Beyond the Shelf: The past is always present at La Jolla/Riford Library’s History Room

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

The La Jolla/Riford Library proudly announces expanded appointment times for visits to its History Room.

Materials in the History Room are classified as research items and cannot be checked out or removed, but the public can access the collection during scheduled appointments with volunteers like Charlotte Garfield.

“I love history,” Garfield said. “I studied it in college. I see it as an opportunity to learn more about local history and share that learning with other people.”

So what notable items are housed at the Patricia Schaelchlin History Room?

Let’s start with the works gracing the walls, as they were created by the La Jolla/Riford Library’s most famous patron, Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. One illustration, made especially for this branch, notes the author’s appreciation for the children’s department: “It’s nice to be liked. But it’s especially nice to be liked in a library’s children’s room. I can assure you it’s an honor to be an honorary Friend of the Friends of the Library Children’s Services. With kindest regards and many thanks for your warm and friendly message — Dr. Seuss.”

Another picture is dedicated to Schaelchlin, a La Jolla resident, historian, Friend of the La Jolla Library and the History Room’s namesake. A third is signed by philanthropist Audrey Geisel, Theodor’s wife.

Schaelchlin donated the funds to construct the space during the library’s 2003-04 expansion, along with her own historical collection. Thanks to her, we have a complete run of the La Jolla Blue Book dating to 1937, photocopies of the La Jolla section of the San Diego City Directory for 1926-36 and a copy of the diaries of Anson Mills, an early La Jolla resident.

A visitor uses the History Room at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Katia Graham)

A mother recently visited the History Room with her young sons, who studied Dr. Seuss at Bird Rock Elementary School. “He used to do story time here,” she said. “That’s amazing!”

Past editions of the La Jolla Journal and the La Jolla Light set our collection apart. Digitized issues from 1919 to 1969 can be accessed via the History Room computer. The Friends of the La Jolla Library funded the digitization of issues from 1919 to 1964. The library also has the only existing copies of the La Jolla Light for the period from 1970 to 1994.

The fairy godmother of La Jolla is well-represented in the History Room. In the photo accompanying this article, a patron studies the book “Ellen Browning Scripps Bathing Pool for Children at La Jolla, CA,” authored by the project’s hydraulic engineer, Hiram Newton Savage. The book, published in 1931, contains copies of photos and original architectural designs as commissioned by Scripps. Binders containing copies of minutes of Literary Association of La Jolla meetings in Scripps’ own scrawl also can be found on our shelves.

We also offer information about many early houses built in La Jolla, including dates of construction, photos and the names of known architects. One such architect was Irving Gill. Through our social media partnership with The Bishop’s School library aimed at spotlighting our respective historical archives, we learned his original designs for The Bishop’s School can be found in the school library’s collection.

Those interested in genealogical research are encouraged to visit the History Room. Our volunteers have created indexes of obituaries published in the La Jolla Journal and La Jolla Light for the period 1919-94. The San Diego Public Library subscribes to a library edition of the online genealogical research site, accessible at our branch. Among many things, the database provides onsite viewing of all federal census data for La Jolla for the years 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940.

In addition, we have old photographs, old postcards and prized scrapbooks about La Jolla history. It’s such a pleasure to read the inscriptions. People haven’t changed much, and neither has the beauty of La Jolla.

The plaque displayed outside the History Room is so fitting, as it reads “A place to visit the past.” We hope you will enjoy visiting the past at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Photographic copies of research results can be made and emailed upon request. Reference inquiries should be sent to

To schedule a History Room appointment, please visit Current appointment periods are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays.

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. You can email her at Follow @lajollalibrary on Instagram.