Historical photo exhibit debuts at Wisteria

“By The Beautiful Sea: A Photographic History of Summers in La Jolla, 1870-1930,” debuts at Wisteria Cottage Saturday, July 26. The show is the first professionally curated exhibit in the historic Prospect Street cottage that is being completely remodeled.

Developed by Society archivist Heather Kuhn and historian Carol Olten, the historic photography exhibit is divided into three themes: “Bathhouse and Beach Culture,” “Bathing Suit Ordinance,” and “Celebrations and Seaside Attractions.”

It draws from a combination of still and moving imagery from the Society’s extensive, 10,000-image photographic archives. The show includes whimsical period music and original bathing costumes on loan from the Coronado Historical Association.

Kuhn said the intent of the exhibit is to connect tourists and residents to the beach-going atmosphere of early La Jolla and the enduring beauty of the landscape. “We hope visitors will see a reflection of themselves in these images of early beachgoers,” Kuhn said.

The summertime exhibit is a sign of things to come. “It’s what the public can expect, programmatically, from the Society in the future,” said Kuhn, “as we continue to move through the various remodeling stages of Wisteria Cottage, which is to become a full-scale museum with many rooms and gallery spaces.”

There are 36 images in “By The Beautiful Sea” exhibit in varying sizes from 16 inches by 20 inches to 30 by 60 inches. “These are originals,” said Kuhn.

John Bolthouse, executive director of the 1,200-member La Jolla Historical Society, extended an open invitation to the community to come out and see “By the Beautiful Sea,” recently at the July meeting of La Jolla Town Council.

“What we’re all about is promoting the great heritage of La Jolla and preservation of its oral history,” said Bolthouse, “capturing those stories of those La Jollans who have made a difference in the 120-plus years of our town’s history.”

Bolthouse added the historical society is presently involved in a “quiet phase” of a capital fund-raising campaign. “We want to raise $2 million over the next 18 months to restore Wisteria Cottage to turn it into the Museum of La Jolla History. We’re at $600,000 right now.”

The Irving Gill-designed Wisteria Cottage was built in 1905. It was purchased by Eliza Virginia Scripps, the half-sister of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and has experienced a number of uses over the years.

A portion of what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art was originally designed by Gill as a residence known as South Moulton Villa for Ellen Browning Scripps. The villa on the ocean side of Prospect Street was built in 1897. Next door was the quaint Wisteria Cottage, designed by Gill.

After World War II, the cottage was the site of the Bomber School, a precursor of La Jolla Country Day School. In 1966, John Cole’s book and Craft Shop, which was initially located in a two-story home at 7871 Ivanhoe St., moved to Wisteria Cottage.

Barbara Cole, the 91-year-old matriarch of the Cole family, died July 19, 2004 of congestive heart failure. Her son Charles and grandson, Zachary, who had operated a harmonica shop out of a portion of the cottage building, ran the bookstore after her death. The unique Cole family bookstore was a “treasure trove” of unusual and rare travel and children’s books.

When the Coles’ lease expired in 2005, the Historical Society acquired the cottage property for planned future expansion.

La Jolla’s connection to its rich heritage, the La Jolla Historical Society’s offices and archives, 7846 Eads Ave. are open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call (858) 459-5335 or visit


The photo exhibition is a nostalgic backward glance at not only bathing costumes, but the beginnings of La Jolla being billed as a “resort community,” where attractions such as the Cove and rock formations such as Cathedral Rock, Alligator Head, and the magnificent ocean cliffs drew visitors to La Jolla’s shoreline. The “Jollification” of La Jolla began when the newly constructed railroad made La Jolla more accessible from downtown San Diego. Due to the influx of visitors the need for hotels also increased. The Cabrillo Hotel (now the La Valencia) opened in 1902, followed by Casa de Manana (1924) and the Grande Colonial (1930).

La Jolla Historical Society’s free exhibit is open to the public daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Sunday, Aug. 10. A special gift shop offering unique exhibit-related merchandise also will be open.