Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A Great Day in Hubbell Land

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt.

A view of one of the artist’s distinctive structures:
the roof of the Boys’ House he built for his growing sons.

If you’re an art-lover, you’re probably familiar with the work of James Hubbell—a world-renowned sculptor, architectural designer, and master of mosaics, stained glass, and visionary public art projects

A view of the bathroom inside the Boys’ House.

You may even have visited the spacious mountain retreat in Wynola that he and his wife Anne bought and settled into in 1958, shortly after they married. They spent the following decades hand-building with natural materials and whatever else they could afford and turning it into a unique home and studio environment for four sons and assorted friends and visitors who wanted to experience the inspiring Hubbell blend of nature and art. 

A visitor standing beside Hubbell’s “palette”—some of the materials he used.

In the 1970s, when someone suggested their home site deserved a special name, the Hubbells decided to call it Ilan Lael. And in 1983, when they established a nonprofit foundation to help them reach out to people south of the border, they called it Ilan Lael too. The Foundation now runs the expanded Hubbell compound, which has been designated as a historic landmark, and all associated enterprises. And this year, Ilan Lael is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Looking down at one of the art studios.

What’s in a Name?

Ilan Lael is a rough translation of a pair of Hebrew words meaning “a tree belonging to God”—a tree with roots in the earth and branches reaching into the heavens.

Ilan means tree, and trees are an important part of the Hubbell landscape. Torrey pines have a special meaning for the couple: when they were dating, they often walked through Torrey Pines Reserve, and James proposed to Anne under their favorite tree there. They named their first son Torrey, and when Anne, searching through name books for a good middle name, discovered Lael, meaning "belonging to God,” they thought that would be a wonderful choice—wonderful enough to use as a middle name for all their sons. 

Inside the Chapel.

This year, the Hubbells celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They no longer live on the property and are now in an assisted living residence in Chula Vista, but James Hubbell remains the guiding light of Ilan Lael and calls every day to see how things are going.

Among many things going on this month were a limited number of autumn tours, and my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to join one. Though you’ll have to wait until springtime for the next scheduled tours, we’re sharing a look at some of our favorite sights here.

A view from the living room window of the main house.

A little history: In October 2003 the devastating Cedar Fire destroyed much of the Hubbells’ hard work over the previous 45 years. But instead of weeping over what they had lost, they saw the disaster as a time for renewal. Now, not only have the burnt-out buildings been restored to their former glory, inside and out, but new hand-built structures have been added, all according to Hubbell’s designs. Their son Drew and his firm Hubbell and Hubbell Architects handle the planning and engineering, and there’s a large community of builders and artists who help with construction and maintenance. 

The kitchen floor mosaic. 

A stunning glass and metal sculpture.

James Hubbell’s hands are no longer able to do the kind of intricate work they used to, but he still enjoys doing watercolors and recently completed the design for a pair of stained-glass windows for the Alpine Library, which are now being fabricated by Hubbell and Hubbell Architects.

On a philosophical website he created decades ago, he wrote: “If art and architecture are the continuous search of humanity to find its ever-changing place in the universe, then art and architecture need to lead in the search to rediscover our spirit, a spirit that is comfortable in this our world.”

Ilan Lael tours will resume April-June 2024, but private group tours may be arranged before then. Art workshops are offered year-round, and volunteers are often needed to help with art projects, events, and general care of the property. Call 760-765-3427 for all information.

And right now, if you want to see a lovely exhibit of some of Hubbell’s lifetime of artworks, take a drive up to the Santa Ysabel Art Gallery on Highway 78 to see “Seeking Beauty,” on view through October 30. If you can make it, you’ll be happy you did; if not, here are a few photos. 

Hubbell’s first watercolor, created in 1950.

A forged metal piece, from 2022.

A recent watercolor.

The gallery is open year-round, Thursday-Monday. For details, call director Stephen Clugson at 760-765-1676. If you go, ask him to let you into the adjoining studio space of Ted Berryman, who invites visitors to get up close and personal with his whimsical sculptures. And don’t leave Santa Ysabel without stopping by the Julian Pie Company for a warm slice of apple pie with cinnamon ice cream.

Lonnie B. Hewitt befriending a Berryman sculpture.

Just announced! On November 19, 12-3 p.m., Ilan Lael is hosting a mile-long Pacific Rim Park Friendship Walk on Shelter Island, between two of James Hubbell’s large-scale public artworks, and including a live band and other entertainment. Info:


Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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