• Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Dear Dad,

Do you remember the first time we walked along the Pacific Ocean? It was in Carmel in the summer of 1965, our first vacation in California. That was during your two-year stint as a salesman in St. Louis, before we moved back to New York City. Right now I'm holding a picture Mom took of you, Ken, and me on the beach that day, the three of us with our pants rolled up a few inches, the surf gently lapping up behind us, you wearing a black, Kennedy-era cardigan, your hands on each of our shoulders. You told me later it was that trip that made you decide you wanted to move to California. California was the place for the good life.

More than 40 years later, I was reminded of the day my father, my older brother, and I first dipped our toes into the Pacific. This time, I strolled across San Diego's only private beach, a small strip located on the grounds of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. If La Jolla translated as "the Jewel," then surely the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club was a prized diamond, a beachside hotel-resort and private club that resembled a Spanish-style hacienda, adorned with brown, adobe-textured exteriors, red-tile walkways, and low-slung canopy roofs. These 14 acres were the embodiment of the California good life. And please, as members emphatically advised, just call it "the beach club."

For me, the beach held less interest than the tennis. The club's 12 courts were hosting a tournament, one that made me think of my father: the National Father-Son and National Grandfather-Grandson Hardcourt Championships. Since its inception in 1935, the beach club has placed a premium on hosting distinctive tennis events. Great players stretching across the last century -- from '20s star Bill Tilden to San Diego's legendary Maureen Connolly to Andre Agassi -- have played on the club's courts. Many of the San Diego area's finest players -- 1962 Wimbledon champion Karen Hantze Susman, pros Janet Newberry, Terry Holladay, John Holladay, and Chico Hagey -- cut their teeth here as junior members. There probably aren't more than three private tennis clubs west of Chicago with such a pedigree.

Until the early '70s, tennis was a sport dominated by private clubs. There were other worthy venues -- San Diego's Morley Field was one of the nation's hotbeds of competition -- but in the sport's feudalistic, exclusionary era, the clubs were the castles, fountainheads of quality tennis, power, elegance and, yes, the aspirations and status that accompanied a sport attractive to the upwardly mobile. In Los Angeles, that spirit of ascent was embodied in the Los Angeles Tennis Club. Opened in 1920, the club saw its primary mission as the creation of world-class players, wed to Los Angeles to become the West Coast personification of an East Coast center of commerce and glory.

The La Jolla beach club took another path. Residents earned their wealth elsewhere. This was a community where "lifestyle" was crucial long before the term existed. Exceptionally isolated before the University of California at San Diego grew into a full-fledged UC campus in the early '60s, bucolic La Jolla shunned boosterism and embraced comfortable family living. To this day, the club remains in the hands of its founding family, the Kelloggs. When I spoke to Bill Kellogg, employed at the club since 1979 and its president since 1989, he estimated that currently there are 100 Kellogg-related members. For more than 50 years, William Bond and his namesake son were the club's manager and primary teaching pro. It was a notable rite of passage ritual when a child came of age and could take his or her own membership. Families from all over the country returned regularly for seasonal stays.

Well into the '60s, the club netted barely a nickel. Prior to 1973, there was no waiting list to join the club, but as recently as 1980, the initiation fee was $1500, with monthly dues of $100 and a five-year waiting list. Said Kellogg, "the club was more of a hobby" for a family that earlier in the century made considerable money in the newspaper business in the Kansas City area. After relocating to the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena, F.W. Kellogg and his wife, Florence Scripps, viewed La Jolla as a summer vacation destination and sought to build an appropriate leisure spot.

Originally opened in 1927 as the La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, within a decade the yachting notion proved untenable due to costs, decreased membership because of the hardships of the Depression and, worst of all, the winter tides that each year overran the cove. In 1935, Kellogg purchased the property from the original group of investing partners and shifted the emphasis to tennis. His son, William Scripps Kellogg, had played the game at Stanford. Upon F.W.'s death in 1940, William took charge -- in his own paternal, whimsical way.

Kellogg was a gentle pied piper, an heir to a fortune who preferred pleasure to business. Legend had it that when a member complained to him about the noise of children in the swimming pool, Kellogg told the adult he was welcome to immediately terminate his membership.

Kellogg drove a 1915 Packard Twin Six, a 12-cylinder car with a self-starter and a crank that had been delivered from Detroit to La Jolla via the Panama Canal. The noise of the horn earned it the nickname "the Old Black Goose." Kellogg created "the Old Black Goose Club." Children -- whether as members or hotel guests -- were encouraged to pick up litter. "You made a solemn pledge," recalled Bill more than 50 years later, "and soon you were given a badge marking your membership." At last count, more than 10,000 badges had been distributed.

My father died in 1992. But he accomplished his goal. It was a twisted route -- St. Louis, New York, Connecticut, another go in St. Louis -- but five years after that day in Carmel, we moved to Los Angeles.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader