La Jolla Historical Society
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The La Jolla Historical Society is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, in La Jolla, San Diego County, California, that is committed to the discovery, collection and preservation of La Jolla’s heritage through collections, programs and advocacy.
Programs and collections
The La Jolla Historical Society produces a wide range of programs and events to fulfill its mission and enhance its appeal amongst a diverse demographic, including:
- Exhibitions featuring images, art, and artifacts from its collection and on loan from other organizations. Recent exhibitions have included: By the Beautiful Sea (June – September 2008); Merchants & Memories (February–May 2009); All Roads Lead to La Jolla: A Journey through our Automotive Past (Dec 09 - Feb 2010); Waveriders: Perspective on Surfing in La Jolla 1930–1950 (May – July 2010); Identify: The Teenage Experience in La Jolla (August – October 2010); Postmark La Jolla: History of the US Postal Service in La Jolla (Aug – Nov 2010); The Big Picture: Selections from the Oversized Image Collection (Oct – Nov 2010); La Jolla: Then & Now (June - Aug 2011)
- Preserving a significant collection of photographic prints, audio and video recordings, real estate files, architectural drawings biographical files, books, newspapers, school yearbooks, art, printed ephemera and scrapbooks, manuscripts, artifacts
- Monitoring La Jolla’s historic sites and structures
- Regular lecture series
- Public walking tours of La Jolla’s historic central village
- Recording and transcribing oral histories of long-time residents
- Feasting on History, a fundraising event in local historic homes
- Ellen Browning Scripps Luncheon, commemorating La Jolla’s beloved philanthropist
- La Jolla Motor Car Classic, nationally renowned fundraising event for car enthusiasts
- Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla, featuring beautiful homes and treasured gardens
- Old Fashioned Ice Cream Social for young children and families
- Student Photo Contest, to promote local youths’ interest in La Jolla’s heritage through photography
The La Jolla Historical Society was founded in 1963 by a small group of community leaders and local citizens dedicated to preserving the community’s rich heritage and culture. However, the work of the Society actually dates back to the late 1930s with the arrival in La Jolla of Howard S.F. Randolph. A historian and genealogist from New England, Randolph advocated greater recognition of local history in the community, particularly in La Jolla's development during the 1880s and ‘90s. Working with the Library Association of La Jolla, Randolph established a Historical Committee and gathered photographs and documentation to create his seminal book La Jolla: Year by Year. The publication triggered increased interest in local history amongst La Jollans, culminating in a February 22, 1940, meeting in the Presbyterian Church attended by more than a hundred citizens to discuss La Jolla’s recorded past and how it might be best preserved. With the community’s support, Randolph’s collection grew, becoming the nucleus of the significant archival collection of images and documents that the Society maintains today.
La Jollans’ efforts supporting heritage education and preservation remained connected to the Library Association for years. In 1955, the Association financed a second edition of Randolph’s book and, by the 1960s, community members realized a separate organization was necessary to address the growing interest in La Jolla history. After the Society’s founding, the board of trustees of the Library Association in April 1964 gave the Historical Committee permission to transfer the Randolph Collection to the new organization. Articles of incorporation were filed on July 7, 1964, with the Society's first officers being Barbara Dawson (President), Hiomi Nakamura (Vice President), and A.B. Crosby (Secretary).
Throughout its history, the Society has operated out of numerous facilities, initially working from a room in the La Jolla Federal Savings & Loan building at 1100 Wall Street. It then met in private homes until 1968 when a small office was established at 7917 Girard Avenue. In 1971, operations were moved to the La Jolla Public Library at 1010 Wall St. (location of the present-day Athenaeum). Six years later, the Society moved to the Colonial Inn. Finally, in 1981, the Society moved to its current location in a 1909 cottage at 7846 Eads Avenue, located within the historically significant Scripps-Gill cultural complex in central La Jolla.
Today, the Society boasts nearly 900 members and has grown into a multi-faceted community organization with a growing slate of programs and an ambitious future. In July 2008, the Society was gifted the three historic buildings on the site of what was once the estate of Ellen Browning Scripps, including historic Wisteria Cottage (formerly home of John Cole’s Book Shop), the Society’s current headquarters (a 1909 beach cottage) and the adjacent 1894 carriage house. Current plans call for the renovation of the property to serve as the Society’s new home, featuring gallery spaces for public exhibitions, an educational center, gift shop, staff offices, and modern archival storage. The Society is in the midst of a multi-million dollar capital campaign to raise funds for the restoration of the three structures.
The Society’s Historic Structures
1904 Wisteria Cottage
Located at 780 Prospect Avenue in the heart of the Scripps/Gill Cultural District, Wisteria Cottage is one of La Jolla’s most distinguishing structures, outstanding for its proximity to the ocean, rich architectural roots, and significance of past ownership and residents. Named for the wisteria-covered pergola in front of the entry, the Cottage was built in 1904 and acquired by the famous Scripps family only months after its completion. In 1909, acclaimed architect Irving Gill was commissioned to design a number of additions and modifications, including the trademark pergola.
In its hundred-plus year history, Wisteria Cottage has experienced a number of uses: guest house, temporary home for St. James by-the-Sea Church, the Balmer School (today’s La Jolla Country Day School), and two different bookstores. The Cottage was designated Historic Site No. 166 by the City of San Diego in the 1980s.
Plans call for restoration of the cottage, two adjacent structures and the gardens and adapting their use as exhibit galleries, education programs, archival storage, and event venue.
In the early 1900s, La Jolla was a small beach-side town of a few dirt roads with horse-drawn carriages and about a hundred residential cottages, either rented or owned. Most cottages had one or two bedrooms with no plumbing or electricity. Typically, they were of simplistic exterior wood shingle construction and finished inside with wainscot and pine plank floors.
One such cottage was built in 1909 at 245 Prospect Street, utilized as a residence and rental for decades. The La Jolla Historical Society, which had been located in a small office at the Colonial Inn hotel on Prospect Street, acquired the cottage as the Society’s new home after discovering the cottage would be demolished to make room for a three-story condominium. In 1981, the cottage was moved a few blocks north on Prospect and around the corner to its current location at 7846 Eads Avenue by La Jolla developer Dewhurst & Associates. The expense of moving the cottage was provided by the Revelle Family, whose property the cottage now occupies, just down the hill from Wisteria Cottage. Once in place, plumbing and electricity was installed.
Over the past twenty-five years, in its adaptive reuse by the Society, the cottage has held archives collection files, staff offices of the executive director, office manager, archivist, and historian and accommodates a growing corps of volunteers. Work is located throughout four separate rooms, each retaining historical flavor with original wainscot and windows replete with “wavy” window glass –the effects of time on a century-old structure.
1894 carriage house
Until about 1912, there were no cars in La Jolla, horse-drawn carriages and wagons being the transportation of the early days. At the time, Ellen Browning Scripps owned an extensive tract of property along the La Jolla coastline that included her first Victorian-style home (Moulton Villa), a lathe house and this carriage house still on its original Eads Avenue site that housed her horse-drawn carriages. A 1915 arson fire destroyed Moulton Villa and much of Scripps’ surrounding structures but the small Carriage House, originally built in 1894, escaped untouched.
With the age of the automobile approaching, the carriage house began to accommodate Scripps’ stylish new Pierce Arrow touring car, driven around town by chauffeur Fred Higgins. British by birth, Higgins remained Scripps’ chauffeur until her death in 1932. It was widely reported that he lived in the back room of the carriage house for some years, although in an oral interview years later he gave his address as 7866 Eads Avenue, another Scripps’-owned cottage farther down the street and no longer in existence.
The carriage house is characteristic of the many small buildings constructed in La Jolla in the early 1900s, featuring single-wall construction with wood siding finishing the main façade. A high-pitched roof and garage entry doors allowed large carriages to come and go with ease. The rear of the structure contains a series of small partitions that may have been used as living quarters at some time. One window repeats the small triangular-topped panes also found in Wisteria Cottage.
Between 2009 and 2010, the structure’s exterior was restored as closely as possible to its original appearance. The interior was modified to accommodate the Society’s extensive collections in a special climate-controlled environment with modern HVAC, air filtration, fire suppression system, and movable shelving. The work was completed in early 2010 with a ribbon-cutting on February 5, 2010.