Mortar in the Court! La Jolla Historical Society rocks out with cobblestone restoration projects

Cobblestones can still be seen on walls, homes and walkways throughout La Jolla. Courtesy
Cobblestones can still be seen on walls, homes and walkways throughout La Jolla. Courtesy

By Carol Olten

One of the most significant building phenomena in La Jolla of the early 1900s was the construction of hundreds of linear feet of cobblestone walls in the heart of the Village. Mainly, they surrounded and wove serpentine-like through the oceanfront estate owned by Ellen Browning Scripps. (True to form, the wealthiest lady in La Jolla whose interests were in nature and simplicity, defined her house and gardens with the most unassuming of natural materials – rocks!)

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Cobblestones can still be seen on walls, homes and walkways throughout La Jolla. Courtesy

Today, the cobblestone walls remain an important feature of the area familiarly referenced as the Scripps/Gill cultural complex – Gill referring to architect Irving Gill who designed Scripps’ home (present site of the Museum of Contemporary Art) and surrounding buildings including the La Jolla Recreation Center and La Jolla Woman’s Club. But after more than 100 years, the walls have reached a point of severe decay. Rocks – ever the rolling stones! – have fallen out of them as mortar disintegrates. Uneven patches appear as owners have attempted poorly researched repairs.

In some situations as with the mid-century building of the In Eden apartment complex at Prospect and Cuvier streets, they have been ripped up. Although a cobblestone wall once was one of the first erected in the Village by the La Jolla Recreation Center, it has long since been cemented over no longer keeping any of its original integrity. Still, the remaining cobblestone walls are a unique La Jolla feature – picturesque, quaint and an admirable remembrance of the workers who made and designed them – including the mastermind Mr. Gill.

“The cobblestone walls are an extremely important part of the original landscape fabric,” said Tom Grunow, president of the La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS). “Their maintenance and restoration is integral to our overall project.”

The majority of the remaining cobblestone walls today are part of the LJHS property – Wisteria Cottage, the Carriage House and 7846 Eads Ave. office building – fronting on Prospect Street and Eads Avenue. They will be part of the LJHS’ three-phased undertaking to restore and maintain the buildings and gardens at 780 Prospect St. and 7846 Eads Ave.

Originally, cobble walls wrapped the Scripps’ estate from Prospect (at Cuvier) to Eads Avenue toward the ocean to Coast Boulevard, going from Coast down to Cuvier and, then, back up the hill to Prospect. They also twined through the Scripps’ gardens defining paths and serving as retaining walls. Other cobble walls were built in the same time frame of the early 1900s on the site of what was to become the Recreation Center and the present-day St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Early photographs show them framing a precise and pristine landscape, well-planned and executed.

Why in La Jolla’s early history this sudden and rather brief fascination with the building of rock walls?

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Lovely to look at.

Possibly, Ellen Browning Scripps had cobblestone walls in her blood. She was born in England and grew up in Rushville, Ill. – both places that used cobble walls as a way of defining property.

Secondly, Gill who received significant La Jolla commissions from Miss Scripps, experimented widely with cobblestones as a building material during a short-lived span from 1905-1908 after which his interests moved to more modern ideas and the use of tilt-up concrete.

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