Foxhill Estate: La Jolla’s den of French endurance

The Foxhill Estate, though largely hidden from view above Country Club Drive in La Jolla, has nonetheless been the subject of local and regional discussion for decades.

Photo courtesy of Dickinson & Clark.

The largest contiguous property in La Jolla at 30 acres, Foxhill was built in the late 1950s by late journalist and publishing magnate James Copley, a former publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and served as the Copley family home and one of his offices.

The estate includes the Foxhill mansion, which has 10 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, additional guest houses, a pool and sport courts, along with a golf course, walking trails, garage parking for eight cars and more.

Never deemed historic, the estate was sold in 2015 to Doug Manchester – also a former owner of the Union-Tribune – for $17 million. 

Foxhill is now listed for $37.5 million by The Dickinson & Clark Team of Compass.

Foxhill was, and remains, an example of French country design, eschewing the straight, simplistic lines of modern architecture that marked the era in which it was built.

“In the 1950s, when some high rollers were choosing sleek modern dwellings, [the Copleys] went their own way,” wrote Forbes in 2022.

The Copleys leaned on La Jolla architects Roy Drew and Robert Mosher “to channel the French countryside,” the article stated, a departure for Drew and Mosher’s usual modernist designs, such as the Coronado Bridge and the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Described as “basically French provincial,” nearly every item in Foxhill “has had a prior service elsewhere [and] a story,” according to Walter Swanson in his 1964 book “The Thin Gold Watch: A Personal History of the Newspaper Copleys.” 

Handmade, sand-molded bricks molded in Baja California constitute the exterior walls, Swanson wrote; the house design also placed hidden doors in various spots, with rooms opening “to different, varied views.” 

Completed after four years of construction and named for the local foxes that hide themselves among the brush in the area, Foxhill served as a hideaway for the family, which included children Michael and Janice.

Copley divorced his first wife and in 1965 married Helen, whose son David also inhabited Foxhill on the second floor with the other children, according to a senior Copley executive, whose name is being withheld for privacy.

Immortal foxes abound throughout the estate, from stairway finials to statues to carvings, including representations of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Catholic patron saint of animals shown on a Foxhill floor mosaic and more.

Indeed, a rare, recent visit by lajolla.ca to the estate reveals Foxhill hasn’t changed much since featured in Architectural Digest’s Summer 1967 issue, aside from a few additions. 

The efforts of Foxhill’s original designers “resulted in the home having an atmosphere that is more of an older house than a new one, with an unusual sense of mellowness and comfort” not expected in new construction, according to Architectural Digest

Photo courtesy of Dickinson & Clark.

And though James Copley had a separate office building on Ivanhoe Avenue and Silverado Street in The Village, he would begin and end “his average business day … at a work table in front of the library’s six-paned window” at Foxhill, Swanson wrote.

Copley referred to this as his “captain’s bridge, his favorite spot in the house.”

“‘This is my real headquarters,’” Copley told Swanson.

James and Helen would open their home for high-society gatherings and dinner parties, wrote The Robb Report, at one point hosting President Richard Nixon at the home.Despite the business and socializing carried on within its gates, Foxhill remained “very much [the Copleys’] home,” said the senior company executive, who first visited the estate in the 1980s, well after James died in 1973.

Echoing Architectural Digest’s comments about comfort from decades earlier, the executive said “one of the strengths of the architecture is that it’s not that grand.”

The 17,000 square feet within the walls aside, Foxhill’s decor meant “it was more practical,” the executive said. “Maybe if it had been more grandiose, it wouldn’t have been as comfortable a place to live.”

Foxhill’s outdoor spaces “were well-maintained,” the executive remembered. “It was fun to wander around the yard … it’s quite a large yard with terrific views.”

The gardens appeared on the La Jolla Historical Society’s first Secret Garden tour in April 1999; the tour’s brochure described the places offered to participants, including the orchard, cut-flower garden, lath house, gazebo area, meadow and more, including the “Fox Fountain Garden,” where a statue of “St. Francis and the Fox” greets guests.

A visit to the Foxhill estate “leaves you with the sense that you have experienced something rare and magical,” the Historical Society wrote. “This is the spell of Foxhill.”

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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