La Jolla benches get needed repairs thanks to volunteers, merchants
By Pat Sherman
For Mindy Barlow, the restoration of more than 30 redwood benches throughout La Jolla Village couldn’t happen soon enough.
When finished, one of those benches, located on the sidewalk in front of the Coin Shop at 7746 Girard Avenue, will include a plaque in memory of her parents, Peter and Betty Mitchell.
The Mitchells opened the Coin Shop in 1964, after relocating to La Jolla from Texas to help Barlow’s mother manage her asthma.
Settling in Muirlands, the philatelists (stamp collectors) branched out to coins, operating the business until 1980, when they sold it to Barlow and her then husband.
Betty Mitchell ran the shop by herself for several years until her husband retired from his job as an electrical engineer.
“She was one of two or three top experts on ancient coins (in the country),” said Barlow of her mother, who passed away in 2011. “My mom would often do appraisals for Lloyd’s of London and Sotheby’s. She was a big deal.
“My parents were so excited to see young people getting interested in coins and stamps, to watch them grow up and bring their own children in,” she added.
Longtime La Jollan Marjorie McNair is helping the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) restore the benches, with guidance from LJVMA Design Division Chair James Neibling. She volunteered to assist with the project after strolling the Village and noting the bench’s seeming neglect, including peeling varnish and severe discoloration.
“They were just practically disintegrating — ready for a nice big bonfire on Halloween at the Rec Center,” McNair said. “I worked for a while with the other bench coordinator. When she (moved on), I stepped forward. My goal is to have every bench in the Village refinished — and we’re close.”
Many of the benches were installed by LJVMA predecessor Promote La Jolla. The organization offered residents and business owners the option to sponsor a bench, which included a memorial or tribute plaque. The cost of the bench included money to pay for its future upkeep.
However, McNair said only about five or six benches still had money in their maintenance accounts when she got involved last spring. “Sometimes people will buy a bunch, their account runs out and they move out of town. We got on the ball and started calling the lost donors, shall we say, and had a won- derful response,” McNair said, noting that most donors had no problem cutting a $250 check to restore their bench.
“It was a big job finding phone numbers and donor names,” she said. “We have every bench in town on a database now and they’re all numbered.”
For benches that warrant replacing, the LJVMA is considering an alternative material, since older redwood is scarce and young red- wood often has knots and other imperfections. New benches will likely be made of either Douglas fir or Brazillian Ipe, one of the hard- est, most durable woods in the world (though more expensive), McNair said.
Though the LJVMA considered using recycled plastic benches, a prototype placed near Union Bank in December was deemed too hot to sit on in warm weather, and later melted due to an adjacent trash bin fire.
“The good Lord above intervened one night,” McNair said. “That was the end of the test.”
Most of the work is being completed by Teak & Deck Professionals of Carlsbad, which is refinishing each bench and applying two coats of protective, penetrating oil (in lieu of varnish, which cracks and peals in the sun).
McNair is among a handful of volunteers, including Jack Cheever and the LJVMA’s Leon Chow and Egon Kafka, who are refurbishing 10 “orphan benches,” or those without donors to pay for their restoration. Volunteers remove the slats, then sand and refinish them at home.
Moving forward, the LJVMA will conduct regular annual inspections of the benches, restoring each as necessary at a cost of about $50-$60 each, McNair said. “Anyone who owns a bench or purchases a bench in the future is going to have to agree to this maintenance program,” she said.
There are about 60 to 70 public benches in the Village, including the iconic, aluminum seahorse-shaped benches.
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