How the Powerhouse came to be

Presented by Joe Jelley

The Powerhouse stands as a symbol of Del Mar’s past and it also serves as a vital community center today.

The building dates back to 1928, when the Powerhouse was built to replace a smaller Powerhouse constructed in 1910. A noticeable difference was that the Powerhouse built in 1928 had a large, round smokestack, while the earlier Powerhouse had a square chimney.

The earlier Powerhouse provided steam heat for Del Mar’s hotel, the Stratford Inn and heat for the Plunge, a large indoor public swimming pool filled with saltwater. The Powerhouse also provided electricity for the hotel and nearby homes and cottages.

A fire attributed to faulty wiring destroyed the elaborate building that covered the Plunge in 1920.

Over a long period of time, the Powerhouse changed ownership several times and was often unused. That changed in 1958, when Burt Alderson began to use it for a Powerhouse Roaring 1920s Nightclub.

The waitresses dressed as flappers, and waiters and bartenders wore derbies and vests. The nightclub attracted top musicians, such as Al Hirt.

After a while, many of the parties at the nightclub ended in public brawls. Twice in 1962 it had to be closed down by the sheriff, and the City Council eventually decided to deny permits to hold dances there. As a result, the crowds dwindled down and the nightclub closed in 1962.

The Powerhouse remained vacant until 1965, when the Universal Water Corporation rented it. The company carried out the complete renovation so it could be used to test desalination processes.

The effort to try to find an economic way to convert salt water to drinking water lasted about two years, and then the Powerhouse once again became vacant. Universal Water’s renovation effort helped the building to withstand a nearly 20-year period of vacancy.

A proposal to build a restaurant and parking structure on the site met with public opposition in 1983. Soon afterward, the city took steps to purchase the site.

“In the early 1980s, the city bought the building and property through a lease-purchase plan,” said Ronnie Delaney, who served on the Del Mar City Council from 1984 to 1988 and as mayor for the last year of her term.

“Had it not been for the purchase, we would have a restaurant and parking structure there now,” Delaney said.

Editor’s note: This article, written by Tom Murane, is reprinted from the “Del Mar Picture Book,” published by Joe Jelley. Contact him at