Around the Pier: One Last Hoorah at the Old Surfside Building


There were as many stories as there are termites in the hallowed (and hollowed) walls of Surfside, but on Jan. 5, the building that was the social nerve center of Scripps for four decades saw its final chapter written with a sendoff from students past and present.

Surfside, a residence originally acquired by the then brand-new University of California, San Diego in 1961, was demolished Jan. 22 to make way for the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment, a state-of-the-art meeting facility. For several longtime attendees of the Friday night social gathering known as TGIF, or TG for short, Surfside represented a throwback to a different era and a different mindset. A bit of the institution’s former character came down with it, they said.

“It was a place for people to get together and let their hair down back when they had long hair,” said Reinhard Flick, a research associate at Scripps and the staff oceanographer of the California Department of Boating and Waterways. From 1974 to 1978, Flick was a Scripps student and organizer of the TG.    

After originally using the residence to house campus architects, the university gave the building over to student use in 1968. Students renovated the building, adding a pool table and surfboard rack among many, ahem, capital improvements. In January of that year, the first Surfside TG took place. Surfside became the place where the spirit of revelry and camaraderie that permeated the institution’s many departments congealed in one locale.

James Stewart, emeritus dive officer at Scripps, said that when he first arrived at Scripps as a volunteer in 1952, scattered precursors of the TG, always held just before the weekend started, were already firmly established in several administrative offices around campus, around beach bonfires and in the houses of faculty members who lived nearby. Scripps Archivist Deborah Day noted that Scripps Director Roger Revelle experimented with winemaking as a student in the 1930s and took part in parties that took place frequently at a community house that stood where the current Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics complex now is located. Climate researcher Art Miller, who joined Scripps as a student in 1980, noted that historically, revelers have included not just faculty and students but also technicians, engineers, administrators, children of staff, groundskeepers and a host of visitors from around San Diego and around the world.

Early on, Surfside acquired a pool table (donated by then-Scripps Director William Nierenberg), a string of informal caretakers-in-residence and a reputation that sprang from the partying that took place there. By the mid-1970s, the house was receiving far more Friday night visitors from places other than Scripps than from campus. TGIF was purportedly written up in a popular magazine in the 1970's, when the house was crowded with people dancing late into the night, as one of the top ten places for women to meet eligible bachelors. Then as now, the entire operation, from the procuring of libations to the general upkeep of the residence, has been the domain of Scripps graduate students.

Excesses aside, Flick said that TGs have given students an important opportunity to interact informally with faculty members in a relaxed setting. The experience helped make the institution special in a way not related to research.

The Scripps Seaside Forum complex will include a lounge facility for graduate students that will become the new permanent home of TG, said Miller. Until the facility is completed, the Martin Johnson house, which was originally built as an on-campus faculty residence and the locale of some of the prototypical Scripps parties dating back to the 1930s, will be the site of TGs in the near future.

- Shannon Casey

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