By Claire Harlin
Del Mar once looked much different than it does today. It had a dozen gas stations in town along Highway 101, a train that made rounds all day long from L.A. to the booming racetrack, and an airport on the San Dieguito Lagoon where Interstate 5 stands today. The seaside town’s rich history only dates back less than 100 years, but local historians say now is an imperative time to kick preservation efforts into gear, because as fast as Del Mar is changing, its history threatens to be lost.
“Space and land is so valuable here, but the history around us is often not valued, not perceived,” said Jeffrey Barnouw of the Del Mar Historical Society. “It’s important to awaken people’s consciousness so things don’t get destroyed.”
While local efforts have successfully saved some historical features from demolition over the years, such as the Alvarado House, which currently resides at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and the Grand Avenue Bridge, which was preserved by the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley. But there is still much to be done and obstacles to overcome, said Barnouw and Del Mar Historical Society President Larry Brooks in a recent interview.
For example, Del Mar is the only city in the county that doesn’t have an official Historical Society headquarters, even though the society has had independent federal nonprofit status since 1985. There has been a years-long effort to headquarter the society at the Alvarado House, but that can’t happen until the city solves the decades-long dilemma of finding a permanent home for the late 1800s house — one of the first ever built in the city. Sitting locked up and unused at the fairgrounds, save for the three weeks out of the year that the fair is in session, the Alvarado House tentatively awaits relocation to the Del Mar Shores property, however, nothing is set in stone.
“Now that the city has bought the Shores property, they say that someday, in their five-year plan to develop the park, it could go there,” said Barnouw, adding that there have been failed efforts over the years to put the house on locations including Seagrove Park, the city’s public works property across the lagoon from the fairgrounds, and the tennis courts on Jimmy Durante Boulevard. “At least, we’ve been told it will be part of the Shores development.”
Barnouw said the Historical Society is amping up efforts and regrouping after its recent split from the Del Mar Village Association (DMVA). Currently working at the Del Mar Community Center on the Shores property, Barnouw and Brooks, with the help of society volunteers, have been organizing Del Mar’s historic database of documents, photos and other relics and safekeeping them in a storage building at the Community Center until they can one day be displayed for educational benefit.
Brooks and Barnouw have also been collecting oral histories from early Del Mar residents who are still living, which includes gathering clippings and photos and conducting recorded interviews to transcribe. The Society has collected 17 oral histories so far and has a list of residents it is working to interview as soon as possible.