The Social Service League of La Jolla (SSL) started with a bunch of young women who were in the choir at St. James By-the-Sea Episcopal Church during the 1920s, said SSL past president Meredith Feddersen. “Their mothers wanted them to do things that benefitted people in need, so they’d make packages for new mothers that included toiletries and clothing for newborns, along with other projects.”
Often meeting in members’ homes, the women hosted entertainment events and fundraisers to pay for their projects. As they became more organized, they decided they wanted to have just one mission. Seeing that retired teachers and retail clerks were having difficulty affording a safe place to live, SSL decided to focus on helping low-income seniors.
“It’s always been neighbors helping neighbors,” said SSL past president Lois Stanton. Over the years, SSL developed the League House at 7465 Olivetas Ave. into an expansive living facility and acquired the adjacent Darlington House for hosting events and fundraisers.
The League House is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary with refreshments and live music, and presentations from government officials including Congressmember Scott Peters, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, County Supervisor Ron Roberts and San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner, 2-4 p.m. Sunday, May 17. The public is invited to attend and tour the League and Darlington Houses.
Here’s how it all happened
Starting in the 1930s, SSL devised a plan to develop private apartments for seniors that would include a dining room, kitchen and outdoor patio. To raise funds for the project, SSL sponsored social activities like ballets, fashion shows, musicals and a day at the races. By 1949 — with a little help from then-League president and Casa de Manana hotel builder Isabel Hopkins — SSL had enough cash to purchase the property at 7465 Olivetas Ave. Drawings for a 16-unit, L-shaped building were approved the following year, and construction began in 1954.
In May 1955, the League House opened, named after the Social Service League, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. It wasn’t long before the need for expansion became clear, and SSL decided to add more apartment units.
The group raised funds for the addition, but also received a gift from an estate, that allowed them to plan for 12 more units, an elevator and reconfigured lounge.
Work began in 1960 and was complete in 1961. At that time the League House was a 28-unit, U-shaped building. Seeing the impact the League House had on seniors in La Jolla, other large donations poured in — including those from estate bequests and from benefactress Florence Riford.
Sibyl Darlington, who owned the adjacent large Mediterranean-style home, passed away in 1967, and her illustrious home was available for purchase. Thanks to a large financial estate gift, SSL was able to purchase the house and the land on which it sat, and decided to once again expand the League House, adding 24 units and a third story in 1977.
The Darlington House was refurbished and became a wedding and special events venue, which continuously provides financial support for the League House. SSL operates both houses.
League House tenants
Feddersen said original League House tenants were only from La Jolla, but applications were adjusted to include anyone from San Diego County. For many, their financial difficulty resulted from a death, disease or divorce.
“Many of our residents are highly educated and successful, but if their spouse died or was ill and they spent all of their savings helping them out or paying medical bills, that can wipe anyone out financially,” Stanton said. “Or in the course of a divorce, one may lose the benefits they once had.”
League House manager Ellen Seaborn said potential tenants must be at least 62 years old, and make no more than $2,000 a month. Subsidized by Darlington House proceeds, “We charge 30 percent of their income after Medicare expenses for rent and $20 a month for all utilities,” she said, adding residents receive five dinners a week that are catered by the nearby White Sands. The studio apartments have a private bathroom and kitchenette.
“We want to offer residents the opportunity to support themselves and not have to ask their children for money or pose a difficulty to their families,” Feddersen said.
■ On the web: darlingtonhouse.com