What Was Is is the La Jolla Historical Society’s newest and highly anticipated exhibition; opening February 14, this groundbreaking project explores some of La Jolla’s oldest demolished buildings and imagines what could have been.
Various visual artists, architects, and writers chose a “lost” or destroyed building and visualized its existence in a new reality, creating a work of art to express it. Historians from the La Jolla Historical Society and the Save Our Heritage Organization developed a list of 24 buildings that have been lost or destroyed in some way; many of which, had they had survived, would be considered incredibly important historic sites today.
The list includes a number of residential properties, schools, arts and culture venues, hotels, public park structures, a library, and the famed Red Rest and Red Roost cottages on Coast Boulevard. Unable to demolish the structures and redevelop the property as a hotel due to the cottages’ historic status, the 1894 cottages have stood neglected for nearly thirty years – a length of time that preservationists consider to be “demolition by neglect.” Local architect Jim Brown of Public Architecture created a set of narrative drawings that envisions using the most salvageable parts from one cottage to restore the other; it would be raised 50 feet above ground on stilts to protect it from projected sea level rise due to global warming. The other cottage (or its remnants) would be buried 50 feet and encased in a concrete tomb.
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The projects and exhibitions vary greatly: one of the artists, Roman de Salvo, investigated the significance of “The Old Grey Castle,” a building that used to house San Diego High School on what is now Park Boulevard. It was demolished in 1973 due to mandatory updates of seismic building codes. In his multimedia piece Seismic Ivy, he considers the climbing fig that covered the façade and its potential to mitigate the effects of earthquake activity.
Roy McMakin and Tom Mulica of Domestic Architecture created Restoration of Windemere Cottage with a New Home for a Family (shown below), which considers the first Craftsman cottage built in California and designed by Irving Gill. The Cottage was demolished in 2011 by an unsympathetic owner who wanted a new home built on the site. McMakin and Mulica’s architectural renderings suggest a graceful coexistence that might have been achieved between Windemere and a modern home on the same property.
The point of the project is to highlight some of La Jolla’s most important architecture while simultaneously making it relevant to the community. The idea is to highlight the cultural and environmental benefits of historic preservation and the potential for innovation in “reuse” architecture. The contrast between contemporary art and historic preservation is one that is particularly relevant to La Jolla – a community that has been through a lot of change over the years but still maintains elements of its past.
What Was Is at the La Jolla Historical Society Wisteria Cottage galleries opens February 14 and runs through May 17. Wisteria Cottage is located at 780 Prospect Street in La Jolla. Public hours are Thursday-Sunday, 12pm-4pm. Admission is free.
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