Mystery of origins of La Jolla’s ‘House of Dreams’ reopens with owner’s death

This house at 1428 Soledad Ave. in La Jolla is expected to be be listed for sale next month.
This house at 1428 Soledad Ave. in La Jolla is expected to be be listed for sale next month.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A La Jolla house considered a gem by preservationists for its unique Asian-style architecture is being prepared for sale, reopening a mystery of its origins that may — or may not — be solved in coming weeks.

The property, known as the “House of Dreams,” is at 1428 Soledad Ave. (formerly Cowrie Avenue), near where The Village meets the Country Club area. It will be put on the market, likely in June, with Berkshire Hathaway La Jolla.

Little is known about the home’s original owner and even less is known about the architect who designed it.

It was built in the early 1900s by world traveler Florence Howard. Its features include “curved rafters tails [that] allow the eaves to sweep up in oriental fashion,” according to a 1977 report on file at the La Jolla Historical Society. “The gardens contained 300 trees and were typically Japanese style. … A tea house with a curved bridge and stepping stones completed the garden.”

Other exterior Asian-inspired features include cantilevered rafters and wood shingle siding.

Though some have suggested Howard was her own architect, others aren’t so sure.

“Howard was a traveler and collector of art and had interest in Asiatic things. She built this beautiful house, but we don’t know who the architect is,” said La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten. “We have done research and we’re all curious about how the thing got there.”

The house is not listed on any historic registers, but the Historical Society still wants to take photos of the property and create a file for its archive.

“It is a totally unique structure to La Jolla. We have very few Asiatic examples of that style,” Olten said. “The last one of that style was Windemere [designed by Irving Gill], which was demolished in 2013.”

The similarities in style and the rarity of that style in La Jolla has led Olten to question whether Gill had a hand in both.

“Irving Gill had a period in which he could have built it, and we don’t know he didn’t,” Olten said. “He was working in the area and in that period and style, but we don’t know who designed it. So we’re looking for information about Florence Howard with the hopes that it leads us to the architect.”

Though La Jolla has a Planned District Ordinance, or blueprint for development, that places regulations on floor area ratios, features and colors to keep “with the traditional materials of the community,” the house at 1428 Soledad pre-dates it.

Howard “had a lot of money and decorative art and … filled the house with antiquities,” Olten said. “She lived there ... and then sold everything and left. We don’t know why.”

In 1922, Howard sold the house to Roland and Abbie Hayden, and it has been in the same family ever since. But some of the details about the home’s origins are a mystery even to the family members.

“I do not really know anything about the house before 1922,” except that Howard had it built sometime after 1900, said Marilyn Orr, one of the Haydens’ great-granddaughters.

“We don’t know who the architect is. We have done research and we’re all curious about how the thing got there.”

— Carol Olten, La Jolla Historical Society historian

Roland and Abbie Hayden lived in the house until their deaths in 1958 and 1963, respectively.

“After Abbie died, our mother [Josephine “Jody” Norton] inherited the property,” Orr said. “But since we were living in the Philippines, our grandmother rented out the house until we moved back to the States” in 1968.

“Our parents [Jody and Tyler Norton] met in Manila in 1952 and married in La Jolla in 1954,” Orr said. “They enjoyed traveling around the world to visit friends and family until old age and ill health kept them home. … Until she passed away, Mom often talked about a trip they made in 1937-38 that took them all the way around the world.”

A hundred years after Howard left 1428 Soledad, Jody Norton died in 2022 (Tyler died in 2011). And much like Howard, Jody’s family sold the house’s contents.

The online estate auction that closed last month included signed original artwork, antique Limoges porcelain, a vintage Victor Victrola phonograph and more than 500 other items.

The family has hired attorney and historian Scott Moomjian to explore whether the house qualifies for historic designation, but Moomjian was not immediately available to comment. ◆