The details are not the details, they make the design.

- Charles Eames   

The Unfinished Story of Viejas Originals

by Keith York

I’ve been learning about San Diego’s postwar, midcentury era for two decades now, interviewing artists, architects and craftspeople to document the region’s burgeoning creative scene during this time period. Between my own research, that of my contemporaries and colleagues, as well as the resources available at the La Jolla Historical Society, I’ve been able to close the loop on scores of stories that have captured my attention. However, there remain a few mysteries – places and people I’ve learned a bit about, but for which I’m still lacking a full timeline, accurate context and the colorful details that make them come alive.

One of the unfinished stories on my list is about retail outlets in La Jolla in the 1950s and 60s. Specifically, the stores and galleries where San Diegans could peruse and purchase contemporary furniture, craft objects and fine art. These were the tastemaker venues of the era, responsible for getting the work of emerging artists and designers into people’s homes and daily lives. I’m aware of two of the key local players in retailing modernism: Armin Richter Interiors and Dean Marshall Interiors. But there were also a handful of shorter-lived galleries and shops like Viejas La Jolla.

In early copies of Magazine San Diego, San Diego & Point and San Diego Magazine, one can gather a sense of what was important and newsworthy, fashionable and contemporary with each issue – both in editorial content and advertisements. Between 1959 and 1961, San Diego & Point hosted a curious set of ads for Viejas La Jolla that caught my attention. While little is known about the personalities behind this venture, its advertising featured slogans like "we specialize in creating the unusual in interior and exterior decorating.” Through these print ads, Viejas La Jolla stands out as a unique entry in our region’s post-War design and craft history. The streak of promotion between 1959-1960 indicates that Viejas sold mosaic panels and lighting fixtures as well as tables, copper enamels, "unusual gifts", "art pieces", and "objets d'art" all for "commercial and residential decoration."

Prior to moving from Alpine to Pacific Beach, William L. ‘Lester’ Ramsay (d. 1970) lost his home – the Alpine Tavern – in 1955. The Tavern reportedly hosted a museum, jewelry factory, the Alpine Artists & Writers Club and craft fairs as well as the Alpine Chamber of Commerce. By 1958, Chamber president William Lethbridge and Mr. Ramsay were both living in Alpine and working at Bali Hai Tropic Shop (established circa 1958).

By 1959, Lethbridge was living in La Jolla and speaking to the La Jolla Newcomers Club and La Jolla Women's Club on the topics of the art and history of mosaics. Ramsay had moved to Pacific Beach, around the same time, and established the Garnet Street Nursery prior to founding Viejas, Inc. “a mosaic-ceramic manufacturing firm.” That same year, Viejas -comprised of Ramsay, Lethbridge, and sculptor Jack Boyd - were commissioned to install a copper cross at the New Methodist Church.

Jack Boyd's mid-1950s migration, “…from Alpine's rustic slopes to the swank showrooms and exhibition galleries of coastal La Jolla, seems entwined with the origins of the Viejas shop, as its owners also traveled from San Diego's back country to the beach. The business’ name reinforces a sense of place, as it refers to the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, who are based just east of Alpine, where Boyd grew up,” offers curator, collector and writer Dave Hampton.

“We know only that Boyd contributed to the Viejas operation and had a space with his workbench in the back of the shop. Given his fluency in a wide range of techniques and materials, Boyd would have been a valuable asset to the design department at Viejas, but most of the products we've seen bearing the Viejas label lack the distinctive Jack Boyd look. An exception might be the mosaic tabletop—displayed in a September, 1959 ad in San Diego & Point (below)—with its composition of shapes abstracted from nature. It demonstrates an attractive blend of commercial appeal and design sophistication that is consistent in Boyd's work,” offers Hampton.

Dave continued, “At the time of his participation in the Viejas business, before he'd established his workshop/gallery off Morena Boulevard, Boyd cultivated an association with La Jolla, where his target clientele lived and shopped. He lived on Chalcedony Street in Pacific Beach but maintained a La Jolla post office box and employed variations of the catchphrase "Arts of La Jolla" in his print marketing.

Viejas continued to advertise in local publications, fostering an interest in mosaics and running the store through much of the ‘60s – including a commissioned mosaic in La Jolla’s Hotel Charro Penthouse. Viejas seems to have ended its run on March 27, 1968 when Fischer Auction Co. liquidated the inventory, “ordered sold by creditors”, including all equipment and fixtures held by Viejas Arts. Among the many items listed in the auction were jeweled and ceramic wall plaques, hanging & table lamps, occasional tables, ash trays, cigarette boxes, candle holders, serving trays as well as the materials of manufacture – Venetian glass and mosaic tiles, crushed glass, lamp bases, table legs and gold leafing.

Armin Richter Interiors
7661 Girard, April 1948. Photographer not known


Armin Richter Interiors
Advertisement, 1950



Dean Marshall Interiors ca. 1958
5759 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla
Architects: Douglas Byles & Eugene Weston III

Photograph: Collection of the La Jolla Historical Society


Dean Marshall Interiors
5759 La Jolla Boulevard, 1958. Photographer not known


Dean Marshall Interiors
Advertisement, 1955



Advertisement from San Diego & Point – September, 1959



Arts of La Jolla label
Jack Boyd's moniker and logo when marketing his work in La Jolla
Image Courtesy of Dave Hampton


Ceramic Vessel and Dish
Viejas Originals, as pictured in November 1960 advertisement
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Advertisement from San Diego & Point – November, 1960

Ceramic Dish
Viejas Originals, as pictured in November 1960 advertisement
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Ceramic Vessel
Viejas Originals, as pictured in November 1960 advertisement
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Trivet with feet
Viejas Originals, circa 1960
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Trivet without feet
Viejas Originals, circa 1960
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Advertisement from San Diego & Point – June, 1960


Wood Jewelry Box - Viejas Originals
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Wood Jewelry Box - Viejas Originals
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Wood Jewelry Box - Viejas Originals
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Wood Jewelry Box - Viejas Originals
Private Collection
Photograph - Ron Kerner


Advertisement from San Diego & Point – July, 1959

Editorial from San Diego & Point – December, 1959

“If you can’t do it for yourself, Viejas sells crushed glass plaques like this for $75, and they sell the crushed glass, too, for people with confidence.”