It Takes a Village
Recalling old faves while riding a new creative wave in La Jolla
Posted on May 1, 2019
There’s an image I associate with La Jolla. It’s the sleeping porch atop architect Rudolph Schindler’s El Pueblo Ribera on Gravilla Street designed astonishingly in 1923. His was an outsider’s response to the wonderment of Windansea. Having fled frigid Vienna, he dreamt up fresh-air day beds and pocket doors as both pinnacle and prototype of indoor-outdoor living.
Nearly a century after Schindler experimented with beach sand and concrete in these casitas, it’s interesting to survey La Jolla as a foundation for creativity. Today’s mix of old-school leisure and new privilege isn’t a winning formula for every resident, yet the outcome provides a texture all its own. There’s much to be said about the power of provenance, and it’s certainly been a fertile ground for The Horticult, an international gardening sensation with major coverage in The New York Times, a Clarkson Potter coffee table book How to Window Box, and more megawatt collaborations on the way.
“We have the perfect climate for growing plants and when you’re in Windansea, you want to be outside. The outdoor rooms, encapsulated and defined by the plants, are my ideal way to enjoy this natural paradise,” says co-founder Ryan Benoit, who engineers The Horticult’s outdoor furniture and planters that can be spotted at the Bird Rock Coffee Roasters locations. “So much of the inspiration has come from walks down to Windansea Beach past beautifully landscaped designs that change through the seasons and years.”
Where Art Thou?
A formidable creative scene prevents La Jolla from becoming wall-to-Wall Street with banks, real estate brokers, and coffee chains. And my compass is set to the Murals of La Jolla. Having joined forces with the Athenaeum to become a cultural powerhouse, the Murals provide public art with a singular sense of place while we wait for MCASD to undergo its next iteration. On La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock, Wayfarer Bread has lured purists, tourists, and its own NYT ink with its kwuh-saunh, and so too should Roman De Salvo’s double-sided mural McCairn. (Not quite a million served, but that’s the point.) The newest installment playfully recalls McDonald’s double arches re-imagined as a cairn, an artful stacking of stones.
Known for his quirky commentary on modernity, the San Diego-based De Salvo is in good company with art world heavyweights bringing vitality to 15 walls, otherwise humdrum. Consistently named one of the Top 10 living artists, John Baldessari’s heroic Brain/Cloud alters view points above La Jolla Shores; long before Instagram, there was Roy McMakin on Eads; and Jean Lowe’s vanity project on Girard gets me every time. A clairvoyant of consumerism riffs, Lowe’s oeuvre is immense in cheek and physicality. Inside the Athenaeum, her papier-mâché Houseplant, Monstera Deliciosa towers over tomes. Founded as a women’s reading club in 1894, the music and art library is brimming with events. The library hosts free mural tours the last Wednesday of each month, and mark calendars for
May 10, the opening reception for the Art Prize exhibit, which runs through July 6.
Just when I thought the San Diego antique store was going extinct, in walks Girard Ave. Marketplace, a one-two punch when combined with Ark Antiques down the way. Attention designers: It’s day-trip worthy. The new owners, lifelong purveyors of JE & Sons Antiques, have hand-picked an elite crop of dealers for the space including Harvest Vintage, CircaAd, Coastal Salvage, Nok-Nok Living, and The Boho Casa. Nok-Nok has a mega following
for post-modernism and nuanced tweaks on holy grails like Don Johnson chairs in matte black and Raf Simons fabrics on mod French thrones.
My short list of places to nibble in La Jolla comprises exactly that — perfect little bites. Salt bagels from Busy Bee are ordered in advance. Verdes El Ranchero’s scratch carnitas made with Modelo Negro and Coca-Cola is always a winner. El Pescadaro for wild-caught halibut and wildly attractive staff. And for 30-plus years, the goodies from Girard Gourmet have become a multi-gen tradition while breaking molds to reflect the cultural milieu. There’s been a tiger in honor of Tiger Woods, an iced Donald Trump for fans and detractors alike, bear cookies for the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, and a panda for San Diego Zoo’s beloved Bai Yun.
“We made them when she was arriving, and now when she is leaving,” says baker Francois Goedhuys, who with his wife, Diana, owns the bakery. “It’s a full circle here.”
Down in La Jolla Shores, the surprise masterstroke is Barbarella. With its hallowed roast chicken and ricotta pancakes, the Italian restaurant (established 1991) has a new proprietor in La Jolla artist Jean Wells and her son Blake Hamerslag. No surprise the family was hand-picked by the previous owner. Wells is a queen of pop-art with a highly collected portfolio, some of which graces the eatery. Big red mosaic lips are parted in a smile to passersby, and a Warhol soup can from her personal collection graces the wall inside. It fits not so neatly — an ode to its origins — with the work of legendary artist Nike de Saint Phalle, who created the Barbarella logo and priceless pizza oven. The heat is on with new chef Dominic Tedesco, a former pizza world champ, doling out nightly pasta, soup, and thoughtful happy hour on a custom conversation bar. “It’s about food, music, culture, everything,” says Tedesco, of Sicilian descent. Flanked by the historic Cheese Shop and the darling new artisan ice cream parlor, Scoops, it’s a block party on the daily.
When I want to escape the bustle for a coffee date or solo lunch, it’s straight to the veranda at Nine-Ten at the Grande Colonial Hotel. Chef Jason Knibb is legendary, affable, and one of the most talented chefs in San Diego. Serving an exacting tourist-to-local ratio, the eatery and lobby recently underwent a breezy elegant remodel. The sidewalk patio is perfect for people-watching, but I’ll take the back veranda perched over a lush pool with ocean views. Over scallops or the storied burger with house-made chips (!), the setting is awash in civility and beckons one of those languid lunches of yore.
West Side Story
These days, there’s a super bright side on Girard with a sleek redesigned Brooks Brothers and the new Aviator Nation. With its blindingly blue-hued façade, this purveyor of worn-in beach fashion started in the Venice Beach garage of Paige Mycoskie, who has multiplied the boutique blueprint across the country in San Francisco, Aspen, and Austin. It’s inspired by the “rad California lifestyle” of the ’70s, with clothes created to look and feel like vintage. In other words, it’s the old new.
From Bird Rock to the Shores, whether you choose to shop, sip, or stroll and savor the art, there are hidden gems within this beloved jewel by the sea. Jamie Reed
Barbarella, Nine-Ten, Girard Ave. marketplace: photography by Vincent Knakal McCairn Mural: Photography ©2019 Philipp Scholz Rittermann