Protecting the Torrey Pine

In 1883, Parry re-visited the area. Surprised at the lack of protection for the trees, he wrote a historical and scientific account of the pine emphasizing the need to protect the tree from extermination. This was presented to the San Diego Society of Natural History.

The first source of protection came in 1885 from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They posted signs citing a reward of $100 for the apprehension of anyone vandalizing a Torrey pine tree.

This attempt to protect the trees was reinforced by botanist J. G. Lemmon of the newly formed California State Board of Forestry. In 1888, he suggested that appropriate legislation be mandated to protect the tree. That same year, the mystique of the tree was enhanced by botanist T. S. Brandagee’s discovery of Torrey pines on Santa Rosa Island. Several theories have been set forth trying to explain the two stands of trees some 175 miles apart. These include that trees were planted there from bird droppings; that earthquakes moved landmasses over long periods of time due to plate tectonics; and that the trees were once more widely spread along the Southern California coast.

In 1890, some pueblo lands in San Diego were leased for cattle and sheep grazing. This was in spite of early warnings for preservation. In order to clear the land, trees were cut and hauled away to be used for firewood. The present Torrey Pines area was included in this lease

Establishment of the Torrey Pine Park

Persuaded by city father George Marston, botanists David Cleveland and Belie Angler, the City Council in 1899 passed an ordinance to set aside 364 acres of pueblo lands as a public park. Unfortunately, the ordinance made no provisions for protecting the tree.

After the turn of the century, the lands surrounding the park were in danger of being commercially sold. Between 1908 and 1911, newspaper woman and philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps (bio, external link), acquired two additional pueblo lots and willed them to the people of San Diego. This added to the park the area of North Grove and the estuary. By the time she died in 1932, Miss Scripps had contributed greatly not only to the establishment of our park, but also to the Natural History Museum, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Zoo, the La Jolla Childrens’ Pool, and the Scripps Clinic and Research facility.

Representing the San Diego Society of Natural History and the San Diego Floral Association, Guy Fleming and Ralph Sumner visited the park in 1916 to conduct botanical studies. Their report of damage caused by picnickers and campers resulted in public support for the preservation of the area. The movement was spearheaded by Miss Scripps.

In 1921, Miss Scripps and the City Park Commission appointed Guy Fleming as the first custodian of the park. A former naturalist and landscaper, he later went on to become the District Superintendent for the State Park System in Southern California.

In 1922, Miss Scripps retained Ralph Cornell, a well known landscape architect, to suggest a long term plan for the park. His three-part plan called for restrictions against changing the original landscape or introducing plants or features not indigenous to the area or over-cultivating the Torrey pine to the exclusion of open spaces.  – Judy Schulman

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