Our House in La Jolla

“There’s no place like home.”

A few years ago Insider Donald Pajak, while digging through a pile of books at a St. James Church White Elephant sale, came across a slim cardboard bound, spine-stapled, pocketbook sized, 10-page professionally printed musing of La Jolla resident author Marie Carleton entitled Our House In La Jolla. We assume several self published copies were made available to her circle of friends. Within its pages is a personal look at a post 1930’s – or, perhaps earlier — La Jolla, intended to persuade her sister, Frances, and even others, to join her in California. It’s a fascinating look at a slice of the culture of the period and her obvious love for The Jewel. The following is only an excerpt of a longer narrative: 

        February 1st, 1947

825 Coast Blvd.

  La Jolla, California

Dear Frances:

     So you want to come to La Jolla, and wish me to write you “all about it?” Impossible assignment, my dear! Every-one comes to La Jolla one time or another, and usually writes about it, but it is one person’s Shangrai-La for one thing, and someone’s else for another, so it is impossible to tell anyone all about La Jolla. However, I will ramble on and tell you a little it about what La Jolla has meant to me and mine. So don’t blame me, you asked for it!

“Oh to be in California

Now that Spring is there,

And the wren is in the Sage-brush

Beauty, color, everywhere—

Purple mountain-blue green ocean

Field of yellow lavender,

Smell of burning Eucalyptus—

Oh my soul was soothed out there.”

 This first impression of long ago has not changed at all. La Jolla is more beautiful and soul satisfying than ever. It spreads out and progresses, but the character does not change.

La Jolla is populated by two classifications of inhabitants:

  1.  Those who came out for luncheon and never went back.
  2.  Those called winter or summer visitants depending upon the cold, heat, or other irritations of their lives elsewhere. One either visits La Jolla, or falls heir to it. If one visits (and stays long enough) he will return again and again. “Celui qui vient a La Jolla, revient toujours!”

But if it is love at first sight, you fall heir to it. The drums of the sea pound into your brain, the acacia trees in the moonlight, the rows of hibiscus trees, the sun dropping into the ocean like a little squashed lantern, leaving its rosy glow over the village and hills behind, the simplicity of life, the charm of the people…Swimming out and looking down at the golden fishes and sea gardens below…these things do not come gradually. If you are one of the lucky ones, all this and more, that is La Jolla, will enter your soul forever and ever, and you will never be the same again!

So, Frances, knowing you so well, I give fair warning, do not come to La Jolla unless you can always come. It is an incurable habit.

     Then you ask, when did we first come to La Jolla? The first night we slept was in a little room or two in the old Cabrillo Hotel The current baby did not have much of a view as she slept in a dresser drawer. 

     Our first house was on Cave Street. It is, the old settlers tell one, “the best climate” in La Jolla. I think we have lived in most of the houses on Cave Street, but that first one, twenty-six years ago, was the oldest of them all, the Bohemian. 

     Our luckiest adventure that first winter was Katherine Smith and Mollie Brackett. Naturally they lived on Cave Street. They were “old settlers” from the year before! They became our first La Jolla friends, and as all La Jolla has long since known, they share their joys and enthusiasms. So they saw La Jolla anew through our eager eyes. The jaunts into the lovely back-country, not the fine roads of today. I can tell you! – the visits to Balboa Park, the zoo, the beautiful aviary given to all children and bird lovers by La Jolla fairy-god-mother, Miss Ellen Scripps, picnics at Pepper-tree grove, sea shell studies, bird lore, little rock pools at low tide, and trips to the Institute of Oceanography.   

     Memories of familiar La Jolla characters are legion – the great and the near great, the sublime, the ridiculous, the gay, and the garrulous –

     Everyone remembers Walt Mason, pacing the village streets with his hands behind his back, dreaming up his poems of fame.

     In more recent years, Max Miller covering the waterfront with his famous pen, and as valiantly with his bathing trunks, in the famous annual rough water swim.

Tanta Heinrich, who did not like women but tolerated any friend of Isabel.

     Then there was the distinguished guest, the religious grand-dame who stole my lectures and maps on Bible-study and took them away on a boat forever and ever. Maybe she’s been giving them for years and years to the Heathen Chinese, and I’m a missionary, after all.

     The Russian Princess in whose honor a gala soiree was planned. Russian friends and musicians from Los Angeles, Russian food, all the Slavic touches ready and waiting and  — Shades of Borscht! – The Princess did not stay for the party, and small loss, as we’d had two days worth of her, so it did not turn out to be “smarty, smarty, gave a party,” but, the hit of the season.

     Memories of the children growing up all over La Jolla – Miss Kinney’s nursery school before the days of Louise Balmer’s excellent school.

     Eleanor Tennant launching tennis careers at the Bishop School – “Hi beautiful, you’re hopeless, go climb trees.”

     Musical “causeries” by Jeanne de Marre at Martha Russell’s, that musical salon which gave La Jolla so much. The children’s Symphonies there, and all the rest that great musician had to offer.

     French groups, Spanish classes, dancing classes, modern art classes, singing lessons, Little Theatre, etc. Reducing classes at the Women’s Club, under the P.W.A., where you expressed yourself esthetically as you became rejuvenated.

“The fat got fatter and he thin got thinner,

But something free from the A.B.C.

Then two years of the lovely San Diego exposition, where all went several times a week and saw Shakespeare for forty cents at the Old Globe Theatre. The fresh plantings and beautiful flower beds far excelling that of any other exposition, and due in large part to the efforts of La Jolla’s Wynne Van Schaick.

The cove, famous bathing beach to all who have ever visited California. Am very sure that we have helped a bit to wear down those cozy, comfortable seats on that million-year-old rock.

(The War Years)

     Then the black years – and black does not belong to La Jolla. Black curtains at windows, black fear clutching as we said cheery “Hasta la vistas” with smiles on our lips, and black tears of dread in our hearts; La Jolla tense and fearful in its beauty. The drums of the sea were cannons of doom, and they did not sooth at all.

     Now, returning this week after those three years, the outer changes in La Jolla are enormous. But the character of La Jolla does not change. More charming people, more houses, more stores, shops, roads, improvements, but the simplicity of La Jolla remains. One can be as quiet or as gay as the mood. 

     So La Jolla to me still means a cosmopolitan village, interesting and gracious people leading the simple life, the town, spreading out in all directions, but never attracting those who do not deserve it. When you build your house and live here, Frances, you will have friends sometimes visiting you for the first time and giving you only a few days and maybe you’ll give them a high fog or torrential rain, and they may taunt you as did my sister years ago, bored beforehand with my gushing enthusiasms, “Oh, pack it up in chunks and ship it home!” But you won’t care because you’ll know the foggy day occasionally is welcome, and you’ll take time to write those letters and weed the flower bed, and after that welcome rain, the flowers will burst forth in all their glory, and if you ever get used to the bit of heaven on earth, then you’ll no longer deserve it, and I’ll come out and take your house away from you. Yes, Frances, come to California, you will love it from tip to toe, but there is no place like La Jolla, for when God made it, he threw away the mould.

My love to you and Ward.



Latest Posts