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Historic Beach Cottages in La Jolla

Timeless Charms: Unveiling La Jolla’s Historic Beach Cottages to uncover the enduring allure of La Jolla’s coastal architecture, steeped in history and character.

La Jolla is known for being an affluent seaside town with dense neighborhoods full of immaculately beautiful homes and massive luxury estates.

It departs from La Jolla’s earliest development days, where red-wooded, single-walled, board and batten style homes were the dominant architecture. Between the 1880s and 1920s, the beach cottages in La Jolla symbolized quiet village life, a sleepier, simpler time.

Living in La Jolla looks a lot different now. Although many of the cottages in La Jolla have been erased from the landscape completely, many original cottages are still standing. Some have been converted to restaurants, remained as lived-in residences, or lay dormant and decaying.

The historic beach cottages in La Jolla that can still be seen today offer a unique glimpse into what life in La Jolla was like.

Keep reading to learn more as we look into prominent cottages in La Jolla, their mark on La Jolla’s history, and where you can see them today.

History of Beach Cottages in La Jolla

The first lots in La Jolla were auctioned off in 1887, the year of La Jolla’s official founding. One of La Jolla’s earliest settlers and developers, Frank Botsford, built his home on the corner of Prospect and Ivanhoe.

He became known as the Father of La Jolla. Other early settlers began building nearby on the sloped hillside overlooking the Cove.

The land boom

When the San Diego Pacific Beach railway was extended into La Jolla, visitors getting a glimpse of the jewel of La Jolla quickly realized it would be an ideal place to live. The land boom began, and La Jolla saw more and more cottages as people settled.

Pioneer community members like Walter Lieber and Nellie Mills jumped on the wave, purchasing multiple lots and building homes they would go on to make a living by renting out to vacationers.

Design

The craftsman-style homes were the dominant style of the time, made of simple California redwood, single-walled, board, and batten. These modest homes of 800 sq ft or less may have been tiny, but they were full of character and considered plenty of living space!

Some cottages were bigger at two stories but still had a small footprint, with large covered front porches and columns in the front. It would be the perfect spot to sit out and watch the sun go down on a quiet village evening, and many residents did just that.

The connection to the outdoors was honored, and homes were built with that in mind. The inside-outside living concept many love today is what La Jolla’s pioneers were after.

One of La Jolla’s prominent home designers and builders, architect Irving Gill, believed:

“We should build our house simple, plain, and substantial as a boulder, then leave the ornamentation to nature, who will tone it with lichens, chisel it with storms.”

The cottages were designed to be easy and quick to construct, perfect for keeping up with the influx of eager residents to La Jolla.

As the population grew and the buzz about La Jolla continued to permeate, La Jolla started to see a shift away from the charming small cottages that would eventually be considered “shacks.”

As architectural tastes began to change by the 1920s, more elaborate home designs and styles were being explored.

Cottage names

The early cottages in La Jolla were identified by name only, with fun names like “Sea Dreams,” “The Shag,” “Firefly,” or “Matterhorn.”, as there wasn’t a requirement to have street numbers assigned.

This wasn’t an issue for small-town La Jolla, as everyone knew everyone. Telegram carriers had a unique system for delivering telegrams, using their cottage directory and “yardstick” method.

Robert Wilson describes how they estimated delivery locations using a more well-known property as a starting point. For example, “The Jack O’Lantern” below the “Green Dragon Cottage” or “The Barn” below the “Jack O’Lantern.” They had their ways.

When La Jolla held its first election in 1902, cottages could no longer go by name only and were required to have street numbers to verify registered voters.

The cottages in La Jolla offer the simple life

Life in La Jolla was primitive and simple. No one locked their doors, and everyone looked out for one another. Posters for gatherings and parties would be on the wall at the post office, inviting the whole town.

Residents enjoyed sitting on their porches, hiking around Mt. Soledad, and exploring the tide pools. Kids had the run of the town. If you needed to get anywhere, you’d walk, catch a horse and wagon cab, or a donkey named Rags.

Water came by the barrel full and had to be pulled up by the horses. There was no plumbing, which meant outhouses, of course. Deliveries and servicemen went through the back entrance, never the front door.

And believe it or not, there was a time when residents were strongly opposed to the paving of the streets and the increase of cars! That’s how much La Jolla’s earliest residents wanted to keep La Jolla simple and small.

The Historic Cottages in La Jolla

Red Roost & Red Rest

1179 & 1187 Coast Blvd

The historic Red Rest and Red Roost cottages in La Jolla are remarkable relics of the past that date back to 1894.

Although the cottages have not been torn down, they sadly sit in their original location overlooking La Jolla Cove in extreme decay.

George Julian Levy built the Red Rest cottage, and the Rest Roost, also known as Neptune, was built by Eugene Fishburn.

Both cottages were recognized for their architectural and historical significance and were designated historic sites in 1975.

They were also placed on the California Office of Preservation register in 1976, preventing the owners from following through on plans to tear them down to build apartment buildings.

Strolling past these “monuments of American architecture” provides a captivating glimpse into a bygone era, gracefully yet sadly juxtaposed against a backdrop of denser housing and sprawling mansions.

Preliminary development plans were submitted in 2022 with no definitive date on when the city will review the proposal.

Advocates and groups like the Save Our Heritage Organisation hope the community will one day see these cottages returned to their former glory as symbols of life in La Jolla.

Brockton Villa

1235 Coast Blvd

The Brockton Villa is one of the oldest remaining cottages in its original location overlooking La Jolla Cove. Most know of it today as being the go-to brunch spot in town.

It was constructed in 1894, and even after more than 100 years, it still has retained most of its original architectural character, with a bit of help.

Dr. Joseph Rodes, one of the town’s earliest community members and physicians who worked in San Diego, built this bungalow-style cottage-style cottage.

He purchased the lot for just $165! It’s no wonder people in those days were buying more than one lot at a time.

Dr. Rodes purchased and built the home in La Jolla as a vacation home to enjoy on the weekends away from work.

When Dr. Rodes unexpectedly died in a boating accident in 1896, the home was passed to Olivia Mudgett and Nellie Mills.

The sisters made some improvements and named it the Brockton Villa, after Nellie Mills’ hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts.

It was rented out to vacationers for many years after his death, and it’s been a restaurant since 1992.

Redwood Hollow Cottages

256 Prospect Street

In 1915, an early pioneer and vacation rental leader Walter Lieber constructed twenty vacation cottages in La Jolla, with the Redwood Hollow Cottages being the last surviving colony of cottages.

The colony, originally called Prospect View, has eleven cottages, eight of which can still be rented out today. Each is unique in character and layout, with relaxing lush gardens.

The craftsman, mountain-style cottages were recognized as historic in 1997. Although the cottages have seen some remodeling and restorations, historical consultant Alex Bevil asserts that “they still share similar form, type, style, materials, methods of construction, and use.”

Wisteria Cottage

780 Prospect Street

The Wisteria Cottage in La Jolla was built in 1894 as a guest house on Ellen Browning Scripps’s estate and where Ellen’s half-sister Virginia and many other friends and family stayed off and on for many years. Even Ellen lived in it for a time as she waited for her new home to be built after her South Moulton Villa burned down.

The home was remodeled in 1907 by architect Irving Gill, one of La Jolla’s go-to home designers and builders, and is the only craftsman-style cottage by Irving Gill still standing today.

Over the years, the Wisteria Cottage was home to the Balmer Elementary School and two bookshops. It was donated to the La Jolla Historical Society in 2008.

The Wisteria Cottage’s restoration included the reconstructed south entrance, a historically significant part of the cottage that was once connected by a pathway to Ellen Scripps South Moulton Villa.

Restorations to the interior expanded the space for exhibition and gallery space, and reinforcements to the original cobblestone were also done. Even its original green exterior was replicated.

The purple wisteria vine planted in 1910 is the cottages namesake and still adorns the pergola at the historical society’s entrance on Prospect St. In 1982, it was listed as a historical landmark.

Columbine Cottage

7702 Fay Avenue

Now The Cottage restaurant, this original 1905 cottage was once known as the Columbine. It was home to Dr. Edward Howard, his wife Eliza, and their adopted daughter Victoria.

The cottage was originally built at 850 Prospect St and later moved to its current location on Fay Ave in 1914. The Howard family lived in the home until Mr. Howard died in 1937.

After remaining a private residence for many years, the cottage was used for business. The Village Pet Shop moved into the home in the 1970s, then the Vienna Cafe Konditorei pastry shop.

Local sandwich shop owner, Nanci Long, purchased the home in the 1980s and made some modifications. Ceilings were raised, skylights installed, the exterior painted yellow, and the name changed to The Cottage, as it is today.

The Howard family also lived in the Geranium Cottage, which eventually moved and now sits behind The Cottage restaurant at 830 Kline St. It also served as Doctor Howard’s medical office.

The Geranium Cottage is on the National Register of Historic Places and now operates as a popular Public House restaurant.

The Green Dragon Colony Cottages

Prospect St.

Although the Green Dragon Colony of Cottages in La Jolla can no longer be seen, they were an early landmark and a prominent part of the village’s early landscape and culture. The colony started in 1894 with Anna Held when she purchased her lot for $165. She built the fireplace first and later built the home around it with Irving Gill’s help.

As a music lover, Anna held concerts at her property and invited the whole town. Anna continued building more cottages on her lot, and it became a hub for the community. Life at the Green Dragon was full, with musicians, artists, and singers, and buzzing with intellectual activity.

Anna Held said this about her beloved colony:

“If you prefer the picturesque to the conventional, atmosphere to style; if care for individuality that is gracious, informality that is refined; if you know that art is necessity, not a luxury in life, that beauty is a food and drink; if you are one of these…the Green Dragon will cast its subtle spell on you.”

The Green Dragon Colony consisted of thirteen cottages, all thoughtfully designed by Anna Held and given names like “The Gables,” “The Barn,” and “The Ark,” which was shaped like a boat. Anna sold her colony for $30,000 in 1912, the largest real estate transaction for the time.

Emblems of the past and a new era of La Jolla living

As the town grew and more land was developed, some of the cottages in La Jolla were moved from their original locations to make way for larger homes or multi-unit buildings. Most, however, are lost forever. The remaining cottages still standing today are our last remaining reminders of La Jolla’s quaint past.

Take a tour of the cottages in La Jolla

See all the cottages in La Jolla by taking a self-guided walking tour and learning more about their history.
Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.
Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.

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