December 28, 2018

The Seussian Mysteries of Mountain Munchkins and Bridges for Trolls

I'd gone to Mount Soledad in 2008 on my first trip to San Diego, but it was more or less by chance.

I'd read that there was a mountain with a view of the ocean and a cross on top of it, so I suggested we go check it out.

I didn't know then that Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) had called this mountain home...

...or that the mountain's lore was nearly as mythical and magical as the fantastical creations in the Seuss canon.

First, there are the Munchkins (as in, The Wizard of Oz). They never lived or even stayed on Mount Soledad, despite rumors to the contrary—but the myth was perpetuated because some of the houses that were built on the steep incline looked rather miniature.

And then there's the mini version of the Cabrillo Bridge, which famously brought visitors into the west entrance of Balboa Park for the 1915-16 Panama–California Exposition. The petite doppelgänger at Al Bahr Drive (Arabic for "By the Sea") followed in 1928.

its resemblance to the landmark of the Expo grounds—10 miles southeast as the crow flies—was no coincidence. The mini one was commissioned by San Diego transplant (by way of Indianapolis) William French Ludington, who'd purchased a large plot of very steep land on the slope of Mt. Soledad—considered "worthless" by many. "W.F." Ludington had been an early merchant in the prominent subdivision of La Jolla, moved to San Diego in 1904, and later became a director of the 1915-16 Panama Exposition.

In that role, he helped create the Cabrillo Bridge (Puente Cabrillo) as a way to traverse an unforgiving landscape. Likewise on Mount Soledad, he relied once again on those classical arches so that automobiles could access his new Ludington Heights development and snap up its ocean-view lots.

But one bridge proved to be not enough, so he built a second at Castellana Road—with a deck that connects to the dead-end Puente Drive (Spanish for "Bridge Drive") and a winding road that double-backs along a hairpin turn to send you under where you originally came from.

This one is even smaller, and it's obscured by lush landscaping that darkens its tunnels—which has earned it the nickname of the "Troll Bridge" (though that moniker has come to refer to both bridges on Mount Soledad).

The dense plantings were the work of past neighborhood resident Delbert C. "Del" Colby and his wife Lois, who used to live by the bridge at 1775 Castellana Road. Colby was a landscaper who owned Rancho Santa Fe Nursery (closed December 1992), and he used many of his own specimens to plant the triangular parcel. It's now designated Colby Park in his honor.

The construction date of this continuous concrete beam bridge presents another mystery of Mount Soledad, as conflicting reports have it as circa the 1930s, 1949, and 1950. CalTrans has no date at all for it in its Statewide Historic Bridge Inventory.

But considering the fact that Ludington himself died of a heart attack in 1928, it seems pretty clear that both bridges were built that same year—before the stock market crash of 1929 rendered much of his property worthless, at least for the duration of the Great Depression.

It appears that a resurgence of development came to Ludington Heights in 1947—but at that point, I'm pretty sure the bridges were already there.

And of course La Jolla as a whole, as well as Mount Soledad and Ludington Heights, are quite posh now.

Yet despite the popularity of the area, these two bridges remain curiosities, hidden from view for most.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The View from Above Balboa Park's Former Expo Grounds
Rocking the Boat Without Getting Seasick
Photo Essay: How An East Coaster Helped Turn San Juan Cove Into Dana Point

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