Powerhouse of Innovation
From hotel laundry to hot spot to civic treasure in just 60 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 space 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.”
What began as a humble powerhouse serving the needs of a hotel in a burgeoning village has grown into a civic treasure that is a place of pride for Del Mar residents and visitors. The FOP is pleased to be part of our community’s rich history and to help enhance Del Mar’s exceptional quality of life.
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.
Meet us at the powerhouse!
The ‘Friendship’ Forms
The impetus for FOP began with the City of Del Mar’s late 1980s construction of Powerhouse Park, located on the 1600 block of Coast Boulevard, between the ocean and railroad tracks. Once Phase One – the Park – was completed, interest arose in renovating the neglected powerhouse on the property so it could function as a public community center. This became the City project’s Phase Two and a major priority for a supportive new organization.
Spearheaded by Barbara Harper, a group of citizens formed the Powerhouse Restoration Committee as a fundraising vehicle. Creating a festive “Meet us at the Powerhouse!” call to action, the Committee held a Powerhouse Restoration Kickoff on October 5, 1997, followed by several fundraising initiatives such as tile painting, brick selling, and t-shirt selling as well as an annual Valentine’s Dance.
Through these and other fundraising activities, the Committee raised a substantial amount of money for the restoration, which included saving the iconic smokestack and adding new public park restroom facilities. Proceeds also benefited construction projects at Powerhouse Park and its Tot Lot.
Powerhouse Restoration Committee Evolves into Friends of the Powerhouse
This auspicious beginning helped attract new members and monetary contributions. Within a few years, as its scope broadened, the Powerhouse Restoration Committee became a registered nonprofit named Friends of the Powerhouse (FOP).
Ongoing fundraising through sales of commemorative bricks, tiles and planks, annual events, plus year-round donations have resulted in the FOP’s creation of a Tot Lot, Beach Safety Center/Lifeguard Tower, site renovations/facelifits, a safe street-to-beach boardwalk, Bill Teague Memorial Garden (honoring a renowned Del Mar horticulturist) and provision of many community Del Mar Lifeguard-related needs.
In 2014, after supporting the City’s Lifeguard service for many years, the FOP was asked to incorporate the nonprofit Del Mar Lifeguard Association into Friends of the Powerhouse. The FOP Board believes this natural fit bolsters our value to the community.
From left to right: Jill Coughlin, Susan Tipton, John Coughlin, Barbara Harper, Jeanne Spadoni, Ronnie Delaney, Susan Pfleeger, Carol More, and Maile D’Arcy