Historical Figures

Ida Lou Coley


The preservation and promotion of our City’s past owes much to a core of hardworking local residents, but perhaps none more so than Ida Lou Coley, prolific writer and enthusiastic champion of downtown Encinitas – its history, habitat and traditions.
Born in Oklahoma in 1927, Ida Lou was ten when she and her parents were forced to leave their failing farm and join the great dust bowl migration heading westwards, settling eventually in the quiet coastal town of Encinitas.

In 1945, Ida Lou graduated from San Dieguito Union High School as senior class president and salutatorian, going on to study at San Jose State University. After several years as a teacher in Encinitas, she began her career at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto as an occupational therapist.

Upon retirement in 1986, Ida Lou immediately moved back to her beloved Encinitas and joined the newly formed Downtown Encinitas Main Street Associaton (DEMA), eventually serving a term as Director.

She also became indispensable to the Encinitas Historical Society, regularly contributing to the Society’s newsletter and visiting the town’s long time residents to record their unique oral histories. These recordings, together with the transcripts, are available at the Old Schoolhouse.

Ida Lou’s great passion was history, particularly where it related to downtown Encinitas, and throughout her two decades of retirement, she wrote hundreds of articles for local newspapers, magazines and societies. She was the first person to document the history of Encinitas in such detail, and also produced the Society’s beautifully illustrated historical downtown walking guide.

She also fought hard to maintain the essential spirit that was Encinitas, and encouraged others to resist any mindless development that she felt might detract from the integrity of the community.  As a member of the Cottonwood Creek Conservancy, Ida Lou was instrumental in helping restore the riparian habitat of the creek on the north side of town, where once she had played as a child and gathered wildflowers.

The famous downtown Encinitas sign that spans Highway 101 also bears testament to Ida Lou’s tenacity. It would be painted red and blue today had it not been for Ida Lou delving into the background of the original 1928 sign and determining that its rightful colors should be green and white.

In 2002, as chairwoman of the Encinitas Library Council, Ida Lou led the fight against Proposition H, a ballot measure that threatened to change the site of the planned library from Cornish Drive to Quail Gardens. So successful was she in galvanizing the voters, that the measure was defeated by a resounding two-thirds majority.

Two years before her death, Ida Lou Coley was honored by the North County Times in their 10thAnnual Women of Merit awards –  “A Decade of Gratitude”.

The newspaper’s words provide a fitting tribute to this diminutive woman who worked so tirelessly to ensure that the efforts and achievements of past generations will be forever remembered.

“Without Ida Lou”, it said, “a significant part of the city’s heritage would have been lost forever”.