Del Mar Terrace celebrates its 100th birthday

Del Mar Terrace today. Photo/ Tom Harvey
Del Mar Terrace today. Photo/ Tom Harvey

By Maryruth Cox and Jennifer Crittenden

On Feb. 5, 1913, a title insurance agent filed a map with San Diego County of a new subdivision called Del Mar Terrace. It was located on the south side of Del Mar, crawling north from Los Peñasquitos Lagoon – the slough, as it was called then – up into gigantic sandstone cliffs. One-hundred years later, the area is a flourishing neighborhood of over 300 homes, constantly bustling with activity, including restaurants and small businesses along Carmel Valley Road, but its development was long in coming.

The history of the Terrace, like much of California, is linked to water. Lots were offered for sale in 1913 for $150 and up, with payments as low as $5 a month. Tantalizing advertisements promised ocean breezes and spectacular views. But there were few takers, as the only access to fresh water was a big water line that ran through the middle of the Terrace with no agency to distribute it. The lots lay empty, and a farmer planted beans on the lower slopes of the Terrace. In 1943, 30 years after its subdivision, there were only five houses on the Terrace.

In the 1950s, interest in the area began to rise, particularly following annexation by the city of San Diego in 1958. Intrepid settlers tapped into the water line with homemade pipes and banded together to build a little community. By 1953, there were 40 households that were drawing their water through an intricate network of water lines. Because of the lack of reliable water, proper roads and sewer lines, the banks wouldn’t issue loans to build houses in the Terrace, so a tradition of building one’s own house developed. Today, there are at least 10 homes still standing that were built by their first owners after work and on weekends. Pre-existing cottages were moved into the neighborhood, several from Camp Callan, a military training camp south of Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Because of the proximity to Scripps and UCSD, many settlers in the 1960s were oceanographers and professors. Some of those early residents still live in the Terrace, although they are now retired. The area was also popular with surfers and artists. The milkman came daily, and a fisherman would pass through with his daily catch. Soule’s Market opened on the corner of Via Aprilia and Carmel Valley Road, now the site of the Mexican restaurant Roberto’s. Neighbors met for schnitzel and polka dances at Little Bavaria, a German restaurant, whose DANCE sign could be seen from the Torrey Pines grade. In 1962, street names were changed from the existing Laurel, Fir, and Cedar, and assigned Italian names, including Via Aprilia, Borgia, Cortina, etc., in alphabetical order from west to east. The I-5 opened in 1966, dramatically reducing traffic on Highway 101. When Del Mar Heights School was built in 1965, the neighborhood children began to walk to school through what is now the Torrey Pines Reserve Extension.

Between 1964 and 1970, in the face of continued development from the north, including heavy bulldozing, local residents united with conservation groups to form a grassroots effort to save some of the natural land around them. Through dances, bake sales, and national media attention, they were able to raise matching funds for a $900,000 grant from the state to purchase 197 acres containing the white and red sandstone bluffs that form the backdrop of the Terrace. This area was donated to the state and named the Torrey Pines Reserve Extension. A nature education trail was built through the efforts of Carol Mason, an elementary school teacher. Now, generations of children have grown up on the Terrace, walked to Del Mar Heights school on that trail, and discovered wildlife in the Extension.

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