Powerhouse of Innovation …
from Hotel Laundry to Hot Spot to Civic Treasure in Just Sixty Years
The genesis and evolution of the historic powerhouse is a classic tale of “olde” Del Mar. The initial facility roared to life in the 1920s as an adjunct to a popular new hotel in town that put the tiny village on the map.
The Del Mar Hotel was built in 1910 at 1540 Camino Del Mar. (L’Auberge now resides on the site.) Right from the start, the hotel attracted Hollywood silent film movie stars and other luminaries.
The Village of Del Mar was small, but rich in amenities. According to Del Mar Main Street History, “The village also offered a pier, a plunge (saltwater bath house), a golf course, and its own powerhouse.”
A second powerhouse was built in 1928 to house new equipment and provide the many gallons of hot water needed for a new laundry to support the hotel’s needs. The powerhouse’s most notable feature was its attractive, round and fluted, sky-reaching smokestack. Nearly 90 years later, this aspirational landmark continues to beckon people from near and far.
As the years went on and the village grew into a town, the powerhouse underwent successive phases as well. For many years, it provided laundry facilities and electricity to the hotel, and generated hot water for the plunge.
But later, after its roaring start, the Del Mar Hotel suffered a downhill slide and ultimate demise. It lost its popularity, had many owners, became rundown and sank into bankruptcy in 1955. The powerhouse itself would revive briefly in the late 1950s, coming back to life as the Powerhouse Roaring 20s nightclub.
In 1965, three years after the nightclub’s doors closed, the powerhouse was rented by Universal Water Corporation as the site of a potential desalination plant. As the first step in building a plant to convert salt water to potable (drinking) water, Universal completely renovated the interior. Three years later, the project was abandoned.
Although the salt water effort helped preserve the structure, after Universal departed, the powerhouse remained closed for 20 years until 1988, when it became the namesake of Powerhouse Community Park. The Friends of the Powerhouse organization takes great pleasure in having galvanized and supported the restoration of the park, community center and surrounding beach-area facilities.
The Board states, “We are happy to have contributed to – and to continue to support – this inclusive community asset. The facilities are in daily use for the enjoyment of all and well-utilized by people of all ages and interests for diverse activities and special events.”
For more on the history of the powerhouse and other Del Mar landmarks and people, including Discovering Del Mar’s Past, a walking tour book with pictures and maps, visit the Del Mar Historical Society.