Anatomy of a Condo Complex: The unusual history behind La Jolla’s 464 Prospect St.
Hours after Jim Perry was born, he and his mother were wheeled through the lobby of Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Sixty-one years later, Perry finds himself back in that same location unusually often. It’s where he and his wife, Margery, read, eat and play with Chilly, their Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
“I never really thought about that, but yeah, that’s exactly what happened right through here,” Perry said, motioning toward his living-room coffee table.
Perry’s condominium unit at 464 Prospect St. used to be the La Jolla hospital’s lobby — his terrace doors, the front entrance. The hospital’s buildings were converted into a condominium complex in 2001.
In a town rife with failures to preserve history, the condos at 464 Prospect St. stand as a resounding success story.
“It’s a building La Jolla should be proud of,” said La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten. “It’s a really good reuse story. If you look at the building from the outside, the facade is beautiful and well-landscaped and people who don’t know, ask, ‘What’s that building?’ And inside, they have a lovely roof deck and beautiful views.”
In January 1922, 85-year-old Ellen Browning Scripps slipped and fell on the sleeping porch of her house at 700 Prospect St. For the first time, La Jolla’s leading benefactress got to test-drive the new La Jolla Sanitarium, which she had built a block south of her house, five years earlier. (The first La Jolla Sanitarium was located in a house moved in 1920 from the 400 block of Prospect to 438 Ravina St., where it remains today.)
The town’s first proper hospital, the new sanitarium had beds for 10 adults and two infants and was run by Ada Gillispie (future namesake of The Gillispie School on Girard Avenue.) Quickly, however, the facilities proved inadequate for a modern town of 2,000 residents.
While recovering from her broken hip, Scripps wrote the following letter to her brother, newspaper magnate E.W. Scripps, which was published in the 2012 book Good Company: The Story of Scripps Health and Its People by Sarita Eastman: “My latest adventure will have to be, I think, a new hospital building, which is sadly needed. You know we own nearly 100 feet adjoining the present sanitarium to the south, on which a building of sufficient size to last for many years can be erected.”
Scripps Memorial Hospital opened at 476 Prospect St. on Sept. 12, 1924 with 57 beds — in private rooms and two- and four-bed wards. It was named not after Ellen, but her favorite sister, who moved into Ellen’s La Jolla house in 1898, the last year of her life. (Julia Anne Scripps died at age 51.) The architect was Louis Gill, nephew of Irving, who designed Ellen’s house.
“Gill’s use of a low sweeping mansard roof covered in Spanish tile with wide overhangs, recessive arched entries with simple plaster surrounds and exterior facades with little ornamentation exemplify his design philosophy,” read the 1988 application to historically designate the building, approved in April the following year.
The earlier hospital building, which at the time had the separate address of 464 Prospect St., was re-branded the Scripps Metabolic Clinic. It focused on the 1921 discovery of insulin to treat diabetes. In 1928, its façade was removed and replaced with a Spanish-style frontage matching the hospital next door. Its name was changed in 1955 to Scripps Clinic & Research Foundation.
In 1950 — 18 years after Ellen’s death — a new wing was added to the hospital, bringing the total number of beds to 105. But, according to Eastman’s book, this was a “stop-gap solution.” The hospital was still “bursting at the seams” and needed serious modernization. By 1960, La Jolla’s population had grown to more than 10 times what it was in 1924, yet there was no room to build any new buildings.
In 1959, the hospital’s board of directors voted to ditch Prospect Street for a 40-acre site east of US 101 at 3770 Miramar Road. (In the intervening years, that route was mostly replaced by the I-5, and Miramar Road in that location renamed Genesee Avenue). In order to legally adhere to the terms of Scripps’ bequest, the area had to be incorporated into the 92037 ZIP code.
Then, as now, residents of The Village refused to acknowledge this area as part of La Jolla. (More than 3,500 La Jollans signed petitions to state attorney general Stanley Mosk, according to Eastman’s book: “with the principal complaint that Ellen Browning Scripps had created a hospital for the Village of La Jolla in perpetuity and that Miramar Road was not La Jolla.” Mosk sued the hospital board in Superior Court but lost.)
In 1964, the vacated hospital was purchased by Scripps Clinic — by then a separate company. The next year, it was renamed The Copley Center after a $550,000 gift from newspaper magnate James Copley. It offered outpatient care and was joined by a luxury hospital unit, the Kiewit Pavilion, in 1969.
By 1977, however, Scripps Clinic also relocated — to North Torrey Pines Road on land donated by Dow Chemical Company. Two years later, Scripps leased the two buildings to Science Applications Inc. — today, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a government contractor. Former La Jolla architect and civic activist Tony Ciani said he was retained to challenge the lease by neighbors concerned about parking and the type of research being conducted there.
“This was no longer a health-serving facility, but a commercial outfit, so I argued that it was a change of use requiring a coastal permit,” Ciani said, “and the California Coastal Commission agreed with us.”
SAIC’s new permit required special conditions — one of which was to provide some community-serving uses on site. Among those uses, according to Ciani, was an art class taught in the former hospital’s tower by none other than Jonas Salk’s wife (and Pablo Picasso’s former mistress) Francois Gilot!
SAIC remained on site until 1987. The complex was then left vacant until two years of work began to convert it into 47 condominium units in 1999.
“There was flexibility in the way we worked with the historic staff,” said Jim Alcorn, the consulting architect on the conversion. “We turned up the volume on the historical asset and was able to use it as an asset instead of a liability.
”Although the frontages were designated historic, the architects were able to add balconies and terraces like Perry’s. And the back of the building was not considered historic, Alcorn said, “so we were able to cut holes and change and create views.”
Ranging from 1,500 square feet to 6,000, the units were priced at between $650,000 and $4 million. (The Light found some currently for sale from $1.3 to $5 million.)
At least once a week, someone comes to the 464 Prospect St. lobby wanting to see the building they were born in, according to one worker in the building.
And it’s not only people who are alive who come back, the worker added. Once, a few years ago, he was walking between the new and old buildings and thought he saw a mane of black hair sweep across an upstairs landing. He said he ran up the stairs “but no one was there.”
Perry said it doesn’t bother him that hundreds of patients over the years probably perished in each of the condominium units.
“I haven’t experienced anything (paranormal) like that,” he said. “But I do imagine sometimes all the people who have walked through this hospital — and I’m sure some very famous people walked through this hospital — and you kind of feel that feeling when you walk through the hallways. Some of the hallways are still the same, a couple of the old elevators are still big enough for gurneys.
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