The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1989, Volume 35, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

La Jolla: The Story of a Community, 1897-1987.

By Patricia A. Schaelchlin. San Diego: Friends of the La Jolla Library, 1988, Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Appendices. Chronology. Index. 290 Pages. $29.95.

Reviewed by Dr. Raymond Starr, Professor of History at San Diego State University, who specializes in local and community history. He has published San Diego: A Pictorial History (1986) and several articles on San Diego history and local history methods.

Of all the neighborhoods of San Diego, La Jolla has the clearest and strongest sense of identity: indeed a number of La Jollans do not even consider themselves a part of San Diego! Thus it was inevitable that in La Jolla’s centennial year, the community would produce histories of itself, in order to celebrate its past and to nourish its sense of identity. In 1986 the La Jolla Historical Society published Inside La Jolla 1887-1987, a rather strange history which included a brief overview of La Jolla history, an eclectic list of essays on a variety of topics, and a section on outstanding women of La Jolla. Now the friends of the La Jolla Library have published a much more substantial volume. La Jolla: The Story of a Community, 1887-1987 by Particia Schaelchlin. This coffee table sized book is by one of San Diego’s most active local historians and preservations. Schaelchin has published a book on the San Diego Rowing Club, an article on the Rest Haven home for children, a number of other articles on local history or buildings, and served as president of the Save Our Heritage Organisation. Her master’s thesis at San Diego State University was a study of La Jollan Anson Mills’ diary. The author has drawn upon her skills and experiences to produce a fact and photograph filled account of the “village” which is indispensable to anyone wanting to know about La Jolla.

The story Schaelchlin tells begins with a description of the site, a discussion of the name, and the early origins of the community, which was really launched as part of the Southern California real estate boom of the 1880s. The author explains well the development of the area between 1900 and World War II, when the economic base and the institutions which give La Jolla much of its shape and character came into being. Her emphasis upon voluntary organizations is an aspect of the book which brings it into the mainstreams of contemporary community history. He coverage of the postwar era to the present focuses on housing, economic development and many of the problems which growth have brought to La Jolla. Although Schaelchlin’s account fairly oozes with her love of the subject, that love of La Jolla does not prevent her from examing some of the problems and some of the negative aspects of the neighborhood.

The author’s presentation of her material features a number of devices. There is straightforward text, which is organized into chapters on a chronological basis; although within each chapter the development is primarily topical. This narrative is supplemented by a number of boxes which contain many gems of information. They may be devoted to a person, a building, or a document. There are many pictures, which are explained in long and pertinent captions. The book’s ultimate importance is greatly enhanced by footnotes, whose unobtrusive location proves that serious scholarly documentation need not detract from the readability of a book. Schaelchlin has also provided a number of appendices which feature lists of organizations, parks, schools and many other topics. To make the book as useful as possible for quick reference there is an index.

The strength of this book is the incredible amount of information which Schaelchlin has assembled and presented. Its weaknesses are that there is no single thesis, and there needs to be more interpretation of the wealth of material which the author presents. The weaknesses of the book will probably bother only academic historians: for almost anyone else, the book is exceptional. It is a delight to browse for entertainment, a ready reference for information on La Jolla, as well as a source for serious scholarly research. The author, designer Thomas Scharf, and the Friends of the La Jolla Library have the right to be proud of this contribution to the history of San Diego. It is a model of its type, and is superior to most other community histories which have been done in the San Diego area.