Historian, author and preservationist Patricia Schaelchlin, 81, died March 15 at her La Jolla home of complications from Parkinson’s Disease.
A well-known archivist, Schaelchlin amassed a wealth of historical materials about La Jolla during more than 30 years of collecting. Those materials are now accessible to residents at La Jolla Library. She also participated in a comprehensive survey of La Jolla’s beach cottages and other early historical structures in the 1970s.
Schaelchlin was a force in the architectural preservation movement. She was a leader in the Save Our Heritage Organisation and was a past president of La Jolla Historical Society. She was also an active member of Friends of the La Jolla Library, a non-profit support group.
The reading room on La Jolla Library’s second floor is named for Schaelchiln, who authored three historical books: “La Jolla Story, the Story of a Community 1887-1987"; “The Little Clubhouse on Steamship Wharf,” a history of San Diego Rowing Club; and “The Newspaper Barons: A Biography of the Scripps Family.”
The community filled La Jolla Library’s community meeting room for a celebration of Schaelchlin’s life March 22. At the remembrance, her husband Bob talked about her early life in Michigan where she was born, detailing her transformation into an author and preservation activist.
After spending the first 13 years of their lives together in Michigan, the Schaelchlins moved to San Diego in 1959. After the last of her children was in school, Bob Schaelchlin said his wife set out to fulfill a lifelong dream: to go to college.
“She started her education in the mid-'60s and finished toward the end of the decade,” he said. “Then she went on an expedition down to Guatemala, which was really an experience for her. After returning home to civilization, she got interested in history and historic preservation in the ‘70s during a time when many of the beautiful Victorian homes were in danger of being demolished.”
Schaelchlin got involved with Save Our Heritage Organisation and worked with people to get national recognition for historical homes.
Her vision was to prove historically designated homes could be economically viable as well. She achieved that goal in the 1980s when she spearheaded the drive to preserve the San Diego Rowing Club, an historic building. She also was instrumental in getting the Chart House in La Jolla preserved as historic and developed as a restaurant.
Architect Marc Tarasuck, who worked extensively in architectural projects with Schaelchlin, reminsced about his friend.
“Pat made the best apple sauce out there,” he said, “and her apple sauce was the chicken soup for my soul, not only for my voracious appetite, but to comfort my heart.”
As a member of the survey team Schaelchlin led that surveyed La Jolla historical dwellings, Tarasuck said she created Heritage Place in La Jolla and restored and resided in the yellow cottage.
Tarasuck said Schaelchlin’s research was as impeccable as it was complete.
“We quickly learned the kitchen was not the most important room in Pat’s house,” he said. “It was her library.”
La Jolla library manager Richard Burke said his staff depended upon Schaelchlin’s book on La Jolla history for information.
“She was a walking encyclopedia,” Burke said, “and her knowledge was phenomenal. Pat was so much a part of our library. She helped set the stage for the expansion and renovation of our branch and kept a watchful eye to make sure there would be a history room.”
Bobby Foushee, past president of Friends of the La Jolla Library, described Schaelchlin as a person who was hard to turn down.
“She and Bob were very generous in support of the library and all things historical about La Jolla,” he said, “and contributed her more than three decades of collections to the library in the most organized and catalogued fashion.”
La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Pat Dahlberg put Schaelchlin’s accomplishments in perspective.
“She was not only important to this community,” she said, “but to all of San Diego in the ‘70s getting the historical movement going. She played a vital role in it.”