After the Exposition: San Diego’s Torrey Pines

The Panama California Exposition (1915-16) brought the world to San Diego and wound up with a lot of trash, particularly along the coastal route that led through what is now Torrey Pines State Reserve. Thousands of visitors motored along the picturesque road—then the gateway into San Diego—stopped for a picnic, and left behind garbage: “bottles and cans, lunch boxes, orange peels, and colored supplements [comic strips].”

Guy L. Fleming (1884-1960) spearheaded efforts to protect the exceedingly rare Pinus torreyana, or Torrey pine. Employed as a nurseryman in Balboa Park, he worked with horticulturalist Kate Sessions on the landscape design and plantings for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. He joined The San Diego Floral Association and the Natural History Society and, in his free time, explored the natural beauty of San Diego’s backcountry. In 1916, he recruited members of the Floral Association and Natural History Society to clean up the trash, install garbage bins, and remove advertising signs posted along the road. After a serious fire in June, the city enacted an ordinance that forbade visitors from building campfires or causing damage to trees.

In the early 1920s, Fleming convinced Ellen Browning Scripps that the creation of a public park would help to preserve the rare Torrey pine, particularly as automobile traffic was on the rise. Years earlier, Scripps had purchased a section of pueblo lands that had been sold by the city to private investors, despite the fact that it contained a large number of Torrey pines. Fleming imagined “one of the most unique and picturesque parks in the West” with signs to help visitors understand the scientific importance of the trees; walking trails; and a botanical garden of native plants.

Hired as caretaker of the park, Fleming made a detailed census of plant life, counting 603 mature trees, 146 young ones, 76 seedlings, and dozens of other plants, native and non-native. Landscape architect Ralph D. Cornell, meanwhile, developed a master plan that included a visitor center, parking, and walking trails. Torrey Pines Lodge (1922-23) was designed by architects Richard S. Requa and Herbert Jackson in the style of Hopi Indian houses of the Arizona desert. It had restrooms, indoor and outdoor dining pavilions, and a shop where visitors could purchase Mexican and Indian rugs, pottery, and other souvenirs. Scripps paid for these improvements and, later, donated her property to the city in the hope that access to nature would elevate the human spirit and further scientific education. Torrey Pines became a state park in 1959 and a designated scientific reserve three years later.

Today, the Torrey Pines Association works with state park rangers to protect San Diego’s natural heritage. Founded by Fleming in 1950, the citizen volunteer organization preserved one of the last unprotected groves of Torrey pines in 1974 and continues to monitor the landscape. It also champions public access to what Scripps once described as “one of the most beautiful panoramas of color of sky and sea ever beheld in La Jolla.”


[This article was first published in The La Jolla Historical Society’s Timekeeper, vol. 36, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 8]

Photo: Hand-tinted photo in San Diego The Beautiful (1907), San Diego History Center Archives.

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