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Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Scripps Cottage has served as a conference venue, a meeting place for student organizations and a center for international students. Scripps Cottage has served as a conference venue, a meeting place for student organizations and a center for international students.

Scripps Cottage Restored

The historic structure on campus underwent the first phase of restoration.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

Bill Scripps knew Montezuma Mesa as the campus where he took extension classes and spent sunny afternoons with his dog, Jade. Until a few years ago, no one had ever asked him about the curious similarity between his name and one of San Diego State University’s most beloved landmarks, Scripps Cottage.

He was fascinated when he learned from a friend at SDSU that the cottage was a legacy of his great aunt, Ellen Browning Scripps, a paradigm of philanthropy in early twentieth century San Diego.

“I came out to see it for the first time last year,” he said. “Anything with Ellen’s fingerprints on it is special to me.”

The nucleus of a beloved oasis on Montezuma Mesa, Scripps Cottage was among the original eight campus structures designed by Howard Spencer Hazen. It was funded in part by Ellen Browning Scripps through a contribution to the local YWCA and originally built as a women’s center and headquarters for the Associated Women Students.

Together with SDSU’s five other WPA-era buildings and the original quad, it is part of a federally designated historic district.

A visit from JFK

The cottage Bill Scripps toured in April 2014 was physically similar to the original structure, but its function changed over time. In 1963, it was a formal reception area for State’s most distinguished guest, President John F. Kennedy, who had come to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate.

Five years later, the building was moved from its initial location adjacent to Aztec Café (now the Faculty-Staff Club) to make way for the construction of Love Library. The current location’s distinctive landscaping and koi pond were added in 1972, after students staged a sit-in to demand the establishment of a “people’s park” at the site.

Scripps Cottage has served many purposes in the decades since then; It has been a conference venue, a meeting place for student organizations and a center for international students. Above all, though, Scripps Cottage is etched in the Aztec memory as a tranquil space in the middle of a busy campus.

“Remarkably Ellen”

The intimacy of the cottage and the serenity of its landscaping appealed to Scripps. “Once you enter the grounds, you’re in a very quiet place. The rest of the campus disappears. It’s remarkably Ellen. She was a very private person. You find the same peaceful feeling at the Torrey Pines reserve, which Ellen also helped to create.”

Scripps and his wife, Kathy, hadn’t intended to make a gift to SDSU when they visited the cottage in 2014, but they realized that the 85-year old building needed some TLC.

Their donation made it possible for SDSU to retain Platt-Whitelaw Architects, a firm specializing in restoring historic structures to meet modern building code requirements and safety standards. The first phase of the project, completed Aug. 31, replaced windows and doors with historically accurate fixtures and created better access for visitors with disabilities.

“That was a good fit with our philosophy of philanthropic giving,” Scripps said.

Artistic endeavor

SDSU’s Associated Students (A.S.) also stepped up with a donation to supplement the restoration budget, and A.S. senior facilities engineer, LaRunce Moffett, oversaw the year-long project.

“We wanted to bring back the original feel of the building with the original porch and the double doors allowing people to look out and lots of light to come in,” Moffett said. “At the same time we wanted everything to be consistent with today's code.”

Restoration was difficult because the original doors were encased in the wall, Moffett explained. He found two original doors that were “left over” and asked a woodworker to use them as a template for the seven sets of new double doors. These, along with 16 replacement windows and eight new ones, a renovated porch and exposed beams, give the cottage a lighter, more spacious feel.

Moffett also consulted the original blueprints, which contain the design for both Scripps Cottage and the Faculty-Staff Club. He studied the structure of the club carefully “to see exactly how things work there and what type of hardware they used, and I tried to duplicate that as much as I could down here.”

The Scripps Cottage restoration is a first for Moffett, who also maintains the new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

“It’s a lot different trying to bring something back as opposed to maintaining a brand new building,” he said. “I restore cars, and I have remodeled houses. I draw and paint as well. For me, bringing the old back to new is a form of art and an expression of my art.”

Campus resource

With the first phase of the restoration complete, Scripps Cottage is again available for meetings, celebrations and other functions. In fiscal 2016, more than 170 events were held at the site, bringing in a total of 12,000 people. About 70 percent of events were run by SDSU student clubs or organizations.
“Scripps Cottage is an invaluable resource for the SDSU campus community,” said Jamie Miller, A.S. president. “Its beauty and historic significance create a very special atmosphere that’s conducive to learning.”  

Work on the cottage will continue with plans to restore the barbecue grill, update lighting and complete additional exterior work. SDSU’s crowdfunding website, Strive, will launch a campaign in late November to raise funds for the second and third phases of restoration.

“Kathy and I are really pleased to continue what Ellen Browning Scripps started,” said Bill Scripps. "We hope the cottage can play a small role in helping SDSU students develop into great citizens. For us, there’s great satisfaction in knowing it will be there in perpetuity."