Summer Spruce-ups: Renovations underway at key landmarks in La Jolla Village

By Pat Sherman

An array of building restorations, renovations and beautifications are underway across the Village — from a remodel of the former Whaling Bar space at La Valencia Hotel (set to reopen this fall as an expanded

Café La Rue

with sidewalk seating) to a renovation of the space formerly housing

Top O’ the Cove

restaurant (both on Prospect Street).

In addition, now that they’ve been granted exemption from the city’s summertime moratorium on coastal area construction, the owners of the former Jack’s building at the corner of Wall Street and Girard Avenue are wasting no time with their transformation of the three-level space. They plan to reopen in December as an upscale, boutique shopping center, to be christened “La Plaza.”

Meanwhile, directly across Wall Street,


Mexican restaurant is expanding into an adjacent space, and the four-story office building at 1020 Prospect St. that is home to

Madison Gallery

is being power-washed, repainted and repaired.

Lisa Gonzales, a spokesperson for the building owners, confirmed that a potential buyer’s plans to purchase the building and convert it to a boutique hotel have been abandoned.

Gonzales said the concrete and stucco encasement surrounding the windows will also be repaired, where needed. The work should be complete by October.

Other Village transformations

Historical Society

: The La Jolla Historical Society’s (LJHS’s) museum at 780 Prospect St. and adjacent facilities are currently fenced off and undergoing a roughly $875,000 restoration that will increase and enhance the exhibit space, while making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (specifically, the addition of a lift to transport disabled guests from ground level to the basement, where there is meeting space and a catering kitchen, and an ADA-complaint bathroom).

Built in 1904 and later sold to E. Virginia Scripps (half-sister of founding La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps), LJHS’s main building, Wisteria Cottage, was first offered as a temporary home for St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church (1906-08), which is also undergoing renovations across Prospect Street, on land donated by Virginia Scripps.

LJHS Executive Director Heath Fox said the society is preserving the exterior of Wisteria Cottage as it appeared in the early 20th Century, when architect Irving Gill developed many of the surrounding buildings in the aptly named Scripps/Gill Cultural District (including The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Recreation Center, Museum of Contemporary Art and La Jolla Woman’s Club).

The exterior of Balmer Annex — just north of Wisteria Cottage and once home to what would become La Jolla Country Day School — will be restored to the period when it served as a school. The original entrance adjacent to the Balmer Annex, which was filled in and closed off at some point, will be retrofitted for use.

“On the inside we are renovating and expanding our exhibition gallery space and bringing those spaces up to museum standards with regard to environmental controls, security and fire protection,” Fox said. The new level of protection will allow the society to bring in exhibits and objects for display they could not have brought in before, Fox said.

Hill Construction, the contractor chosen for the renovation, said preserving the historical significance of the building was of the utmost importance. The original flooring was removed, numbered, labeled and mapped so each piece of wood would go exactly where it originally was. Additionally, in preparing for the renovation, layers of the ceiling were removed, unveiling the original ceiling. Fox said the discovery was “a fun surprise” and will be incorporated into the final design.

“This is a cool project to be a part of because of elements like this,” said Joe Diasparra of Hill Construction.

The work, which also includes renovation of the 1909 cottage on Eads Avenue used as office and public research space, as well as restoration of the stone wall along Prospect Street, should be complete by spring or early summer 2014, Fox said.

During renovations, LJHS will hold several exhibitions at the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD). The first, titled “Scripps on Prospect: Evolution of Villa and Cottage,” will trace the history of MCASD and Wisteria Cottage to the days when they were owned by the Scripps’ sisters.

St. James Makeover:

Across Prospect Street, St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church has embarked on a roughly $900,000 exterior renovation campaign.

The church was able to begin the deferred maintenance thanks in part to the generosity of former parishioner and arts patron Mary Beth Jernigan.

Jernigan, who died of cancer last year, bequeathed a “substantial amount” toward the restoration, church officials said.

The work includes reinforcing the church’s 1929 bell tower, replacing all tile roofing and repairing the roof deck, restoration of all stained glass windows, plus repairs to standard windows and cracked cement walls.

When finished, the entire exterior of the building will be repainted and stuccoed — which hasn’t been done since 1986, when the building was given its current, light pink color.

The new color will be a light beige or cream that harmonizes with colors of the other four structures within the Scripps/Gill Cultural District, said parishioner John Norris, current chair of St. James’ buildings and grounds committee.

Norris said restoration of the church’s stained glass, being completed by Lisa Maywood of Verre Designs (who trained in Europe), includes at least seven windows on the lower level and 18 on its upper level. The painstaking work will take about two-and-a-half years to complete, he said.

“It takes about a month to do each window,” Norris said. “You have to unsolder every joint, clean each piece of glass individually … (and) re-solder it with new (metal) alloys that have a lot longer life span.”

Norris said the bell tower, which requires repairs to its cornice and decorative concrete panels, will take about five to six months to complete. During its eight-decade life sea air has caused steel reinforcement rods within the tower to rust from the inside out, cracking and damaging concrete (though Norris said the original bronze bell is still in good condition).

Parishioner John Robinson will serve as construction manager on the project, overseeing the entire process.

With each step, Norris said, “We want it to look historically like we didn’t change anything.”

Norris said his predecessor on St. James’ buildings and grounds committee, parishioner Thomas Grunow of Grunow Construction, got the ball rolling on the project. “He really deserves most of the credit for helping us get to this point,” Norris said. “He spent a ton of time on this.”

Ashley Mackin contributed to this report