La Jolla,” Olten said.

“Around 1915, manager Lucille Spinney organized a big party. … They hung garlands and someone from Paris made paper roses in the French tradition. She thought she would get a lot of publicity, but she only got one photo of her, so she was really disappointed. But the publicity she did worked because the Brown Bear became a well-known restaurant.

Now, La Jolla’s restaurant rows stretch from Fay Avenue to Ivanhoe Avenue, from Pearl Street to Prospect Street and beyond. And demand from diners has “come full circle” as fresh local ingredients are a must, Olten said.

“What was a necessity because you had to eat local is now more of a luxury,” she said. “Expensive restaurants ask for an arm and a leg for chicken eggs and non-GMO organic products [genetically modified organisms] cost more. “

Jason Peaslee, owner of The Cottage restaurant on Fay Avenue, said diners come to La Jolla from all over California, the country and the world in search of fresh local ingredients.

“Processed foods are out; it’s about fresh and organic and making sure you don’t change the food too much, ”Peaslee said. “Whole foods are important for people who want to stay healthy for as long as possible. People no longer want Bologna. For La Jolla, health is definitely a priority because of all the health and wellness offerings, but even Central America is getting healthier. The more we are educated about food, the more it tells us to eat better.

“But at the end of the day, people also like French toast. It tastes good and makes you happy. Food is an emotional thing.

Plus, with the rise of food photography on social media, plates need to be “Instagram-friendly,” he said.

And because La Jolla is a ‘tourist town’, locals don’t want to be left out. “We have inhabitants who are children and adolescents, young parents, older children and older inhabitants. And they all want to be recognized and don’t want to be pushed aside, ”Peaslee said. “It’s about taking care of people all year round.

Trey Foshee, chef at George’s at The Cove on Prospect Street for 22 years, said: “San Diego is a way of life and La Jolla is a way of life, so when people are here, whether they are living or visiting, they follow this way of life. . When you are in Chicago, you get pizza. When you are on the coast, you expect to get healthy food and seafood. ”

Visitors to Arizona dine on George's Ocean Terrace at the Cove in La Jolla last summer.

Visitors to Arizona dine on George’s Ocean Terrace at the Cove in La Jolla last summer.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

In decades past, he said, chefs complained that San Diego was just a “fish taco town.” But today, “fish tacos are still a George’s bestseller,” Foshee said.

“One of the things we ask ourselves, because we want to provide a unique experience at our location, is ‘What is San Diego?’ “, did he declare. “When you think of a city’s food, you think of its roots and its culture. Food tends to follow the historical path of the place, and San Diego doesn’t have such a deep history. There are fishing, ranching and farming communities, but I always come back to the way of life. I hope that when people eat our food they have a sense of belonging which tends to be veg and seafood focused. ”

But to deliver that historic, upscale feeling to diners, “we still have options to splurge”.

Virginia Scripps Nut Cookies

From the La Jolla Social Club cookbook, circa 1908

Two cups of brown sugar

A cup of creamy butter with sugar

Half a cup of milk

Three eggs

· Thicken with flour and add a quart of floured nut meats.

· Roll and cut, or place on greased paper if it is too soft to roll. ◆

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