Addendum to La Jolla’s early history exhibit at Historical Society explains the town’s once exclusionary housing policies
By Linda Hutchison
La Jolla emerged in the early 1900s as The Jewel by the Sea, eager to welcome visitors and new homeowners. But for many who wanted to live here, not all of The Jewel was set in shining silver or gold. For decades, theirs was an untold story, one of discrimination and exclusion. Many potential residents were not welcome here and were prevented from buying property based on their race, ethnicity or religion.
To help tell this story, the La Jolla Historical Society has added more information to its current exhibit, “Home of Your Dreams: Early La Jolla 1887 through the 1920s.” Based on research and information donated by longtime La Jolla resident Howard Singer, the exhibit addition is titled, “Paradise Lost: The Emergence of Restrictive Covenants.”
“After spending more than the average amount of time looking over the exhibit, I knew something was lacking,” explained Singer, who is a trustee of the La Jolla Town Council. After hearing the Historical Society’s Executive Director Heath Fox speak at a luncheon, Singer approached him with the idea of adding the information that for many minorities, early La Jolla was not offering them their dream homes, or any homes.
“If this is a report on La Jolla’s past, the way things were has to be here,” Singer said.
The “Paradise Lost” display is located near the Houses & Architecture section of the current exhibit and consists of three panels. The first panel illustrates a typical exclusionary covenant from a 1917 property deed.
The second panel offers a brief history of the emergence and eventual decline of the discrimination that prevented non-whites from buying homes in La Jolla. It refers to local historian Mary Ellen Stratthaus, who wrote a long report in 1996 for the American Jewish Historical Society called “Flaw in the Jewel: Housing Discrimination Against Jews in La Jolla, California.”
The third panel contains early advertising brochures La Jolla realtors used to lure potential buyers while also assuring them that La Jolla property Restrictions and Improvements included “the restriction of ownership or residence to members of the Caucasian Race.” (At this time, Jews were considered non-white.)
The racial and religious discrimination that emerged in La Jolla’s early period, to some extent, reflected attitudes throughout the country and the world (especially anti-Semitism and segregation), but in other ways spoke to the exclusivity of La Jolla. The “La Jolla Covenant” or “Gentleman’s Agreement” was a protected code of conduct that allowed for non-whites to be restricted from buying homes, joining country clubs, and owning businesses in La Jolla.
The real estate agents carried out these covenants by banning For Sale signs on front lawns, keeping sales hidden, and by displaying special cards on their dashboards warning sellers that their customer was Jewish.
Sellers would leave their porch lights on if they didn’t want non-white buyers.
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled such covenants unenforceable (Shelley v. Kraemer), but the practice continued well into the 1960s. It was the formation of UC San Diego under renowned scientist Roger Revelle (1909-1991) that helped put an end to housing discrimination in La Jolla.
As Revelle explained in an interview for the 25th anniversary of UCSD, “I said, and consistently said it always, from 1950 on, you can’t have a university without having Jewish professors. The Real Estate Broker’s Association and their supporters in La Jolla had to make up their minds whether they wanted a university or an anti-Semitic covenant. You couldn’t have both.”
Now La Jolla is approximately 30 percent Jewish, with a thriving Jewish community, one of the largest in San Diego, including three synagogues.
“We are glad Howard brought this to the Historical Society,” Fox said. “The name of the exhibit comes from the same brochures that contain these discriminatory policies. We are an educational institution, so we need to provide continuity with the past and show how it affects society so we can think about our social practices, attitudes and values.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Home of Your Dreams: Early La Jolla 1887-1920s”
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to May 19
Where: La Jolla Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage, 780 Prospect St.
Contact: www.lajollahistory.org or (858) 459-5335
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