Scripps on Prospect: Evolution Of Villa and Cottage

The La Jolla Historical Society and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego are collaborating on an exhibition that pays homage to their roots. Scripps on Prospect: Evolution of Villa and Cottage that takes us through the evolution of both sites and explains why they continue to play such an important role in the community.


The exhibition will be open to the public from September 21st at the museum’s Axline Court. The visual journey begins in 1896, when Ellen Browning Scripps initially commissioned maverick architect, Irving Gill, to draw up the plans for Moulton Villa (today the museum). Her half-sister, Eliza Virginia (just Virginia to most), followed suit less than ten years later by having Wisteria Cottage (the Historical Society) built on a hill overlooking the Pacific in 1904; a very apt location for someone who was so involved with marine and environmental affairs. A lot has changed over the years (both inside, outside and around the sites), but the record of their beginnings and many incarnations has been preserved.

Original Drawings By Irvine Gill

Original Drawings By Irvine Gill

To find out more about the exhibition and what people can expect, we spoke with Michael Mishler, an archivist and curator at the La La Jolla Historical Society. Our conversation started off with a few notes on Ellen Browning Scripps and Virginia Scripps – both remarkable humans whose contributions to this community have reached an international audience and will be recognized for future generations.

“When you read the quotes, (Ellen) almost felt that having her wealth was something that nobody should really have, but since she had it and they weren’t going to give it up, they were going to use it to help. She came here in his sixties, when she was retiring and the first time she ever owned her own home was when she built Moulton Villa. She was very austere, you could say, whereas Virginia was a lot more outspoken – a real force to be reckoned with. If you did something she didn’t like, she’d definitely let you know.” You only need to look around the neighborhood to notice colleges, hospitals, societies and countless other institutions that arose and thrived because of the Scripps family.


What Makes This Exhibition Special?

“This is what makes the exhibit neat in my opinion,” Michal explained, ” we have two houses that have very different histories. Ellen’s house (Moulton Villa) went to the Scripps Memorial Hospital after she passed on. A group of people started hosting art exhibits there and eventually decided to purchase it. So ever since then it has been (like she was) a patron of the arts. Even though it has expanded and changed to fits its needs. The building has always had that identity and connection to the arts.

“Our building (the Historical Society) is much more humble. It was owned by Virginia, but I don’t think she ever really lived in it. It was used as a rental home, and family members stayed there, John Burroughs the naturalist stayed here the year before he died. It was also the Balmer’s School, which later became La Jolla Country Day and then two different book stores (the Nexus and more recently John Cole’s Bookstore). So the building hasn’t really changed much, other than minor changes in the 40’s for the Balmer’s School (the basement).

“So Moulton Villa became an art facility that changed a lot over the years, whereas our site became a lot of different things but hardly changed at all.”

For more information about the Scripps on Prospect: Evolution of Villa and Cottage follow the La Jolla Historical Society and the MCASD’s website.

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