Pocket Park opens on La Jolla Historical Society campus


If you happen to be walking around La Jolla this weekend, or any day thereafter, the La Jolla Historical Society’s new “pocket park” may provide a place for a peaceful break and a breath of ocean air. At the center is the pergola that once fronted the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), before it was fenced off for an upcoming renovation.

As of Sept. 15, the pocket park will be open to the public at 780 Prospect St. A formal celebration may take place in the future, but nothing is planned for the public opening.

In years past, the sidewalk on the south side of the La Jolla Historical Society property would take pedestrians from Prospect Street down to the beach. But as the town developed, that access was cut off, and now starts and ends on the Historical Society property.

“We observe people all the time looking for a way to get through, but they need to turn around and come back,” said La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox. “Now they have a nice amenity to enjoy as they make that turn, or sit and enjoy themselves, and we are happy we could create this new garden and offer it for the enjoyment of the residents and tourists who visit.”

The garden is located on a previously undeveloped and overgrown back terrace toward the back of the property, and to spruce up the garden, the overgrowth was removed and the area was re-landscaped. A gravel and concrete sidewalk snakes through the lower terrace, with vegetation on both sides, and a gathering area at the north end.

“We created three benches using cobblestone that was already here. They were just laying around. (They are surrounded by) cages known as gabions. They make up the base of the benches and then poured concrete to make the bench tops so it would match the rest of the concrete we put in,” Fox explained.

A lot of the new vegetation is drought- tolerant, but Fox said there is an irrigation system installed as well to keep the plants watered. The vegetation has room to grow, some more than others, to fill in and be more like a ground cover over time.

At the south entrance, there is a special floral nod to Virginia Scripps. Known for her love of purple, Scripps owned Wisteria Cottage and adorned it with its namesake lavender flowers.

Additional features include a pad on the mid-level for someone in a wheelchair, glimpses of the ocean in select spots, shading from nearby trees throughout the day and lighting that makes for a “beautiful” site in the evening, Fox said.

But at the center of it all is a 13-column Robert Venturi-designed pergola that once sat in front of the MCASD campus.

“When the Museum engaged Selldorf Architects to design their expansion, they gave them a program of what their needs and requirements were for the expanded museum. … One of the things that meant was that the Venturi Scott Brown (designed) pergolas were coming out,” Fox said. “We recognize the importance of Venturi Scott Brown in architectural history, they are very important post-modern architects. This was the only Venturi Scott Brown project in San Diego. We thought the pergolas were important. We are going to maintain it as it was designed, with the same materials, same colors, the ‘missing’ 14th pergola, which was never there.”

In June, the over-sized columns that surround the legs of the pergola were removed and the bare structure was lifted by a massive crane and moved from the MCASD campus to the Historical Society terrace.

The pergola’s lettering that reads “Contemporary Art” (a counterpart to “Museum of”) will remain.

The complete pergola will be accessioned into La Jolla Historical Society permanent collection, and informational material about the architect will be on hand when the pergola is opened.

The Sept. 15 opening is a soft opening for the public. One of the funders for this project was the County of San Diego through the offices of Supervisor Ron Roberts, so schedules permitting, there may be a more formal gathering and ceremony down the line.

— La Jolla Historical Society is at 780 Prospect St.