Wisteria Cottage, located at 780 Prospect Street, is on the corner with Eads Avenue and in the heart of the Scripps/Gill Cultural District, and is one of La Jolla's most distinguished structures.
Wisteria, named for the wisteria-covered pergola in front of the entry, was built in 1904 by George B. and Edith M. Seaman, who relocated to La Jolla from Alameda, CA. The Seamans owned the property only briefly and sold it to Eliza Virginia Scripps, half-sister of La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.
Known for her generosity as much as her eccentricity, Virginia Scripps first offered the Cottage as a temporary home for the St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church from 1906-08 until the church could be relocated to its present site across the street on land she donated. During that time she also commissioned acclaimed architect Irving Gill remodel the cottage, completed in 1909, which at that time added to the property's value a total of $1,375.
Although Gill's name is not specifically tied to the original cottage, the architecture is the craftsman style that characterized his early years before he turned to more modern design in the La Jolla cultural zone, with buildings such as the Recreation Center and Woman's Club. The original cottage and addition retains its historic character: a wood-framed, single-wall construction house with a pitched hip roof. Gill's addition and remodel included enclosing a front porch on either side to create a loggia, making the basement into living quarters, and adding the trademark pergola. The final distinctive feature of Wisteria is the cobblestone masonry foundation, a detail repeated in the cobblestone walls around the entire property line.
In its hundred-plus year history, Wisteria Cottage has experienced a number of uses, all important to the cultural and educational life of the community. Although Virginia Scripps never used it as a private residence, her guests who visited La Jolla often occupied the house for long intervals. They included the naturalist John Burroughs who spent the winter of 1920-21 in residence. After Virginia Scripp's death, ownership of the property passed to her niece, Dolla, who lived there until 1942 when title went to Ellen Revelle, a member of the Scripps family and wife of UC San Diego founder Roger Revelle. The cottage then became the Balmer School, predecessor of the current-day La Jolla Country Day School.
After the school relocated, Wisteria Cottage began a long period of tenure as a bookstore. From 1961-66 it was the Nexus Bookstore and from 1966 to 2005, the John Cole's Book Store. As John Cole's it became a landmark noted for book signings and visits by famous personalities, including actor Charles Laughton (who loved to sit in the attic and read) and Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss (the La Jolla children's' book author and a resident of La Jolla). In 1982, the cottage was designated Historic Site No. 166 by the City of San Diego.
With the closing of Coles Bookstore in 2005, Wisteria Cottage began a new era as the home of the La Jolla Historical Society. In 2008, Ellen Revelle and her family made a bequest of the entire property to the Society.
Capital funding were raised and plans developed to renovate the campus buildings for use as a museum, education and research center, community gathering place, and archive storage. Construction was completed in 2014 to coincide with the Society's 50th Anniversary celebration.
The rehabilitated Wisteria Cottage serves as interpretative space and as museum-standard exhibition gallery space. The renovated conference room in the Balmer Annex provides improved facilities for meetings, workshops, educational programs, and community activities. Improvements to the Office and Research Center provide a conducive setting for members of the public to consult with the Society’s archivist and historian regarding information needs and access to archival materials.