Jazzing Up the Place: Historical Society exhibit chronicles La Jolla development in the 1920s

The 1920s was one heck of a decade in La Jolla.

Wrapping up a round of street paving that included Torrey Pines Road and Prospect Street, La Jolla Boulevard was also paved in 1920. The San Diego Electric Railroad opened a terminal at Prospect Street and Fay Avenue in 1924. La Valencia Hotel opened in 1926. Several of La Jolla’s prominent subdivisions were developed by 1927.

Paying homage to the momentous decade, the La Jolla Historic Society’s latest exhibit “From Jazz Age to Our Age: Landmark Homes in La Jolla,” displays photos and drawings of notable homes, as well as historical biographies of some of La Jolla’s most influential architects and homeowners. It can be viewed from June 11 to Sept. 4 at the Society’s Wisteria Cottage, 780 Prospect St.

At the same time, “Cows on the Beach 1906-2016” will be on display.

“The 1920s were a time when the community was emerging from what had been the ‘beach cottage’ Village in the 1890s and 1900s and through World War I,” said Heath Fox, La Jolla Historical Society executive director. Largely due to the paving of roads into La Jolla and the arrival of the electric street car, people started moving to La Jolla and hiring architects to build homes. “So it was a formidable time and there was a very interesting group of architects and architectural styles that they used for these homes.”

Exhibit Curator Seonaid McArthur said, “It’s also about learning who these families were that came here, where they came from, why they came here, and much more.”

As she explained it, “With the 1920s and the financial incentives that came down from the government, there was this huge sense of wealth — the rich became richer and the middle class had more money to spend. So people like Ellen Browning Scripps were able to share their wealth.”

Sharing anecdotes that stemmed from a “remarkable amount of research” on the principal areas that formed or became architecturally significant that decade — Barber Tract (1921), WindanSea (1922), Prospect Park (1923), La Jolla Hermosa (1923-1926), La Jolla Shores (1926), Country Club Heights (1926), Muirlands (1927) and Ludington Heights and La Jolla Hills (1927) — McArthur said certain key players contributed to development.

Starting with the Barber Tract, she said, “Phillip Barber came from New York and made a trip out here without his family and saw how beautiful it was compared to congested, dirty New York, and he bought some acreage. He hired the same architects that designed the La Jolla Library and built his first home. That’s an important part of the exhibition because the Phillip Barber home was one of the earliest important residences in La Jolla, built in 1921.” Because that house was recently renovated, a portion of the exhibit will be dedicated to the process and challenges of working on a historic home.

When it came to putting WindanSea on the architectural map, McArthur said, “It was really an important and amazing development by architect Rudolph Schindler … and the story of that development, which is now a pilgrimage site for architects from around the world, is a story that has never been told here. Before 1923, when it was built, there were ugly row houses there. They were all the same. Everyone looked into each other’s houses. No one had gardens. (After Schindler) you have this site, a block from the beach, that had private gardens, you could see the water. It’s one of the most amazing designs of its time.”

The La Jolla designs of other architects are also featured in the exhibit — homes by Richard S. Requa, Edgar V. Ullrich, Ralph L. Frank, Herbert E. Palmer, Thomas Shepherd, Cliff May and two pioneering female architects, Florence B. Palmer and Lilian J. Rice.

“This was also a time when there were these wonderful craftsmen who came from Europe and Mexico, and who knew how to forge iron, use leaded glass, and create this craftsman aesthetic of woodworking and carving. The exhibit tries to teach about the styles and what makes them up,” McArthur said.

In addition to Craftsmen homes, other architectural styles — Spanish Revival, Moorish, English Tudor and early Rancho/Hacienda — are highlighted with drawings that are half rendering, half photo, and notes that point out the features of each.

Tucked in the back of exhibit is a room dedicated to the “Cows on the Beach: 1906-2016” photos, an exhibit loosely tied to the “From Jazz Age to Our Age” display. In what McArthur calls “a pre-1920s innocence” the side exhibit shows a 1906 photo by Herbert R. Fitch of cows resting on the beach of La Jolla Shores when the area was predominately a dairy farm. Behind it will be the 2016 re-creation by photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann, which was taken in March.

Fox explained, “Along with the cows photos, we will have a history panel about La Jolla Shores, so it’s very much tied to that early Shores history … In a sense, it’s like two little exhibitions in the same gallery space, but in another sense, it’s very much a tie there.”

IF YOU GO: “From Jazz Age to Our Age: Landmark Homes in La Jolla” and “Cows on the Beach 1906-2016” will be on display from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 11-Sept. 4 at Wisteria Cottage galleries, 780 Prospect St. Admission is free. (858) 459-5335. lajollahistory.org

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