The Architect

Irving Gill (1870-1936), widely considered as the first and preeminent architect of the Modernist era, was commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps to design and build La Jolla Woman’s Club in 1913-1914. This prominently sited building is considered one of his masterpieces. It is similar to his other works in its stylistic simplicity but here he used a “tilt-slab” construction technique to assemble the exterior arcade walls on site. This method comprises pouring loads of concrete onto a huge table tilted 15 degrees, hollow tiles on a table (forms for walls) divided by four inch vertical steel bars as reinforcement and metal frames for doors and windows integrated into forms. The result is California’s first tilt-up concrete building. These walls integrate hollow, clay-block infill to lighten the slab’s weight. For the interior walls and central “pop-up” volume, however, he employed conventional balloon-frame construction. Though Gill is often associated with the tilt-up method, he used it in only a handful of structures.

John Gill San Diego  Architect 1914As one of the most influential architects of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, Gill was said to be far advanced for his time. He built for the present in new materials with new methods that evolved through trial and error. He led the way in the development and evolution of concrete and naturalness, which he used in his coordination of house and garden by pergolas, courts, patio and porches. He understood shadows and shadings and they enhanced his walls. His columns were strong and modest with small bands and flat caps.

In the La Jolla Woman’s Club, Gill’s traditional arches frame the wrap-around porch (veranda) and a vine-covered pergola extends to the street. Walls were finished flush with the casing – wall joins the flooring slightly rounded. He used no molding for pictures, no baseboard paneling or wainscoting to catch and hold the dust. The entry doors are of single slabs of hand polished mahogany swung on invisible hinges. The roof opening (for ventilation) in the lounges was also a favorite device and he planned exquisite gardens around the building.

To recognize its historical significance, the building was designated as Historic Site No. 79, City of San Diego Register on March 2, 1973, and was placed on the National Register of Historical Places on November 5, 1974.