Abstract. - In 1891, Professor William E. Ritter of the biology department at the University of California began searching for a location along the California coast for a biological field station. After operating summer field stations from tents in Pacific Grove on Monterey Bay, Avalon on Catalina Island and San Pedro, California, Ritter selected Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor as the home for what he originally hoped would be a permanent station. The station opened in June 1901. Ritter’s goal was to catalog the rich fauna of San Pedro Bay, Santa Catalina Island and San Diego Bay. The laboratory also provided an educational opportunity for secondary school teachers in the field of marine zoology. Ritter sought help from prominent Los Angeles citizens and the Southern California Academy of Sciences to financially support the laboratory and the laboratory remained in operation for the summers of 1901 and 1902.
The Marine Biological Laboratory of Terminal Island represented the first outpost of the University of California in Southern California and the true beginning for the study of marine science within the Los Angeles region. Scientific research in the Los Angeles region prior to this time gave little attention to marine life. It was during the laboratory’s first year of operation in 1901 that the first red tide off Southern California was recorded.
This paper chronicles the history of the two summers of operation at the Terminal Island laboratory focusing on the challenges to establish, furnish and raise funds for the continuation of the laboratory in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Los Angeles found itself outcompeted by a focused fundraising campaign organized in San Diego and Ritter moved the laboratory to San Diego in 1903. In making the move, Ritter speculated that Los Angeles Harbor might become commercially significant reducing its appeal as a place for collecting and studying marine life. Ritter’s San Diego laboratory ultimately became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Yet its humble beginning in an old bathhouse on Terminal Island is often overlooked.