Wisteria Cottage is the final jigsaw piece in redevelopment of the historical society’s campus at 780 Prospect St.
Site improvements have included the conversion of a relocated historic home into LJHS’s offices, along with the conversion of a garage for historical archives.
The restoration of Wisteria Cottage finishes the job, enhancing the last intact remnant of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps’ South Moulton Villa estate on Prospect Street.
“We will have a five-day series of opening events the first week of May starting with the donors of our capital campaign, inviting them in to help celebrate,” said LJHS executive director Heath Fox.
He said the festivities will include a “weeklong series of open houses for the public.”
With the reopening of the campus on May 4, the La Jolla Historical Society will celebrate its 50th anniversary, said Fox.
“For the society, this pivotal moment marks the first time — after 50 years of collecting archival materials — that exhibitions can be prepared and presented inside professionally designed museum galleries,” he said.
The cottage restoration started in summer 2013 and is expected to “cost about $1 million,” Fox said.
Fox noted the anniversary also marks the end of years of a nomadic existence for the historical society, and the beginning of “a permanent home for its education programs, public outreach, historic research and archives.”
Fox said cottage renovations have preserved the integrity of the structure while updating it at the same time.
“The first floor is all exhibition space, 1,450 square feet,” Fox said. “We have now brought that space up to museum standards. It will allow us to present high-quality exhibitions with precious materials and works of art.”
The renovated facility will have new state-of-the-art humidity control and fire-safety systems,” Fox said.
Wisteria Cottage is the enduring repository of La Jolla history. Landmark status was assigned to it in 1982 for its design and century-long association with the Scripps family.
From the 1940s to the early 1960s, the cottage served as The Balmer School, later renamed La Jolla Country Day School. The cottage was then primarily John Coles Book Store from the mid-1960s until 2005.
Through the visionary stewardship of the Scripps/Revelle family, the 1904 Craftsman-style cottage, garage and the intact landscape were deeded to the La Jolla Historical Society in 2008.
The approach to the Wisteria restoration, led by architect Ione R. Stiegler of La Jolla-based IS Architecture and general contractor Hill Construction Company of San Diego, was to restore the cottage’s exterior to the period of around 1910, when Virginia Scripps owned it and Irving Gill remodeled it. The plan was then to convert the interior exclusively for exhibition gallery space.
“The outside has been historically preserved and the inside has been adaptively reused,” said Fox. “It’s going to be a wonderful building and in a lot of ways is going to be a national model for preservation of a historic community building.”
The cottage’s exterior renovation follows the best practices of historic preservation, as set forth by the standards of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
The interior of the cottage follows best practices as set forth by the standards of the American Alliance of Museums (formally the American Association of Museums).
Wisteria Cottage, the oldest structure in what is today called the Scripps Cultural District, was once owned by Virginia Scripps and was remodeled in 1907-09 by Gill, a master architect.
The conference room in the adjacent Balmer Annex, built for the Balmer School in the late 1940s and restored to that period, will provide renovated facilities for meetings, workshops, educational programs and community activities.
Improvements to the office and research center, a 1909 cottage relocated to the property in the 1980s, will provide a more conducive setting for members of the public to consult with the historical society’s archivist and historian regarding information needs and access to archival materials, said Fox.
The inaugural exhibition in the early May opening of Wisteria Cottage will be “Climate Change: Mid-century Modern La Jolla,” curated by Dave Hampton.
The exhibition and its accompanying catalog will explore the history of La Jolla in the 1950s and 1960s — decades of change when a small circle of postwar modernists emerged to spearhead new ideas in the arts, design and architecture.
The La Jolla Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, collection and preservation of La Jolla’s heritage. Through exhibitions, programs, collections and advocacy, the historical society presents and promotes awareness of the community’s rich historical record.
Founded in 1964, the LJHS operates from a campus consisting of Wisteria Cottage, the adjacent Balmer Annex used for educational programs and community activities, a 1909 beach cottage which serves as office and public research center, and an archival storage building.
The historical society’s historical collection consists of more than 20,000 photographs, local newspaper archives, architectural drawings and numerous personal and public records from all periods of La Jolla’s history.
For more information about the La Jolla Historical Society, visit lajollahistory.org.