War Stories: Historical Society exhibit paints portrait of La Jolla during WW II
If you go
What: “Homefront La Jolla: An American Community During World War II”
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays to May 27
Where: Wisteria Cottage, 780 Prospect St.
Phone: (858) 459-5335
By Pat Sherman
During the dark days of the Second World War, La Jolla would often dim to the occasion, as depicted in the La Jolla Historical Society’s current exhibit about life in La Jolla during the war.
“People were so afraid the Japanese would attack that you had to turn out all your lights at night,” said society historian Carol Olten, standing in the exhibit’s makeshift “blackout” room, covered with heavy black sheets like those residents used to prevent light from escaping their homes during the war. Blackouts were enacted to prevent enemy aircraft from reaching their targets by sight. They also helped prevent ships from being viewed in silhouette against the shore, and vulnerable to attack by enemy submarines.
“La Jolla had quite a number of blackouts during the war years,” Olten said. “Down by the Museum of Contemporary Art there’s a wall that was built by Ellen Browning Scripps that had lamps on it to guide the ships at night. That was one of the things that La Jolla turned off.”
“Mount Soledad … was a survey point. They spotted planes from up there.”
The exhibition, “Homefront La Jolla: An American Community During World War II,” is open Thursdays through Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. through May 27.
The exhibit is comprised of items from the society archives with additional artifacts on loan from Veterans Museum in Balboa Park and the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.
The exhibition includes airplane spotter cards, which were used like flash cards to help members of the military and civilian defense identify and differentiate Allied and Axis planes.
An army footlocker belonging to deceased La Jolla resident Robert Larimer served as inspiration for the exhibit, and contains items on loan from the Veterans Museum, like those the major and Silver Star recipient would have carried with him during the war.
“We started wondering what was it like in La Jolla during World War II so we set out to interview people who were here or who came here because of the war or who had to leave here because of the war.”
Additional information for the exhibit was gleaned from the oral histories of La Jolla residents who lived through World War II, or their surviving relatives. The taped histories will help the society fill gaps in La Jolla history from the post-war era to present, said society archivist Mike Mishler.
“You’re getting the stories about what they remembered about World War II, but you’re also getting the stories about what life was like beyond just the war, and I think that will be a very valuable resource as we try to build our collection,” Mishler said.
The oral history of World War II veteran Don Schutte was conducted by a student at La Jolla High School. Schutte donated a scrapbook of artifacts for the exhibition, which includes a series of mail correspondence with his parents, as well as his capture and imprisonment by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge, on Dec. 16, 1944, in Luxembourg. Transported to several prisoner of war camps, Schutte was eventually released during the armistice of May 1945.
The final page of the scrapbook contains a letter he wrote to himself on Dec. 2, 1945, stating: “Hello there, great to be a civilian, isn’t it?”
“The fact that he kept this scrapbook all these years and he had the telegram that his parents received notifying them (of his capture), I think that’s just really fascinating,” Mishler said. “It’s something I hope everybody takes a look at. It’s very powerful stuff.”
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