Never fear, however: the historical site is merely undergoing a much-needed facelift, said La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox.
“The building really needed repairs and updates,” he said. “We wanted, of course, to historically rehabilitate it, so we can show an example of how that can be done.”
The building, designated as a historical site by the city, was constructed in 1904. Its original owners occupied it briefly before selling it to Virginia Scripps, who commissioned famed architect Irving Gill to design an addition in 1909.
Over the years, the cottage was used for a number of purposes, including as a guesthouse, school and bookstore, before it became the home of the La Jolla Historical Society in 2005.
The building has undergone various small renovations over the duration of its history, and, wishing to bring the patchwork repairs up to date all at once — while also upgrading the building to museum standards — the Historical Society opted to once and for all give the cottage some love.
One of the most important upgrades involves installing museum-grade track lighting, as well as humidity control and HVAC systems — all of which will create a world-class gallery space that can support valuable historical exhibitions.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” said project manager Joseph Diasparra, of Hill Construction Co., who along with Ione Stiegler of IS Architecture, is handling the renovations. “Bringing all the mechanical and electrical systems to museum-quality standards requires a full team effort. This is one of the oldest structures in La Jolla, and it will be great in terms of what it can bring in for the gallery. It will open a lot of opportunity.”
The renovations haven’t been without their surprises — both good and bad. When the team from Hill Construction began interior work in early July, they uncovered what turned out to be the original beadboard ceiling, which they plan to keep in the restoration. Another discovery was less welcome: the walls are what’s known as single-wall construction, meaning there is merely one thin board between walls — and no room to run electrical wires inside walls from room to room.
The upgrades, including adding an elevator to comply with ADA standards, restoring the original roof and updating security and fire-prevention systems, are almost entirely taking place in the interior. The exterior, per historical designation guidelines, must stay the same.
Wisteria Cottage is set to reopen next spring, but in the meantime, said Fox, don’t expect the society to go dormant. A new exhibition will open Sept. 21 at the Museum of Contemporary Art featuring a joint history of La Jolla’s MCASD (built as the home of Ellen Browning Scripps) and Wisteria Cottage.
When the cottage and its renovations are unveiled, its first exhibition will feature mid-century modernism art and architecture — fitting for its Craftsman style, reminiscent of early Gill work. The exhibition will be significant in another way: it will coincide with the Historical Society’s 50th anniversary celebration.
For more information on the history of Wisteria Cottage and the current construction, visit lajollahistory.org.