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Santa brings gifts for historical society, too

Estate appraiser James D. McDonald, who plays Santa Claus at La Jolla Rec Center following the community’s annual December Christmas parade, had just one more gift to hand out this year.

It was several boxes piled high with La Jolla historical memorabilia he has collected and presented to the La Jolla Historical Society to add to its archives.

McDonald, who’s been doing estate appraisals and liquidations in La Jolla and elsewhere in San Diego for more than 30 years, has been squirreling away historical artifacts pertinent to La Jolla every time he comes across one while conducting an estate sale.

“I would also buy what they had,” he said, drawing time-weathered photos of the Scripps family circa the 1930s from one box.

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A further impromptu inventory of the contents of another historical memorabilia box revealed everything from postcards and collections of matchbooks to baby pictures, old La Jolla Light newspapers and lots of information on historical residential subdivisions.

Accepting the gift on behalf of the Society was archivist/curator Michael Mishler whose eyes grew big at the site of McDonald’s generous donation.

“I was so excited when all this came in,” said Mishler, whose task it will be to sort though and catalogue it.

“People have stuff - they just don’t realize what it’s worth,” chimed in Society historian Carol Olten. “Anything that adds to the history of La Jolla, about people who lived and worked here, is a great enhancement to our whole collection.”

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McDonald acknowledged it’s fun playing Santa at the rec center, and being Santa in real life when he’s donating bits and pieces he’s recovered of the Jewel’s history to caretakers who will treasure it and use it properly.

A lean man, whom you never would imagine could transform himself into Santa Claus, McDonald likes to joke with children, surprise them sometimes. He offered one example.

“Once there was a gal I knew and her child comes up to my lap and I said, ‘Have you been a good girl?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That’s too bad.’ ”

Looking ahead to work that needs to be done, archivist Mishler said he needs to know what’s in each box of the McDonald collection so he can figure out what to do with it. “I’m not going to be able to go through every box myself,” he said. “I’m going to have to have volunteers to help me.”

“I can see relatives coming in and helping because they can get a thrill,” McDonald said.

“Ellen Revelle would be able to come in and give us some identification on some of this,” added Olten.

Mishler noted a major part of the Society’s mission is preservation of property. “There’s a lot of material in here (McDonald collection) that would be very useful for people who want to understand the history of their home, how the house has changed over the years,” he pointed out.