A specter from our past: Longtime residents will always remember the stain left on the Jewel by an era of housing discrimination

By Will Carless

It is a silently complicated picture, as faded and patchy as the early copies of the La Jolla Journal - now called The La Jolla Light - and it reveals a prejudice most would like to forget.

It is also a picture that has been re-painted several times over the past four or five decades. It is the picture of anti-Semitism, the picture of racism. It's a closeted part of our history that begs to be forgotten.

Nobody can say for certain whether La Jolla was a community that was largely anti-Semitic or racist well into the 1960s, or if those feelings were shared only by a few. The memories of those who lived here at the time are all too easily tainted by the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia or the torque of their personal politics.

Depending on who is asked, the Jewel was either a haven for multi-ethnicity or a hotbed of anti-Jewish distrust and racism. Residents remember playing side by side with Jewish and black friends without a care in the world, while others remembers swastikas daubed on the walls of the first synagogue that set roots in La Jolla.

Many historians, commentators and journalists have dipped their brushes into the increasingly scant pools of memory and archives to reveal their version of what the discrimination and stereotypes of the time looked like. Unfortunately, such accounts all too often reveal the preconceptions of their authors. While they abound with sweeping statements about the anti-Semitic nature of La Jolla in days past, they often come up short in terms of evidence that it was a widely held prejudice.

There are, however, clear, substantiated and well-recorded accounts that point firmly to a virulent culture of housing discrimination in La Jolla aimed primarily at Jews.

No homes for Jews

Real estate agents from the time admit - with a hearty disgust borne from years of keeping a dirty secret - there was a widespread policy of discriminating against Jews searching for houses in La Jolla. Some of the first Jewish settlers in La Jolla remember the distrust they faced and the difficulties they had to overcome in finding an agent who would rent or sell them a house.

Judy Keelin has been an agent with the Willis Allen Co., one of La Jolla's first real estate companies, since the early-1960s. The longtime La Jolla resident remembers the actions she and her colleagues were informed to take against Jews.

Keelin said that, while she was ashamed of the policy she was asked to enforce, she knew she had to toe the line.

"I hate to even say it, because I never agreed with it," said Keelin. "It was against the Jewish people. We were told that if somebody came into our office and he looked like a Jew or had a name like a Jew, and he wanted to look at property, we were to tell him that we didn't have anything for sale."

Keelin said that the La Jolla Real Estate Brokers' Association acted as the lynchpin for this policy of discrimination, coordinating agents in a united front to keep Jews from buying homes.

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