Village by the Sea: The story of La Jolla unfolds in new Historical Society exhibit

Carol Olten, historian, and Michael Mishler, archivist and curator, stand in front of the Early Pioneers section of the current exhibit at the La Jolla Historical Society depicting La Jolla's history from its founding in the late 1800s through the 1920s. – Photo by Linda Hutchison
Carol Olten, historian, and Michael Mishler, archivist and curator, stand in front of the Early Pioneers section of the current exhibit at the La Jolla Historical Society depicting La Jolla's history from its founding in the late 1800s through the 1920s. – Photo by Linda Hutchison

By Linda Hutchison

Just how did the town of La Jolla get its start? Who were the first La Jollans and what brought them here approximately 125 years ago?

To find out, visit “Home of Your Dreams: Early La Jolla from 1887 through the 1920s,” a new exhibit at the La Jolla Historical Society's Wisteria Cottage. The show tells the story of La Jolla's early days and gradual development into a cohesive, distinct community.

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Carol Olten, historian, and Michael Mishler, archivist and curator, stand in front of the Early Pioneers section of the current exhibit at the La Jolla Historical Society depicting La Jolla's history from its founding in the late 1800s through the 1920s. – Photo by Linda Hutchison

Artfully laid out and illustrated with approximately 100 photographs from the society's extensive archives, the exhibit also includes artifacts and written descriptions and flows easily from one area of La Jolla's colorful history to another. These include Early Pioneers, The Scripps Legacy, Transportation, Art & Performance, Civic Community, Houses & Architecture, The Sporting Scene, and The Enchanting Sea.

The exhibit has been very popular since opening in mid-November, with 40 or more visitors walking through each day, according to Carol Olten, society historian and author of "Images of America: La Jolla," the basis for much of the exhibit. Olten provided the research for the exhibit, which was designed by Michael Mishler, society archivist and curator.

"Even those who live here are interested in La Jolla's general history," said Olten. "Our previous exhibits on early surfing and beach days and life during World War II were well-received."

La Jolla's story includes a unique combination of commerce, community, culture, creative spirit and natural beauty. All these elements came together at the right time as the Southern California land boom took off in the late 1800s and attracted ocean and beach lovers who decided to stay for more than a day and call La Jolla home.

La Jolla's founding father was a New York City stockbroker named Frank Terrell Botsford who bought 400 acres of La Jolla Park, as the area along the ocean was called. He paid $5.50 an acre and held his first public auction to sell off parcels in April of 1887. He often camped, fished and hunted in the area and envisioned the future La Jolla, with houses built into the beachside cliffs and hills.

Early street names such as Wall, Park and Exchange reflect Botsford's financial-world ties. Botsford formed a partnership with another early pioneer from the East, George Webster Heald, who built the first house in La Jolla in 1887, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the corner of Silverado and Exchange. Because he loved horses, he actually built his barn first and lived in it until his house was completed.

Many of La Jolla's early residents were already sold on the area and had been traveling to the coast from other parts of San Diego to explore the tide pools and relax by the ocean.

The railway tracks laid in 1885 made it easy to travel from downtown San Diego to La Jolla in just 30 minutes and for only 75-cents round trip.

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George Webster Heald, one of La Jolla's founding fathers, built the first house in La Jolla in 1887, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the corner of Silverado and Exchange. Because he loved horses, he actually built his barn first and lived in it until his house was completed. – Painting by Lena Nans

Within La Jolla, people rode horses — or horses and buggies —  to get around. A popular donkey named Rags wandered the dirt streets with a cart and carried children to the beach. Cows from a nearby dairy farm often congregated on what is now La Jolla Shores Beach. The first car in La Jolla was driven by a visiting British Lord in 1902. It was steered by a lever and once tipped over on Prospect Street when the gent stopped to pick up a female passenger and she fell on the lever.

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