Which La Jolla? Old La Jolla or New La Jolla? The distinction is chronological, but also a matter of attitude. You can see the contrast along a few yards of Girard Avenue, in what used to be fondly called “the Village.” D.G. Wills’ bookstore is Old LJ, crowded, disorderly, friendly, and host to a gang of the owner’s buddies who watch Monday night football there. The Pannikin, next door, has a charming shabbiness and an atmosphere of casual amateurism, along with coffee to dwell over at the outside tables. But then comes the cold, spotless Ferrari store, often proudly empty, but occasionally visited by sleek thirtysomethings who themselves look like Ferraris. That is New LJ.
The town’s architecture shows the same division. Old LJ boasts a few beautiful buildings by Cliff May, William Templeton Johnson, and — along a glorious stretch of Prospect Street — Irving Gill. And there also remain some simple, perfectly proportioned cottages in the old-fashioned taste, although every day another one is smashed to bits by New LJ. New LJ means oversized mansions: Roman villas, medieval fortresses, Spanish haciendas, French chateaux, faux-Tudor country houses, pretentious dwellings by which the reigning plutocracy proclaims its right of descent from the ruling classes of earlier centuries. Some bloated examples of third-rate modern architecture up on the hill scream to be noticed, while everyone passes by an occasional masterpiece by Dave Lorimer. Public buildings have been blighted in the same way. The most notorious example is the La Jolla Museum of Contemptible Art. Desiring to make the building’s exterior as ridiculous as the collection inside, the museum paid postmodernist Robert Venturi to transform the once-handsome façade into a squat parody of the Gill structures across the street. New LJ rejoiced.
We can’t go without mentioning Newest La Jolla. This is the creation of real estate speculators, filling every available inch with drab, chintzy, identical townhouses and independent-dwelling stacked units (they used to be called apartment houses). The builders profit, while the community becomes more hectic and more anonymous, with traffic in and out regularly clotted to a standstill.
La Jolla is a shoreline and a mountain. Not a big mountain — only 822 feet of it, far shorter than the Empire State Building — but it is a lush beauty spot, the higher the lusher. There isn’t much solitude left, for Mount Soledad has been built over from all directions. But on the side overlooking the Pacific, the narrow, winding streets, the thick foliage, the estates hidden behind elaborate grills, and the ever more stupendous views make a trip up the mountain an inspiring experience.
At the very top, surrounded by fabulous prospects of coastline, mountains, endless suburbs, and the sweet blue California sky, stands the Cross. For the sake of this dominating object, the government of San Diego has spent a lot of taxpayers’ money to support its claim that, first, the Cross is not a Christian symbol but a war memorial, a historical monument, heritage (like the Confederate flag in Georgia), or an abstract design; and, second, that in selling a minuscule patch of city property at the foot of the historical monument to a carefully selected private group guaranteed to maintain it as a Cross, the city has wiped its hands clean of any establishment of religion. Every court has laughed these arguments to scorn.
We should not forget, though, that the Cross firmly belongs to Old La Jolla. It comes from the era during which there was a gentleman’s agreement among realtors and property owners not to sell to people belonging to the wrong religion (and, of course, the wrong race). Like everything in America, Old La Jolla had its profound moral defects too.