UC San Diego plans to sell the ‘storybook’ home of Dr. Seuss author Theodor Geisel

Dr. Seuss author Theodor Geisel and his first wife, Helen, prepare to take a picture outside their home in La Jolla on April 25, 1957.
(Gene Lester/Getty Images)
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The La Jolla property, where Geisel wrote many of his books, was gifted to the university by the Geisel Trust

The sun-kissed home on Mount Soledad where the late Theodor Geisel gazed at the Pacific and composed most of his beloved series of Dr. Seuss children’s books will soon be put up for sale by its owner, UC San Diego.

The university, which received the property from the Geisel Trust in 2019, told the Union-Tribune that the 5,000-square-foot home — which doubled as a buzzy hot spot for socialites — will be listed by the end of June.

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“The net proceeds from the sale will create the Geisel Fund in the UC San Diego Foundation, which will be an endowment,” the school said in a statement. “Per the wishes of the donor, the Chancellor will determine the use of the payout from the endowed fund for campus needs.”

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Geisel’s second wife, Audrey, was a strong supporter of UCSD. She donated $20 million to expand the school’s main library in 1995, leading the university to rename the shiny diamond-shaped building Geisel Library.

She died in 2018, having greatly enhanced the financial value of her husband’s writings, which include such classics as “The Cat in the Hat,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Theodor Geisel, who went by Ted, passed away in 1991, more than 40 years after he took up residence in his pink stucco, red-tiled roof hideaway at 7301 Encelia Drive, on a grubby slope that spilled down to the sea.

Author and illustrator Theodor Geisel working in his home office on a sketch of “an alley cat for a very low alley,” in his La Jolla home in 1957.
(Gene Lester/Getty Images)

UCSD did not say who say how much money it will seek for the property, which the locals call the Tower because it includes a building that once served as a perch where real estate agents could show prospective buyers the land below.

The property has four bedrooms and four baths, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage company. Redfin estimates the property’s value at $5,811,846.

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Geisel and his first wife, Helen, began to make La Jolla their home full time in 1948 when they turned to architect Tom Shepard and told him they wanted to build “something high up, overlooking everything,” according to Judith and Neil Morgan, authors of “Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography.”

Shepard led them up to the Tower, which was then an isolated, graffiti-covered hangout for kids.

“All of Southern California seemed in their lap,” the Morgans wrote. “The next morning they bought the tower and two acres around it, eight hundred feet above the center of La Jolla, launching the final step in the dream they had cherished since their first visit (to town) twenty years earlier.”

Construction workers soon started building them a house that was shaded by eucalyptus trees and oleanders. The couple moved in the following year.

“In this storybook citadel above this fairy-tale mountain, the Geisels lived and worked for the rest of their lives,” the Morgans wrote. Helen died in 1967, and Geisel married Audrey the following year.

Geisel’s career was beginning to flourish, in part because he had a place where he loved to write, paint and create illustrations.

“Here Ted set up his old, ink-streaked desk, with the sloping drafting table in the middle, packed with cans and jars jammed with brushes, pencils, pens, and erasers,” writes author Brian Jay Jones in his biography, “Becoming Dr. Seuss.

“And always, at Ted’s right elbow, was the ever-present ash tray. Everything was good. ‘I think that La Jolla, at last, will become my basic roosting place,’ Ted wrote.”

A period of extraordinary success followed, propelled by the sweet, quirky, rhythm and rhyme Geisel used in such books as “The Lorax” (1971) and “Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?” (1970).

Many people took his riffs as life advice, especially this passage from, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” published the year before he died: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...”

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The Geisels regularly celebrated by opening their home for parties.

It wasn’t particularly easy to get up to the Tower, as the Los Angeles Times made clear in a 1986 feature.

“It is almost easier to get to Dr. Seuss’ mythical land of Solla Sollew than to Geisel’s real-life lair on Mt. Soledad.A narrow road corkscrews up the mountainside; rounding a bend, one almost expects to meet an outrageous figure careening downhill astride a one-wheeler wubble, or at least to spot some of the author’s imaginary menagerie: loraxes, yopps, grinches grouching in grickle-grass, sneetches lurking in lerkims or a covey of green-headed Quilligan quail.”

People who made the trek were rewarded with good food, and lots of silliness.

Claudia Prescott, who was Geisel’s executive secretary and continued as his widow’s executive secretary after he died, recalled a secret hiding place behind a bookcase where the author kept odd-shaped, colorful hats that he had collected over the years.

On Thursday nights in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, the couple gave small dinner parties for about 10 people about once a month. Guests included Helen Copley, Joan Kroc, the Morgans, Jane and Tom Fetter, Walter Munk, various UC San Diego chancellors and others.

The Geisel home in La Jolla will soon be put on sale by UC San Diego.
(Courtesy of UC San Diego )

Audrey, a gourmet cook, always prepared the meals herself with a little help in the kitchen.

“Sometimes dinner guests put on the hats and acted silly at the dinner parties,” Prescott recalled.

“He wrote most of his books in his studio below the upper floor of the Tower.”

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She explained that the walls were covered in cork board, and Ted tacked up pages around the room to study and make revisions.

He had a comfortable seating area near his desk where he liked to relax on his days off, generally Mondays and Tuesdays, said Prescott, adding, “He loved to read paperback mysteries.”

After Ted died, Audrey supervised a major remodel of the house, but the Tower wasn’t changed.

It remains there today, something real estate agents will no doubt point to when the estate goes on sale later this month.

Staff writer Philip Molnar contributed to this story.