Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

Year Built: 1987-1988
Architect: Ferver Engineering
Construction firm: Kiewit Pacific Company

Current use: As one of the world's biggest research piers, it is used for boat launching and a variety of experiments. Data on ocean conditions and plankton taken from the pier since 1916 provide an unparalleled source of information on changes in the coastal Pacific Ocean.

The pier also provides a supply of fresh seawater, a critical resource for a marine institution, to an array of laboratories and aquaria. Seawater is pumped up from the end of the pier, then filtered and stored in holding tanks. Scripps pumps about 1.8 million gallons of seawater each day.

Halfway down the ramp north of the pier is the Diving Facility, used since 1958 by Scripps divers to house their compressors and equipment for recharging scuba tanks and as a site for inspection and maintenance of diving equipment. The training program for scientists using underwater breathing apparatus began at Scripps in 1951; it is the oldest program of that kind in the country, and has established many of the rules for safe diving with underwater equipment.

Namesake: Named for Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932), the most significant donor to the institution in its formative years. Born in London, Ellen emigrated to the United States with her father in 1844, and grew up on a farm in Illinois. She attended Knox College in Illinois. In 1866, she joined her brother James in his newspaper business, and later she worked with her younger half-brother E.W. Scripps in his newspaper business. E.W. settled in the San Diego area about 1890, and Ellen built a house in La Jolla soon after that.

Never married, and wealthy from funds derived from the family newspaper businesses and from inheritance from another brother George, she became a major benefactor in La Jolla and elsewhere. In its earliest years, Ellen provided generous funds for the Marine Biological Association, served on its board, and gave it a large endowment. An unassuming person, she preferred that the institution be named for her brother George, but the University of California chose the overall Scripps surname in 1912. Finally, in 1988, the pier was named for this remarkable woman.

History: The original Scripps Pier, built in 1915-1916, was a 1,000-foot-long facility for acquiring clean seawater for the campus laboratories and the public aquarium. Ellen Browning Scripps provided all of the money ($36,000) for its construction. That structure—well built for its day, with reinforced concrete and wooden pilings and a wooden deck—survived many years and storms, but extensive repairs were made to it in 1926 and 1946.

Major concerns about the soundness of the old pier finally led to its total replacement. The modern pier, which is 1,090 feet long, was built of reinforced concrete alongside the original pier, which was then removed.

Pier Facilities and Access Requests: Description of available spaces and capabilities and/or to request access for research purposes, scientific diving, sampling, or instrument testing.  Requests for access are subject to approval.