Like a gift that keeps on giving — one layer at a time — the La Jolla Historical Society’s (LJHS) recently completed renovation of Wisteria Cottage (where its exhibits are held) revealed some interesting things about the 1904 Craftsman-style cottage and its previous inhabitants.
During a recent visit to the campus at Eads Avenue and Prospect Street, LJHS Executive Director Heath Fox noted that about 40 paint samples were taken from exterior walls, trims and the roof, and then sent to Virginia-based art conservator Susan Buck for microscopic
analysis, allowing the LJHS and its architect, Ione Stiegler (of La Jolla-based IS Architecture), to replicate the original color of Wisteria Cottage (“Essex Green” with “French Canvas” trim) and the adjacent Balmer Annex (“Rockwood Sash Green” with “Muslin” trim).
“It turns out there were nine layers of paint on Wisteria and four layers of paint on Balmer,” Fox said. “We restored Wisteria to the period of significance when Virginia Scripps owned it and Irving Gill remodeled it (1907) and Balmer Annex to the late 1940s when it was built as a classroom for what at the time was the Balmer School.”
By accessing the attic, it was determined that the original roof was comprised of cedar shingles. It was also restored. (City code, which otherwise prohibits the use of highly flammable cedar shingles on homes, allows for their use on some historic structures with fire protection systems.)
Old drawings and photographs revealed an entrance and stairway on the left side of Wisteria Cottage that was removed and walled over when the building served as a bookstore (1960-2005), which was also restored. That side entrance adjoined a sidewalk that once connected Virginia Scripps’ Wisteria Cottage with half-sister and leading La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps’ South Moulton Villa (where the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is now located) — an important historic aspect of the property, Fox said.
LJHS Preservation Committee member Diane Kane wrote a historical structures report for the project, documenting features of Wisteria Cottage relative to the people who lived there and events that occurred there.
Poring through archives at UC Santa Barbara, Kane was able to locate master architect Irving Gill’s original drawing for the remodel of Wisteria Cottage, which served as a better guide for the project than the blurry, faded copy in the LJHS archives, used as a reference for the building’s 1982 historic designation.
Kane said she and Stiegler discovered that Gill added Wisteria’s lower level, as well as cobblestone walls lining the perimeter of the property and cobblestone supporting terraces.
Though they were never able to identify Wisteria’s original architect (it was built for Edith Seaman and husband, George, in 1904), they learned that Wisteria was once situated to the North, where Balmer Annex now is, and repositioned onto the lower level after the site was re-graded.