People in Your Neighborhood; Meet La Jolla Historian Carol Olten

Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to or call us at (858) 875-5950.

La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) historian Carol Olten just turned 75, but having a conversation with her is like spending time with a 7-year-old — a very talkative one! She doesn’t make eye contact when she speaks, and her energy and speed could tire the average adult in 15 minutes. Her colorful persona is well-ornamented by her unique, vibrant fashion sense and her eternally bright, short and white hair.

Where are you from?

“I was born in a small town outside Saint Louis called Washington, Missouri. I grew up there and it was a farm community. I grew up with cows, horses, pigs and chickens and all that kind of stuff to play with.”

When did you first come to La Jolla?

“I came to San Diego in 1964 to go to work for Copley Press (at The San Diego Union newspaper) and on Easter Sunday of 1965, I got into my then-new VW and I drove for the first time to La Jolla, around WindanSea Beach, and said, ‘Why am I living in Hillcrest?’ And I drove around that very day until I found an apartment at the corner of Rosemont and La Jolla Boulevard, where I rented a furnished room for $75 a month.”

When did you become interested in the history of La Jolla?

“It was an evolutionary process. When I worked for the newspaper, I wrote a lot about San Diego history. I’ve always had an interest in it, and I met this wonderful guy who worked for what was then-called San Diego Historical Society, that’s now the History Center. He had a great deal of interest in the San Diego history, and dragged me into it.

Then, when I retired from the newspaper profession, I got involved with the first Secret Garden Tour that the LJHS was doing, and I wrote the program. LJHS had an opening in the office for someone to do general stuff, answering the phone and whatever, and I was hired by Pat Dahlberg, who was the director then.

When she retired, John Bolthouse (came on) and asked me to describe what I did, and he said, ‘You look to me like you would be a great historian.’ ”

Who shares your home?

“I live with a dog, his name is Jingles and he’s a Samoyed. He’s my second Samoyed, I had another named Bow, who died in my arms when he was 14 years old. They’re extremely sweet dogs.”

What do you do in your free time?

“I’m a voracious reader, and I read a lot of historical fiction and biographies. I have a great love of movies, and I’m really grateful that we have The LOT here in La Jolla, and we have a movie house again, because a lot of my time is spent going to the movies.”

Do you have many friends?

“A few … I’m not a social person, I’m kind of reclusive, most of my social events are concerned with LJHS; receptions and that sort of thing, I have a few friends in the neighborhood around Park Row, and that’s about it.”

What do you see in your future?

“I suppose I’ll continue to live in La Jolla, I don’t know where else I would live at this point. I’ve often entertained that I would go live on the French Riviera for a while, but at this stage of my life, I’m probably going to stay put.”

How do you select your attire?

“The San Diego Reader did an article about me when I was a movie critic at the newspaper, and they talked about me picking up my coffee every morning at the Pannikin, and they referred to me as always wearing an ‘Outfit du Jour’ (laughs), and I continue to wear Outfits du Jour. I’m a clothes’ artist. I love clothes, fashion, design, decorating and all those kinds of things.

People always ask me where I shop … well, I shop in La Jolla. I have my favorite spots, Y-3, Pomegranate, Gambucci and a number of others. I wish there were more stores that were fashion-related in La Jolla and we wouldn’t have so many beauty stores and people standing around offering you samples.”

What’s your favorite thing about La Jolla?

“I love the shoreline. I love the beaches. I love architecture and design, and I admire the diversity of architectural styles that we have, both in residential and commercial buildings.”

What do you dislike about La Jolla?

“There are too many crowds, traffic that’s not handled correctly, houses that are maxed-out on lots with no landscape, and people who don’t pick up their dog poop. I dislike people who leave trash. I really dislike people in the summertime who leave their ice cream cups on the street! I cannot stand it!”

What’s you most unpopular opinion about La Jolla?

“There’s this thing about parking in La Jolla that people always complain about, (she makes a funny voice) ‘We don’t shop in La Jolla anymore because there’s nowhere to park.’ Well that is absurd because there are plenty places to park in one of the structures. It’s just that people don’t want to pay to park in La Jolla, that’s the problem.”

What’s something that people don’t know about you?

“I’m a reclusive person in some ways, but I’m also kind of ‘out there,’ in terms of how I dress, think about things and express myself when I write. People don’t know that I have a lavender living room in my pink house.”

What’s your favorite color?

“I like lavender a lot, but I’m not like Virginia Scripps, she loved purple. I’m not a purple person, I’m a lavender person.

I owned a house at the corner Eads Avenue and Genter Street for 10 years, starting in 1986, and I painted it this very white shade of lavender, which stood out in the community. I had a great deal of fun with that house, because it was the first house I owned on my own, without being married. I had a fantasy for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ going for a while, and I was working with a very creative painter, and he was able to paint ‘Alice in Wonderland’ on the chimney. It was a full-on painting with all the other characters in the story. Then I built a fence around the house and we painted sunflowers with Van Gogh faces inside each flower.”

It seems you’ve lived your life the way you wanted.

“I did! There’s no need to compromise one’s life. A lot of people compromise it with other people, and I think it comes from me being an only child; I was always able to find things to do on my own and that probably progressed into my adult life. I couldn’t imagine having to ask somebody, what do you want for dinner? What if I wanted a hot dog and the other person wanted a burger? We would be in this endless conflict about what we are going to eat tonight.”