Ritter House

California Sea Grant is housed at the Ritter House, also known as the Old Director's House.

History of the Old Director's House (T-16)

There is a modest redwood bungalow right in the middle of the sophisticated campus of UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography on La Jolla Shores Drive. It's a little overwhelmed now by the new classroom and laboratory a few yards from its front door, but it was the very center of the campus when it was built in 1913. The story of this building is at the heart of the history of the campus.

In 1913 La Jollans were just getting used to the new Irving Gill laboratory building built on land known locally as "those brown hills north of the village." The formerly independent little biological station had just become part of the University of California. Everyone was talking about the road E. W. Scripps built connecting the campus to the village, and now he was building cottages. His sister Ellen had plans for a seawall and pier. The locals called the biological station "the 'logical station" or "the bug house." The scientists who lived there called it "the colony," and Mr. E.W. Scripps called it "AN ODD PLACE . . . where high thinking and modest living is to be the rule."

Mr. Scripps's plan was simple. He would build about twenty redwood cottages modeled on the bungalows that were being built in Kearny Mesa at the time. These would house the staff of the biological station endowed by his sister, and any empty cottages would be rented to academic men who wanted to work at the station or needed an inexpensive seaside holiday. A three-room cottage rented for twelve dollars a month. The rent of the cottages would supplement the income of the station.

The Director's House was to be a little grander than the rest. It was to have two stories and its construction was supervised by the director's wife, the formidable social activist and physician, Dr. Mary Bennett Ritter. Dr. Ritter's husband, William E. Ritter, had promised her a lovely retirement house in Berkeley. They had asked their old friend, Julia Morgan, to design the house. They had Julia Morgan's blueprints in hand when E.W. Scripps and W.E. Ritter agreed that the biological station could only prosper if the Ritters lived in La Jolla year round to oversee its growth. Dr. Mary Ritter found a talented local carpenter, John Morgan, to build the Director's House. We don't know if she gave him Julia Morgan's blueprints, but the Director's House bears a certain resemblance to those blueprints and incorporates details you can see today in some of Julia Morgan's houses in Berkeley that were built for the Ritter's friends.

A lot of interesting people have been in the house. Its residents have included the Norwegian arctic explorer Harald Sverdrup and ichthyologist Carl Hubbs. Hubbs was famous, among other things, for initiating the annual census of gray whales. One February, when illness prevented him from leaving home, he climbed to the roof of the house and counted whales through his field glasses with one arm wrapped around the chimney for support. Visitors to the house included all the local members of the Scripps family, Wangenheims, Klaubers and Seftons, distinguished eastern professors including E.G. Conklin, the sculptor Arthur Putnam, and Walter Clark, author of The Ox Bow Incident. Oceanographer Osmund Holm-Hansen was a guest. His missing fingers bespoke his experience in the arctic. Charles Lindbergh and his wife buzzed the house often in glider flights during the 1920s.

The history of the Director's House is well documented in the Archives of the Scripps Library. The archives has Dr. Mary Ritter's diaries, E.W. Scripps's correspondence with the Ritters, the 1912 blueprints that Ellen Browning Scripps had drawn up for the campus, and lots of pictures of the campus and the house. These documents have been useful in the renovations of the old house, which serves as headquarters for California Sea Grant College Program. The building itself is a reminder of the modest and idealistic origins of what has become the largest oceanographic institution in the world.

Deborah Day, SIO Archivist

Photo SIO Archives - Summer 1923

Because of the isolation of the original research institution from the village of La Jolla (about 4 miles on a dirt road), most of the employees lived at the institution in its earliest years. Funds provided by Ellen B. Scripps built the two-story structure for the director. The first director, William E. Ritter, and his wife moved into the residence December 1913 and made it their home until his retirement in 1923.


Old Directors House

Photo SIO Archives - January 1937

Dr. and Mrs. T. Wayland Vaughan lived in it from 1924 until his retirement in 1936. Dr. and Mrs. Harold U. Sverdrup lived in it from 1936 until their departure for Norway in 1948. The next director, Dr. Carl Eckart, preferred to live in his own house in La Jolla, so Scripps Professor and Mrs. Carl L. Hubbs were allowed to rent the Director's House. In 1954 they moved into their new off-campus house.


Old Directors House

Beginning of restoration - September 1996

In 1954, a research unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, closely associated with a fisheries program at Scripps, occupied T-16 until the Southwest Fisheries Center was completed in 1964. Then it was used by the offices of the Deep Sea Drilling Program until their building was built in 1969. It has been occupied by the administrative offices of the California Sea Grant College Progam since 1973. This well-constructed redwood house has not been extensively modified during its years of use, and it is a good candidate for saving as a historic building.


Restoration of Old Directors House

During restoration - 1997

Roof, fireplace, exterior shingles, interior wall covering,

windows, electrical, and plumbing were replaced and retrofit for earthquake safety.

Below, view of the Scripps Pier from the living room windows in T-16, showing the restored windows and wainscoting


View of the pier

The large date palm on the south side of the Director's House appears younger, in early photos. It was probably planted by Director Ritter. The second director, T. Wayland Vaughan, was an enthusiastic gardner, who was responsible for the introduction of many exotic plants to the nearly desert climate of the Scripps campus.


George Henry Scripps

In the garden east of the Director's House is a fine bronze sculpture, of a farmer sitting on his plow, looking pensive; at his feet is a small dog. Called "The Ploughman," it was created in 1910 by Arthur Putnam, as part of a series commissioned by E.W. Scripps to represent the history of California. However, members of the Scripps family say that the sculpture is also a representation of Illinois farmer George Henry Scripps, a brother of Ellen Browning Scripps who helped E.W. Scripps get into the newspaper business. Originally located at the home of E.W. Scripps, then called Miramar Ranch , the sculpture was given to Scripps Institution of Oceanography by the E.W. Scripps Trust, which had it placed at this site in 1976.

Historical text from Walking About Scripps, by Elizabeth N. Shor