At Home With Chuck and Amy Spielman

Posted on March 1, 2019

Chuck and Amy Spielman’s showplace home has sweeping views of La Jolla Shores from Scripps Pier to La Jolla village and beyond. So, it might seem surprising that Chuck’s home office is in the garage. But this fascinating, philanthropic couple wouldn’t have it any other way. The Spielmans, as car aficionados know, are driving forces behind next month’s La Jolla Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, April 14 in Scripps Park, which Travel Editor Elizabeth Hansen highlights in this issue. The couple also owns Only Yesterday Classic Autos, which sells, services, and restores antique and classic cars. Their Sorrento Valley facility also houses a collection of vintage vehicles and the Hall of Heroes museum filled with military memorabilia. The displays represent Chuck’s lifelong passions: collecting cars — his father once owned a Chevy dealership — and paying tribute to those who served in the military. An army veteran who served in Vietnam himself, Chuck says the experience would “set the course of my life.”

The Spielmans moved from their native New York in 2001, after friends raved about La Jolla’s charm and seaside setting (the couple still maintains an apartment in The Dakota on NYC’s Upper West Side). The La Jolla home, located in a private hilltop enclave, was the first one they looked at, and after perusing 37 other properties, it was the one they returned to time and again and ultimately bought. The sunsets sold them. “It’s all about the view,” says Amy. “We fell in love with the view.”

The home was originally designed by well-known architect Ken Ronchetti, but five years after they moved in, the Spielmans moved out during an extensive 18-month renovation. They enlisted the aid of architect Siavash Khadjehzadeh of Design Lead LLP, Tom Grunow of Grunow Construction, and interior designer Helene Ziman. We “stripped it down to its essence,” Ziman reflects, “simple and classic, rich with materials and textures,” and lots of layering. Down came half-walls that obscured views, so that the ocean immediately provided a “powerful impact.” Disappearing doors off the kitchen, which open onto a terrace, further enhance the home’s indoor-outdoor feel. The couple loves to sit in what Chuck calls the “catbird seats” on the terrace, watching spectacular sunsets. The terrace also overlooks a pool, spa and entertainment area, and outdoor shower.

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The Spielmans’ pool and spa have breathtaking views of the La Jolla shoreline

Ziman’s interior touches are also informed by the sea, including customized furniture in a muted palette with accents of blue-green. “One of the beauties of the ocean is that the color changes constantly,” says Ziman.  She continued the palette in the kitchen with blue-green soapstone counters and cabinets of mahogany veneer with a chic herringbone detail. There are custom built-ins throughout the home to maximize space, including cabinetry that cleverly conceals pull-down beds in the couple’s study and workout room. Cabinets in the living room showcase treasures from the couple’s extensive travels, including a wood and camel bone elephant (acquired on a recent trip to India) and a Bible from the Holy Land. The result is a striking, contemporary space that is also comfortable. “It is warm, friendly, welcoming,” says Amy. “We don’t want to live in a museum.”

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The Spielmans’ living room has floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize the dazzling ocean vistas. Custom furniture in a muted palette is accented with the blue-green colors of the sea

They do, however, cherish their Hall of Heroes museum (an official affiliate of the San Diego Air & Space Museum) and the Only Yesterday auto collection, open by appointment and to the military, charitable organizations, and school outreach programs. The car collection is comprised of dozens of vintage vehicles and automotive memorabilia, including a 1930 Duesenberg, voted “Best in Class” at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Whether you’re a car enthusiast or not, there’s plenty of nostalgia to enjoy, from a fully restored 1955 Good Humor ice cream truck to an American LaFrance fire truck, painted, of course, in “fire engine red.”

Sharing the building is the Hall of Heroes, a collection of military artifacts and memorabilia “which bring the stories of service people to life,” says Chuck, who has been fascinated with military history ever since hearing war stories as a boy. (While other kids were watching Hopalong Cassidy, a popular 1950s television series about a cowboy hero, he was watching Victory at Sea, a history of the U.S. Navy during World War II.) The museum’s mission is to connect artifacts with those who used them in a very personal way. A poignant case in point is a complete World War II army uniform that Chuck acquired, along with a footlocker containing more than 900 letters. The letters were written from 1938 to 1944 by Burl Storey, a combat pilot shot down over Germany. The last letter was postmarked on the day Storey died. When a museum intern tracked down Storey’s grandson, Chuck offered to return the pilot’s belongings. “We’d like you to keep them,” the family responded. “You honor him every day.”

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The music room also serves as a home theatre, where Chuck likes to watch sporting events and World War II documentaries

The Spielman Family Foundation supports such veterans’ causes as the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR), which helps to ease the transition from military service to civilian life. Other philanthropies include the San Diego Air & Space Museum (where Chuck serves on the board), La Jolla Playhouse, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Spielman family is especially committed to organizations working to raise awareness of mental illness, which contributed to their daughter Jenny’s death in 2008. The Spielmans have established scholarships in her memory, funded research at Salk, and founded a program at Scripps Health to educate doctors and nurses. Friends credit this philanthropic family for turning their own tragedy into a quest to help others.   Andrea Naversen

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Chuck Spielman at home in La Jolla with his Duesenberg II

Photography by Vincent Knakal