Marston House

Marston House
San Diego
February 4, 2017

We visited the Marston House in February, using our Macy’s Museum Month discount pass. Entrance to the house itself is only with a guided tour, and tours run each half hour. We had just missed one tour by about 5 minutes so spent some time walking around the exterior, examining the house from the outside and enjoying the gardens. It was pleasant strolling, though not the season for roses. We also admired the walled laundry area, for hanging out the wash, and peeked into the cellar. Later, the docent told us it is a half cellar rather than a full one, because the house is built into a slope. The cellar housed the utilities and was used by the help.

When our turn to take the next tour came, we were the only ones on it. The docent was very well informed and very enthusiastic. He told us all about the Marston family members who had lived in the house, the architect, the furnishings, the original construction and various modifications of the house, and the recent history of preservation efforts. He also gave us a context for the architectural details, comparing the Marston House to the Gamble House in Pasadena. (We saw the outside of the Gamble House once, back in 2014, and would like to go back sometime and tour the interior; the Marston House experience has piqued our interest.)

The downstairs has beautiful woodwork. The redwood from the forests of northern California give the rooms a warm feel. The docent pointed out a nice detail—butterfly key joints between some of the boards lining the walls. The music room has hidden racks in the walls. Mr. Marston’s study has lovely built-in bookshelves, and he forbade the installation of a call button there to help maintain the contemplative atmosphere; most other rooms in the house are connected to the indicator in the butler’s pantry. Bob thought that the use of pocket doors gave the downstairs a very clean look and nice sense of flow from room to room.

The house is tastefully furnished with period pieces, though little that was owned by the Marstons remains. The Marston family used the house until the 1980s, when it was given to the City of San Diego. At that time, the furnishings were reclaimed by family members. Since then, the museum has worked to find replacements that fit the setting, even getting a period bathtub.

The tour provides access to the first and second floors of the house. The first floor was designed for entertaining and the dining room opens onto a sizeable patio. One famous visitor was Theodore Roosevelt, who came to dinner when the former president attended the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. The attic area was also finished and used as sleeping quarters by the family, but it is not currently open to visitors. A neat detail throughout the house is the raised thresholds and floor levels in the baths and closets. The docent kept reminding us to watch our step. He speculated that the architectural quirk was meant to make it easier to sweep the primary floor levels cleanly and to easily sweep out those smaller spaces, into the adjacent hallways or larger rooms, although no one knows for sure.

The house was completed in 1905. George W. Marston was a self-made man who came to San Diego and made his money in the retail industry, owning a successful local department store. The house was begun with a Tudor style in mind, but once Marston hired Irving Gill to finish the project, Gill altered it as much as possible to fit his vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The exterior retains some Tudor characteristics while hinting at the Prairie School. Inside, there are many typical Gill elements including coved floor to wall transitions in the public rooms, casement windows with transoms, and enclosed bathtubs.

Tickets for the tours are sold in the gift shop located in the adjacent carriage house/garage. The house is open Fridays through Mondays, except Christmas Day, from 10 to 5. Tours leave every half hour, last tour at 4 p.m. Regular admission costs $15 for adults, with discounts for seniors, active duty military, students, and children under 12. (The Macy’s discount gave us 50% off.) Being a mansion of a certain age, the museum is not readily accessible to those in wheelchairs.

While there are no dining facilities adjacent to the house, the area has many cafes, restaurants, and pubs. After our visit and a walk in the park, we enjoyed excellent craft beer at The Brew Project on Fifth Avenue, itself located in a 1902 Craftsman House. We enjoyed the brew pub and plan to go back and try it for lunch or dinner.

Brahms and Cowboys

California Center for the Arts
January 29, 2017

Meredith was out of town on the last weekend in January, so Bob decided to check out the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. His attention had been drawn to it by advertising for a performance of Brahms’ German Requiem. Escondido Choral Arts organized the presentation, which featured an introduction to the work and recorded testimonials by members of the choral groups involved as to their often quite moving relationships to the Requiem, as well as what Bob thought was a fine performance.

Since the music did not begin until three in the afternoon, he took advantage of the trip to Escondido to visit another part of the Center, the Museum. The facility is spacious—two large, airy halls that are paralleled by hallways which can also be used for display. The hallways have large windows all along that look out on the adjacent Grape Day Park. The current exhibition is Cowboys and Vaqueros: Legends of the American West. It runs January 14 through February 26, 2017. In the smaller of the two halls were a mix of paintings, photographs, and artifacts that celebrate different peoples who made their mark on the history of the Old West: Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and European Americans. Bob was taken by a photograph of an African-American family outside their sod hut and another of the Robinson Hotel. That hotel was started by an African-American family in Julian, California, in the nearby mountains. When they sold it after a number of decades, it became the Julian Hotel, which still stands today. He also liked the side saddle that belonged to a young lady who was in the first graduating class from Escondido High School—her family lived in the San Pasqual Valley, too far to commute, so she stayed in town during the week and rode her horse home on the weekends!

In the larger hall there was a focus on paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Many of the sculptures were by Mehl Lawson, the curator of the show. His works in the show were in bronze, reminiscent of Frederic Remington, but with a very different surface texture or patina. The works throughout the show were very largely contemporary—from the 1990s into the current decade. Bob very much liked one large scale Impressionist painting, Eastern Sierra Landscape by Alson Skinner Clark and owned by the University Club of Pasadena. Executed in 1919, the picture shows a covered wagon dwarfed by the majestic mountains in the distance and lost in the desert of the foreground.

In the hallways adjacent to the exhibition halls, there was a display of student work from local schools related to the show. Mostly these were drawings or paintings, but one project had been to design cattle brands—one young lady welded her own and with it there was a description of the process she went through to make it.

A smaller room located at the end of the large hall farthest from the entrance was being used to show the work of a local documentarian. Corazon Vaquero (Heart of the Cowboy) is a gripping piece. Usually when one passes by a video that is playing in a museum setting, if it runs more than ten minutes one loses interest and moves on. This film is a very terrific look at the daily life of people who live in the dry, mountainous lands in central Baja California. Bob watched about half an hour and then had to move on to get to the concert. Researching the film later, he found that it was made by Cody McClintock, who grew up in northern San Diego County, and is narrated by his father Garry, a master saddle maker who lived in Descanso and passed away in the fall of 2015.

There is plenty of free parking adjacent to the Center. Handicap access seemed fine in the museum and the concert hall. There is a small gift shop in the museum, which is open Thursday-Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00 and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00. The current exhibition runs through Sunday, 26 February. The next exhibition, coming in April and May, is called The Second Time Around: The Hubcap as Art. The young woman at the museum entrance told Bob that so far there are no other exhibits planned for the year due to funding constraints.

Macy’s Museum Month 2017

Macy’s is offering its annual “Museum Month” again this year. Customers who pick up a pass at the store can enjoy a 50% discount at dozens of participating museums in San Diego County. According to the museum council: Passes will be available beginning February 1 at all San Diego, Temecula and Imperial Valley Macy’s…. Guests with a pass can bring up to three people to participating museums to receive half-off admission for the entire party. Additional fees may apply for special exhibitions.

See details at the museum council website.

Last year we used our discount to visit the San Diego Museum of Art. This year we will try to use the passport a couple of times, including probably at the Marston House.

Living Coast Discovery

Living Coast
(formerly the Chula Vista Nature Center)
Chula Vista
January 15, 2017

At the suggestion of one of Meredith’s rowing teammates, we drove down to Chula Vista to explore the revamped nature center, now called Living Coast. We took advantage of our Birch Aquarium membership; the two institutions are offering reciprocal admission in January.

Living Coast is part of the national wildlife refuge area in the South Bay. The parking lot is at the foot of E Street, just off Interstate 5. From there a shuttle bus runs to the nature center.

Just outside the main building is turtle exhibit, the Turtle Lagoon, which unfortunately was closed for maintenance the day we visited. Within the main building we saw a number of very interesting displays. There are tanks with local fish and many other marine animals. We were particularly struck by the large octopus. In addition to the marine creatures, there are also terrariums with lizards, snakes, and tortoises.

Just behind the main building is a shark and ray encounter area. There are two tanks in it. The first tank is shallower and open; visitors can touch the rays in it. The deeper tank also contains sharks and rays, and a large turtle. She is a rescue animal, with paralyzed hind legs. She was injured and partially paralyzed by a boat collision in Florida and has found a new home here. A docent was on duty, answering visitors’ questions.

Also in the area behind the main building are a series of small avian enclosures. We walked into the largest of them, housing a couple of rare clapper rails. We then walked on past a number of raptor enclosures, seeing eagles, hawks, owls, a kestrel, and an osprey.

After touring the exhibits, both interior and exterior, we headed across from the main entrance of the building, to trails that thread through the protected lands to the bay. We meandered around the trails, down to the bay and back again. Along the way we saw one of Bob’s former students, who is working at Living Coast as an intern, and stopped to chat with her.

Handicapped access seems generally good. There are ramps where needed, such as to the observation deck and the shark and ray exhibit. The shuttle bus from the parking lot is a kneeling bus which has wheelchair tiedowns. The walking trails are broad and flat and well compacted. Both the parking and the shuttle bus are free. Adult admission to the center is $16, and children are $11. Memberships are a good value: $40 for an individual, $60 for a dual membership, and $96 for a household.

Timken New Year’s Eve

Timken Museum of Art
Balboa Park
December 31, 2016

We love the Timken Museum of Art; as we have said before, it is perhaps our favorite museum. It is a small museum located in the heart of Balboa Park, next to the (larger and unaffiliated) San Diego Museum of Art and the arboretum. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.

We went there on New Year’s Eve to catch the last day of the exhibition Jewels of the Season, displaying many wonderful hand made ornaments created by local artists Florence Hord and Elizabeth Schlappi. Bob had gone to see it a week earlier with our middle daughter and son-in-law; this was Meredith’s first visit. Annually since 1988, the Timken has set up a Christmas Tree and displayed on it a selection of ornaments from the collection, which totals over 2000 pieces. Starting last year, the exhibition was expanded and is now an extended installation with more ornaments hung overhead and displayed in cases, in addition to those shown on the tree.

We browsed through the permanent collection as well. The museum is small, but for its size offers an excellent assortment of European and American paintings. It boasts the only Rembrandt painting in San Diego, Saint Bartholomew.

December 31 marked the last day of the Jewels exhibition; be sure to see it next holiday season! The Timken has another special exhibition coming up: Witness to War: Callot, Goya, Bellows, which will run from January 27 – May 28, 2017. We are also looking forward to the fall, when the Timken, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will bring a small group of Monet paintings to San Diego. Details of that exhibition have not yet been released.

On our walk through the park, we stopped to enjoy the Nativity and related scenes displayed near the organ pavilion. According to the Union Tribune, the original sculptures were done over 70 years ago by noted Los Angeles artist Rudolph Vargas. They have been displayed at the park each Christmas season since 1953. In recent years they had become worn and tattered. Over the past year, local artist Barbara Jacobson donated her time, and together with numerous lay volunteers refurbished the entire set. The figures and backdrops look spiffy now, thanks to their efforts.

Tide Pool Exploration

False Point
La Jolla
December 26, 2016

On Boxing Day we explored local tide pools. Last summer we had purchased the tour as a silent auction item at a rowing club fundraiser. A fellow rower who is a marine biologist helped us find interesting specimens under the rocks, then explained what we were looking at. Meanwhile her sons and husband (also a biologist) climbed around finding a variety of creatures. We went at low tide; tide pool exploration is best done when a negative low tide falls during daylight hours.

Some of the most interesting creatures are the smallest ones, such as miniature barnacles, and tiny crabs almost too small to see. In that respect the tide pool residents are sort of like desert flowers -– beautiful but easy to miss unless you slow down and look carefully.

We saw, among other things: sea anemones, brittle stars, other star fish, sculpin, hermit crabs, chiton, limpets, whelks, barnacles, algae, a small octopus, and LOTS of sea hares. Most of the sea hares were small; we took turns holding a large sea hare the guys found. All creatures were released alive and unharmed!

Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum
December 4, 2016


We met up with Kathleen, Meredith’s sister, to spend an afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum. This museum has an extensive and good quality collection of European art, and we toured those galleries first. Meredith enjoyed the Degas works particularly, both paintings and sculpture. Bob’s eye was caught by a Georges Lacombe painting, the Chestnut Gatherers. We both liked the Baciccio painting, Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ, so we picked up a packet of Christmas cards with a reproduction of it in the gift shop.

Kathleen will be teaching a comparative religion course next term and found material of interest in both the European and Asian art sections. The Asian art collection is extensive, and consists largely of religious statues.

The museum is a good size — compact enough to see the collection in one visit, but large enough to contain its considerable collection and show it to good advantage. The interior galleries, redesigned by architect Frank Gehry in the 1990’s, are light and airy.


The sculpture gardens are a treat to explore and something that sets this museum apart. As you approach, the path to the entrance is flanked by Rodin sculptures, including the Burghers of Calais. Inside the museum is another sculpture garden, around a lily pond, with lovely trees and other plantings. The stroll around the pond is as much a part of the museum experience here as strolling through the interior galleries.

Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors. Children and students are free. Wheelchair access is good. Parking is free.

There is a cafe at the museum, outside by the lily pond, but we met up with Kathleen for brunch at a local coffeehouse in Pasadena first, Copa Vida. We all enjoyed our meals.


The day before we went to the Norton Simon, we drove up to Pasadena to stay the night and went out to a local theater, the Sierra Madre Playhouse, to see “A Little House Christmas.” As the name suggests, the play is based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories and features the Ingalls family preparing for and celebrating Christmas. We love the books and thoroughly enjoyed the play, which is based on stories in the books, primarily in Little House on the Prairie. Rights are owned by the Little House Heritage Trust. The actors were very good, and the production was engaging — funny at points, and poignant at other times. We would definitely see this show again and hope to see other theaters produce it.

Women on the Water

Women’s Museum of California
Liberty Station
San Diego
December 1, 2016

We attended a reception and preview showing of the new exhibition Women on the Water at the Women’s Museum. The exhibition will run through January 29, 2017. The exhibit celebrates women on the water in San Diego, both sailing and rowing. A large part of the story on display celebrates the history of ZLAC Rowing Club. Founded in 1892, the club is the oldest continuously existing women’s rowing club in the world. Club documents and artifacts are displayed at the museum. Also featured are the women of the America 3 sailing team, and the San Diego Yacht Club.


The ZLAC items on display were selected and organized by ZLAC volunteers Carolyn Thomasson and Arline Whited, in consultation with the museum curator. The ZLAC Foundation paid for production of the posters explaining the club’s history. (ZLAC is near and dear to our hearts. Our daughters rowed there. Meredith is a current member and past president of the club, and is active with the ZLAC Foundation as well.)


Most of the museum space is a single gallery which features changing temporary exhibitions. Earlier this year, for instance, there was an exhibition entitled Rocking the Political Boat, about feminism in the 1960’s and 70’s. There is also a smaller section of the museum with an exhibition about the history of women’s suffrage, Marching Toward Empowerment.


The museum is in the Liberty Station area of San Diego. This area was formerly the Naval Training Center and has been repurposed as a development with museums, restaurants, shopping, and housing. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 12 to 4. Wheelchair access is good. Admission is $5, $3 for students and seniors. Parking is free.

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium
San Diego
November 26, 2016

We went to the Birch Aquarium with our middle daughter and son-in-law. We set out later than we thought we would, because we were all watching the Ohio State v. Michigan game that morning, and it went to double overtime. The Buckeyes pulled it out in the end, and we headed to lunch in our OSU gear, then on to the aquarium.


We first explored the galleries to the left, with thematic exhibits about climate change, Mexican ocean ecology, and current research aboard the research vessel Sally Ride. Also on that side are some of our most favorite creatures: seahorses, pipefish, and seadragons.



We next toured the galleries to the right of the entrance, which exhibit the bulk of the live collection. Several Pacific coast regions are represented: the local San Diego area, the Northwest, Southern California, and Baja Mexico. At the end are a couple of tropical tanks. The tanks in the gallery are small, but there are a variety of animals on display with good explanatory labels.

At the end of our visit, we stepped outside to see the artificial tide pool area and enjoy the beautiful view out over the Pacific. Gentle touching of creatures in the open tanks in permitted, and Meredith reached in a finger to touch a sea anemone.


Adult admission is $18.50; there are discounts for seniors, students, and children. We opted to buy a dual membership ($75 for one year), which includes four guest passes, thereby covering all four of us today and giving us the opportunity to go back.

Parking is free for up to three hours, which is generally enough to see everything at the aquarium. Wheelchair accessibility is good. Sandwiches and snacks are available at the Splash Cafe, operated by the French Gourmet.

Turkey Trot

Father Joe’s Villages Thanksgiving Day 5K
November 24, 2016
Balboa Park
San Diego

We woke up before dawn and went to Balboa Park to run a 5K this Thanksgiving. This “turkey trot” is a benefit for Father Joe’s Villages, serving the homeless. We attended the open air Mass at 6:30 a.m. on the Plaza de Panama, in front of the art museum. We then walked west over the Laurel Street bridge to the start line.


We had meant to sign up for the fun run option, but somehow ended up in the timed runner category. (Meredith had registered for the event on her cell phone, and figures the mistake is due to old eyes trying to read fine print on a small screen.) Bemused, we went to the separate Speedy Turkey start line and chugged along at our own pace, including a few walking breaks.


It was a big scene, and we had fun taking in the crowd. We are not sure of the exact head count, but we saw numbered bibs in the 8000’s. After we finished we stopped to pick up the pumpkin pie we had pre-ordered with our race registration.