Wisteria Cottage Rehabilitation and Historic Structure Report
Location:La Jolla, CA
- 2014 San Diego Architectural Foundation Orchid Award: Wisteria Cottage Rehabilitation
- 2014 City of San Diego HRB Award of Excellence for Architectural Rehabilitation: Wisteria Cottage Rehabilitation
- 2014 Save Our Heritage Organization People in Preservation Award: Wisteria Cottage Rehabilitation
- 2015 Gold Nugget Award of Merit for Best Rehabilitation Project: Wisteria Cottage Rehabilitation
In 2008, the La Jolla Historical Society was given by bequest an important historic property, Wisteria Cottage, a 1904 beach Cottage and example of the distinctive vernacular architecture of early La Jolla. The Cottage was listed as a San Diego Historical Landmark in 1982. It was once owned by the notable Scripps family, and during the period of 1907-09 was remodeled by master architect Irving Gill under commission by Virginia Scripps. Wisteria Cottage is the sole-surviving Irving Gill Craftsman Cottage in La Jolla, and the community’s most important remaining example of Cottage architecture. The Cottage served as a rental residence during its early period. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Cottage was home to the Balmer School; an elementary school run Louise Balmer. As the school gained popularity and outgrew Wisteria Cottage, Ms. Balmer changed the name of the school to La Jolla Country Day and moved the institution to its present-day location on Genesee Avenue. From the mid-1960s until 2005, Wisteria Cottage served as a bookshop; first the Nexxus Bookstore, then the John Coles Bookstore. Ownership of the property passed by inheritance to Ellen Revelle, a Scripps descendent and widow of University of California, San Diego Chancellor Roger Revelle, who with her family, gave the property to the Society in 2008.
The restoration and rehabilitation of Wisteria Cottage was conducted from July 2013 through March 2014, with the exception of replacement of the Prospect Street wisteria pergola, which was re-built earlier with salvaged old-growth redwood. The exterior of Wisteria was historically preserved using standards and best practices set forth by the United States Secretary of The Interior. The Cottage was restored to the period of significance of around 1910, when Virginia Scripps owned it and Irving Gill remodeled it. Balmer Annex, attached to the northeast side of Wisteria, was restored to the period when it was constructed in the late 1940s to serve the school that operated on the property at that time. Hill Construction Company served as general contractor. The exterior restorations of both the Cottage and the Annex were executed true to their periods of significance with regard to structural and architectural detail, and paint and trim colors. Twenty-nine paint samples were taken from the siding, trim, and the roof of the buildings, and a cross-section microscopy analysis was completed by a specialist conservator Dr. Susan Buck of Paint Chips in Williamsburg, VA. This analysis determined the original paint which was color-matched to the finest-quality products available on the market today and which were used for the project.
Wisteria Cottage originally served as a guest cottage for South Moulton Villa (now the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego), the home of Ellen Browning Scripps, whose philanthropic endeavors are central to the history of the region. The Villa and Cottage were connected by a pathway that ran through a formal garden adjoining two properties and that was developed by horticulturist Kate Sessions. Guests could walk directly to Moulton Villa from the Cottage’s south facing entrance, through sculpted garden terraces and cobblestone walls, remnants of which are still visible today.
During the late 20th century bookstore era, the south facing entrance was eliminated, with only a remnant of the pathway remaining. As part of the rehabilitation, this historically important south entrance was re-constructed. The main floor interior of Wisteria Cottage has been adaptively reused for exhibition space following best practices as set forth by the standards of the American Alliance of Museums (formally the American Association of Museums). The renovation created 1,450 square feet of exhibition space in three galleries. The infrastructure that was integrated into the building includes: a. HVAC/Rh. Maintenance of environmental control in the galleries allows the Society to borrow exhibitions originated at other institutions, to borrow individual objects and artifacts from lending institutions and private collectors, and to maintain objects in conditions consistent with the environment in archival storage. The standards to which the system was designed include temperature stabilized at 70oF with a variance of 5oF, and relative humidity stabilized at 50% with a variance of 10%. b. Electronic security and deadbolt locking systems. c. ADA compliance accessibility, including the installation of a pedestrian lift between the gallery floor and the lower level. d. LED lighting. Environmentally sustainable, museum-quality LED lighting system for illuminating displays in the public exhibition galleries, providing ultraviolet and infrared free that has light quality that is symmetrical, with excellent color rendition and clean, soft borders, offering a superior viewing experience for visitors. e. UV blocking mesh shades for in-gallery light management, especially important for the display of light-sensitive materials and artifacts such as photographs and historic documents. f. Fire safety alarm and wet-pipe suppression systems; the first integrated fire protection systems ever installed in the 110 year old Cottage. Other important features undertaken include: a. The original cobblestone foundations were re-pointed and the front wall, heavily damaged, was restored. b. The Cottage cedar shingle roof was restored, painted in the original-color olive green stain intended to imitate green patina copper. c. Structural reinforcements were added to protect the Cottage during seismic events. d. Doors and windows were repaired and made operable with original Gothic motif trim and drawn “wavy” glass. To maintain environmental integrity, the doors remain closed when not in use for entry or egress, and the windows remain closed and locked, but all have been restored to their original functionality. e. The Cottage’s lower level, originally added during the Gill remodel, was renovated to create a functional meeting room and catering kitchen. f. The Balmer Annex interior was renovated to serve as a multi-purpose room for meetings, educational presentations, and community activities.