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There are two cities synonymous with Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss: Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was born, and San Diego, where he perfected his craft as a children's book author and artist. Seuss lived in La Jolla from 1948 until his death in 1991. From the University of California to the Hotel del Coronado, take a Seussian trek all over town.
Somewhere right now, a child is learning to read, thanks to a copy of "The Cat in the Hat." Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote the book in response to a national debate about literacy, namely, how to hold children's interest when competing with television. Working with just 236 words, Geisel produced one of the world's most-loved, best-selling primers. In all, he wrote more than 60 books under four pen names, along with television specials, feature films, political cartoons and hundreds of advertisements.
There's no definitive statistic on the number of Seuss books sold, but estimates run well over 600 million. He received multiple awards, including three Caldecott Medals, two Emmy Awards, an Academy Award, a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize. In 2010, Life Books published "100 People Who Changed the World." Geisel was cited for his role as a cultural icon, and he was the only children's author on the list.
He visited San Diego as early as 1928 with his first wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, an author herself and his best collaborator. According to the biography, "Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel," by Judith and Neil Morgan, "the mild climate and crinkled coves reminded the Geisels of the Riviera." The couple spent time at La Jolla's La Valencia Hotel where Ted sketched eucalyptus trees and nasturtiums.
Moving to La Jolla became a goal. In 1948, they bought an old observation tower on Mount Soledad's Encelia Drive and built a house around it. It's still there, a landmark that can be seen from many spots along the coast. High up in his studio, with a view spanning 60 miles of sea and sky, Geisel wrote lines like this:
I'm king of the butterflies! King of the air!
Ah, me! What a throne! What a wonderful chair!
I'm Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!
- From "Yertle the Turtle" (1950)
Both Geisels became active members of the community, serving on the boards of the San Diego Fine Arts Museum and La Jolla Museum of Art, forerunner to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. They threw elegant dinner parties with guests such as Raymond Chandler, and went to Tijuana to bet on jai alai. With his friend Chuck Jones, the animator and filmmaker, Ted wrote the television version of "The Grinch." The show required approximately 25,000 drawings at a time when most daytime cartoon shows were produced with 2,000.
After Helen died in 1967, Geisel married Audrey Stone Dimond. Eighteen years younger and vivacious, Audrey reinvigorated Ted. These were busy years: more books, more trips, more dinner parties. As royalties mounted, local organizations benefited from the Geisels' philanthropy. If you visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art, The San Diego Zoo, The Old Globe or La Jolla Playhouse, chances are you'll see the Geisel name on a donor wall.
Ted Geisel died on September 24, 1991, but his spirit lives on in San Diego. Here are a few distinctly Seussian spots.
As a creator and lover of books, it's only fitting that Geisel would be remembered with a library. The stunning form rises from the grounds of the University of California, San Diego, drawing comparisons to a spaceship. Architect William Pereira designed the Brutalist/Futurist building, which opened in 1970 as the Central Library. It was renamed Geisel Library in 1995 and houses 7 million volumes on eight floors. An archive of his material, "The Dr. Seuss Collection," contains more than 15,000 items such as drawings, manuscript drafts, photographs and memorabilia. Many of the materials are fragile, so the collection is only available to pre-approved researchers. A few durable pieces are shown when the campus throws a birthday party each year on March 2, complete with cake and Seussian musical entertainment from The Teeny Tiny Pit Orchestra.
On the west side of the library is a life-size bronze statue of Geisel and his most famous character, The Cat in the Hat. It was created by Audrey's daughter, sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates. On the main floor you'll find Audrey's Café, a popular spot for late-night lattes.
Where: The University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA 92093
In downtown La Jolla, not far from Geisel's home, is one of two local authorized galleries selling Seuss artwork. (The other, Chuck Jones Gallery, is in the Gaslamp Quarter.) Visitors often mistake Legends Gallery for a museum, but all the works are limited-edition reproductions and they're for sale. There are bronze sculptures, casual sketches and iconic illustrations, with their precise line and minimal color palette. Explore his looser, more impressionistic work — especially the prized "Midnight Paintings," so named because he painted them to relax. Examples are the large "Wisdom of the Orient Cat," which appeared on the cover of the book, "The Cat Behind the Hat: The Art of Dr. Seuss," and the dizzying "Green Cat in Uleåborg Finland Subway."
On the entry wall are resin casts of Geisel's "Unorthodox Taxidermy" series. Years before he began writing, Geisel fashioned whimsical animals from antlers, horns and bits of fur supplied to him by his father, T.R. Geisel, who was superintendent of parks in Springfield, Mass. When zoo animals died of natural causes, T.R. would send along a toucan beak or sawfish bill, which eventually became an "Andulovian Grackler" or "Two Horned Drouberhannis."
Before you leave, take a close look at the painting, "I Dreamed I Was a Doorman at the Hotel del Coronado," as this will come up later in your tour.
Where: 1205 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
In the summer of 2018, The Old Globe held the U.S. premiere of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax . Based on the book by Dr. Seuss, adapted for the stage, this musical was originally produced at The Old Vic theatre in London.
If your travel plans bring you to San Diego during the holidays, be sure to get tickets for The Old Globe's production of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" This annual favorite is beloved by children of all ages.
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about The Old Globe
Coronado is a visitor's playground, and it's all there in Geisel's painting, "I Dreamed I Was a Doorman at the Hotel del Coronado," from sun-drenched beaches to colorful ship's flags snapping in the breeze. He captured the elaborate Victorian architecture of "the Del," with its pretty courtyard and beachfront cottages; even the stained glass "Woman in Window" artwork that appears above the lobby entrance. Geisel took some liberties in portraying the door attendants - they don't really wear hats topped with feathers - but he captured the feeling when the doors swing open and you sweep into the magnificent oak-paneled lobby.
Where: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
> Find out more about the Hotel Del Coronado
On the first floor of downtown's Central Library is a magical Seuss space, the Sanford Children's Library, where you're surrounded by 16-foot-high murals of Swomee Swans and other characters. It's one of two libraries in the world that is licensed to use the illustrations. You'll find an extensive selection of Seuss books and audiovisual media, computer stations with educational software for children ages 2-8, and pint-sized bright green Adirondack chairs for comfy reading. The Sanford Children's Library also has a wide selection of classic and new children's books in dozens of languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Arabic.
Where: 330 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
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