For more than 30 years, La Jollans could pass by the ivy-covered brick structure at the corner of Kline Street and Ivanhoe Avenue and only wonder at its storied contents. The Copley family, owners of the former Copley Library, kept its collections shrouded in mystery, open only to screened select scholars with appropriate academic credentials.
That has now changed, along with the name, ownership and nature of the library’s holdings. The renamed Kinsella Library houses a growing ensemble of about 170 California plein aire paintings, Jersey Boys memorabilia and other art, replacing the 2,000-item Copley collection of rare Americana.
David C. Copley, former owner of the then-named San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley Newspapers, shipped his late father’s treasure trove of Americana to Sotheby’s for auction in New York and put the Copley Library up for sale in 2009, just about the time that La Jolla venture capitalist Kevin Kinsella decided to purchase new quarters for his firm, Avalon Ventures.
Kinsella, 66, a tall, friendly man with a ready grin and a shock of hair topped by a Jersey Boys baseball cap, arrived in La Jolla in 1978. He had followed up his MIT undergraduate education in Cambridge, Mass., with further studies and adventures around the globe and had long been fascinated by the Copley Library.
“The ivy-covered red brick always made it seem that it was airlifted and dropped from Harvard Yard. Unfortunately the Copleys weren't too friendly about letting random strangers like myself poke their heads in for a look-about – I tried it once. (I) was told I needed a Ph.D. in American Studies and had to fill out a long application form to use their collections,” Kinsella said.
Having wanted to see inside the library since it opened about 1981, he “jumped at the chance to see it… It was a fascinating building – large main reading room, exhibit galleries, a 36-person seat theater in the basement, full catering kitchen, cold storage for historical documents, but it was dark and foreboding,” he explained.
After purchasing the building for a reported $3.75 million, Kinsella engaged architect Trip Bennett, AIA, and Grunow Construction to remodel and update the building, bringing in more light by adding two French doors and windows that matched the existing structure. Modern wiring, WiFi, CATV 5 and energy-efficient lighting completed the library’s transformation into attractive, functional office space with inviting, museum-quality exhibition galleries, yet preserved the building’s character.
Subsequently the Copleys’ architect, Robert Mosher, and Tom Grunow presented Kinsella with a set of the library’s original late 1970s drawings, which called for the extra French doors on the Kline Street front that Kinsella installed 30 years later.
The Kinsella Library’s foyer retains the four murals the Copleys commissioned from San Diego County painter Richard Gabriel Chase to commemorate scenes from Abraham Lincoln’s life. The Copleys recovered the entry’s brick flooring from the now-demolished railroad platform in Springfield, Ill., from which Lincoln left for Washington to take the presidential oath of office in 1861. James Copley had owned a Springfield newspaper.
Although Kinsella offered to form a non-profit corporation to receive and preserve the Copley collection of Revolutionary War, presidential and other rare documents, letters, manuscripts and other Americana, David Copley declined. The Copley collection fetched about $11 million in four auctions. Kinsella purchased a few pieces to keep at his new library, including an early printing press and several posters promoting the San Diego’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
The heart of the Kinsella Library’s collection is its California plein aire paintings, ranked among the top three collections in the nation and exhibited on three levels. Well-represented are works by Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, Charles Reiffel, William Wendt, Maurice Braun, Alfred Mitchell, Carolus Verhearen and Arthur Rider. Kinsella, a member of the board of trustees of the San Diego Museum of Art with a keen eye for art, acts as his own agent in selecting his acquisitions.
Scattered throughout the library are whimsical mosaic works by local pop artist Jean Wells Hamerslag. Prominent in the galleried main reading room is Hamerslag’s eye-candy sculpture “Mini Moosaic,” an ice cream cone with a Jersey cow sundae “topping,” as well as her “largest paint brush” mosaic.
The reading room also hosts dueling grand pianos, including the cherry-red, gold-signed piano Elton John used for his Southern California tours, which Kinsella bought from John, paired with the black Mark IV Disclavier Yamaha Concert Grand Piano ordered for the room. In another corner sits the largest book in the world, a book of photographs of the kingdom of Bhutan created by Michael Hawley.
Tucked into the library’s lower level is a 9,000-bottle temperature-controlled wine storage vault and tasting room, adorned with a cork-lined arch and wall of prestigious wine box end-cases, which Kinsella uses for special tastings related to his highly-rated Kinsella Estate wines.
Nearby is the 36-seat theatre with its 103-inch flat panel display, where Kinsella hosts Oscar screenings.
Kinsella’s collection of Jersey Boys memorabilia rests in a special upper-level gallery. The megahit musical, the 10th most profitable in Broadway history, originated at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004. Kinsella and his wife Tamara were the single largest investors in the musical, which garnered Tony Awards on Broadway plus international raves. The awards, platinum and gold records from the musical’s recordings, costumes, programs, posters and other Jersey Boys memorabilia are on display.
Mamie Graham, Kinsella’s executive assistant, handles tour scheduling for the library and leads many herself. She recommends requesting a tour at least several days in advance, with maximum groups of 10. Tours are by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and can be booked through the website at kinsellalibrary.com, or by calling 858-348-2170.
The Kinsella Library is located at 1134 Kline St. at the corner of Ivanhoe Ave.