Who was instrumental in planting the signature row of palm trees in Scripps Park?
Who is commemorated with a name on a flagpole in one of La Jolla's smallest city-maintained parks?
Who wrote romantic poetry and ran a real estate office on Prospect Street with a flower-draped arbor where he rented cottages starting at $15 a month?
The answer is La Jolla's Walter S. Lieber "” businessman, raconteur, man of letters, world traveler, lover of beauty and bon vivant who wrote succinctly in his real estate brochure: "La Jolla is peculiarly different from the ordinary resort; in fact, it is not a resort at all in the usual sense of the word. It has escaped that fate."
When Lieber arrived in La Jolla in 1904, he found a village of about 200 inhabitants. Coming to the San Diego area at age 45 for health reasons, he had intended to remain only a few hours between trains but ended up spending the rest of his lifetime as a La Jolla resident and became a leading contributor to the community's business and cultural life.
Lieber's forte was real estate. He built and rented cottages all over town, most particularly a Chapparrel Group clustered between 1188 and 1200 Prospect Street with fine ocean views.
Each of his rentals (the highest priced was $100 a month) had an intriguing name. They were inspired by anything from classical opera ("La Tosca") to Indian tribes ("Cherokee") to, of course, the sea ("Surf View"). Flowers ("Columbine" and "Poinsettia") were another inspiration, along with the usual appellations denoting sleepy, cozy places ("Nestledown," "Tuckaway" and "Breezy Nest").
"Breezy Nest," according to Lieber, was "the very best three-room cottage in La Jolla. On the bluff, with an unsurpassed ocean and mountain view "¦ gas for cooking and lighting, attractive toilet room off of bedroom; good porch; convenient kitchen "¦ one minute's walk to bathing cove and three minutes to store and post office."
Few, if any, of Lieber's rental cottages remain today and, if they did, the landlord probably would be collecting $2,000 a month.
But Lieber always impressed as a considerate, charitable landlord. One of his regular practices was sending anonymous $20 bills to persons, often strangers, who had suffered financial woes.
Lieber had a strong commitment to La Jolla. He revered Ellen Browning Scripps and her many cultural and civic contributions. He, himself, planted and laid out the strip of wasteland along the coast that became Scripps Park. His personal correspondence is filled with poetical descriptions of "beautiful La Jolla by the sea." Although he traveled extensively to India and other worldwide destinations, he always came back to La Jolla, and died at age 85 at his home at 1192 Prospect St. The flagpole in Park Row circle park (off Torrey Pines Road) commemorates his life, 1859 to 1945.
Born into a Philadelphia family of wealth and raised on its Waverly estate in Pennsylvania, Lieber studied at the Faires Classical Institute and started his career as a merchant in Philadelphia. In 1901, he became associated with the Boston and Montana Co. in Great Falls, Mont. Shortly afterward he took a mining superintendent job with the Green Consolidated Mining Co. in Cananea, Mexico. When his health became affected by the high elevation of the mining operations, he sought a more amenable sea-level climate which, ultimately, led him here. His love for La Jolla is, perhaps, best reflected in the telephone number of his real estate office: Sunset 91.
"” Olten is the historian for the La Jolla Historical Society, 7848 Eads Ave. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Society is dedicated to the preservation of La Jolla history and the dissemination of information about La Jolla's past as well as its future.