La Jolla’s early historian
by Carol Olten
Sep 26, 2012 | 1736 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Howard Steele Fitz-Randolph, who wrote the first book on La Jolla history, in 1939. Courtesy of the La Jolla Historical Society
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Howard Steele Fitz-Randolph (preferring to be called Howard S.F. Randolph) was an affable gentleman who came to La Jolla in 1935 hoping the climate would alleviate a struggle with emphysema that had plagued him in New York City.

He was a genealogist by trade who delighted in the tracing of intriguing family history. In his 20 years before the end of his life in La Jolla in 1956, he did little work in geneaology, however, and turned his emphasis to La Jolla history, of which there had been no serious recording.

Working through correspondence and interviews with La Jolla’s pioneer families and descendants, Randolph comprised the first book on La Jolla history, “La Jolla Year by Year,” with a careful selection of photographs from the 1880s through the mid-1940s. It was first published in 1946 with a revised edition arriving in 1955.

Today, the book is out of print, although you can still pick up stray copies for a few dollars in used bookstores. It is only 150 pages, but remains a definitive treatment of La Jolla history, particularly good for anecdotal insights into life in an isolated Southern California beach community devoid of pretense, but hardly of pretentious characters.

It is in Randolph’s book that we are first introduced to the crazed antics of diver Horace Poole, the varied shenanigans of cave digger “Professor” Gustav Schultz and the mannered ways of the vegetable peddler known as Charlie the Chinaman.

Coming to La Jolla from a well-established East Coast family with an ancestry dating their American arrival at Cape Cod in 1630, Randolph’s new delight in exploring a California place where protocol was less demanding remains in evidence. With his wife, Mollie, and two children, Mary and Randy, Randolph lived in a variety of houses on Prospect Place as he collected his research on local history, working with the La Jolla Library Association. The first he purchased for $7,500 at 7944 Prospect Place.

Coming from the East Coast, he found he also needed to make vocabulary changes. Writing her own La Jolla memoir about those years in 1999, daughter Mary recalled: “Trolleys became street cars. Trash baskets became waste baskets. Gristedes became Piggly Wiggly. Wrappers became bathrobes and a torch became a flashlight.

“Howard, born in 1883, clung to Edwardian nomenclature. I reddened with embarassment when he told a waitress that he admired her waist! ‘Oh no. It’s a blouse,’ I cried.”

Randolph dedicated his book “to the memory of three unusual women:” Ellen Browning Scripps, Nellie Mills and Anna Held. The first chapter, Boom Town, begins with La Jolla’s founding amid the real estate speculations of the late 1880s and quotes a song from a minstrel show in San Diego promoting the place: “Go out tomorrow to La Jolla’s fair park; leave your whiskey at home for it isn’t a lark.” While Randolph’s writing is often chatty, as opposed to serious history with dates and facts, it also is often a lark to read. Take, for example, the description of a La Jolla bank robbery in 1928 when the cops-and-robber chase scene seems to pop right out of “The Keystone Cops.”

That Randolph loved and enjoyed La Jolla during his 20 years here is obvious. The last page of his book is a tome to magnificent sunsets, the Cove and caves and equable climate. As the La Jolla Historical Society begins preparations for its 50th birthday celebration next year, hats off to Randolph who was so extremely instrumental in starting the whole thing in motion so many years ago. Many of the photographs he gathered for his book now form the nucleus of the archive collection. The stories in his book have become La Jolla legends. Cheers, S.F. Thanks for heading West.

— Carol Olten is the historian of the La Jolla Historical Society

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