From a Little Lab by the Sea


In 1910, a little marine biological lab was built on the barren coastline of La Jolla, Calif. The two-story box of a building, designed by modernist architect Irving Gill, was the latest home of the growing Marine Biological Association of San Diego, started seven years earlier by UC Berkeley marine biologist William Ritter.

The simple oceanfront structure and the scientists who worked there were quite isolated from their La Jolla Cove neighbors one mile to the south. There wasn’t even a road to the lab until E. W. Scripps, who arranged for the purchase of the land for the marine lab, built one.

As UC San Diego enters its 50th anniversary this year, the marine biological lab where the university’s story began also marks 100 years since it was built. Not only is this lab the first building on the UC San Diego campus, it is also one of the first modernist buildings in the world.

As part of UC San Diego’s 50th anniversary celebration, the community is invited to explore Gill’s edifice and the history behind other architectural icons on campus through a special tour that includes a route through Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The three-hour van tour is designed to accompany a new book, The Campus Guide: University of California, San Diego, which provides a history of the university’s campus planning and growth, as well as map-guided walking tours of campus landmarks, including 22 locations on the Scripps campus. Guides from the UC San Diego Visitors Tour Program lead visitors through the scenic campus, stopping at select buildings featured in the book.

By 1912, the Marine Biological Association, still centered around this seaside lab, became part of the University of California, and in 1925 was renamed Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1960, visionary statesman of science and then-director of the world-renowned Scripps Oceanography Roger Revelle spearheaded the establishment of UC San Diego.

Now a National Historic Landmark named the George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory, that little lab by the sea still stands at the heart of the Scripps campus. However, the once rugged and desolate area surrounding it has become the La Jolla we know today – a unique intersection where posh beach town meets world-class research and education.

As the breadth of Scripps science has grown and changed shape decade after decade, so have the physical spaces where that science is conducted. From turn-of-the century cottages turned into office space, to 1960s retro classrooms and ultramodern “green” conference facilities, the Scripps campus is a potpourri of architectural styles and stories set against the stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

50th Anniversary tours are free with the purchase The Campus Guide: University of California, San Diego, and in addition to the tour, attendees enjoy a continental breakfast and hear from guest speakers about campus architecture. Tours are held 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and are available January 9, February 13, March 13, April 10, and May 8.

--Shannon Casey

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