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At Home With Elizabeth and Ron Davidson

Meet the animal-loving philanthropists behind La Jolla's Ark Antiques

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Elizabeth Davidson greets me warmly at the Asian-style entry gates of the hilltop La Jolla home where she grew up and that she now shares with her husband, Ron, a retired industrial psychologist, and their three dogs. One of the canine trio, a black-and-white Pompsky (Pomeranian and Husky) named Papaya, is part of the “welcoming party.” The Davidsons also own Xander, a goldendoodle, and Truffles, a brown-and-white standard poodle.

Ron and Elizabeth Davidson at home in La Jolla with Papaya, one of their three beloved dogs
Ron and Elizabeth Davidson at home in La Jolla with Papaya, one of their three beloved dogs

It’s no wonder that Elizabeth has long been involved with Ark Antiques in La Jolla, a high-end consignment store on Girard Avenue which has awarded nearly $3 million to “benefit animals from lions, tigers, and bears to turtles, ponies, and parrots.” Her parents, Bill and Betsy Hillyer, were devoted animal lovers and longtime supporters of the San Diego Humane Society. “As an only child, I grew up believing my siblings were two black Cocker Spaniels,” she recalls. “I spent many a happy afternoon in the puppy kennels while my parents attended board meetings.”  

Antique Italian chairs in the living room flank a 1921 Steinway that belonged to Elizabeth’s great grandparents in upstate New York. The backdrop is a 12-panel antique Chinese screen
Antique Italian chairs in the living room flank a 1921 Steinway that belonged to Elizabeth’s great grandparents in upstate New York. The backdrop is a 12-panel antique Chinese screen

Her parents bought the La Jolla home in the 1960s on a 1.5-acre lot with ocean views of La Jolla Shores over the treetops. It has been the setting for many celebrations over the years: a wedding, receptions, graduation, pool parties, and small fundraisers. The house, built in a mid-century Asian style in 1950, is little changed except for upgrades to the kitchen and baths. It was designed by famed architect Robert Mosher, best known for pioneering San Diego’s modern architecture movement, who went on to design the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, buildings at UC San Diego and San Diego State, and even the Golden Door. The dining room, one of Elizabeth’s favorite places, has a 13-foot table and antique chairs. The walls are covered with antique, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper from New York’s Gracie Company that, as the story goes, was smuggled out of a cave in China where it was hidden from the communists.

In the living room, massive Japanese panels over the sofa provide a dramatic focal point while a watercolor painted on silk from Hong Kong graces the fireplace mantel. The house is filled with fine collectibles, many of which Elizabeth has bought at The Ark over the years, including silver Los Castillo pitchers embellished with parrots, and Ron’s favorite piece, an Egyptian mummy mask from 300 B.C., painted blue with gold leaf accents. Elizabeth also collects Halycon Days enamel boxes, one of which she hand-painted with dogs for a contest. Neiman Marcus reproduced her design and sold the boxes in their stores. There are other “interesting doggie things,” says Elizabeth, including silver boxes, pill boxes, and match safes, all embellished with pooches. A hallway is hung with portraits of the dozens of beloved dogs the couple has cared for over the years: Molly, Polly, Jolly, Folly, Dolly, Chauncy, Noah of the Ark, Gia, the champion poodle Phantom Bride, Terra, and Lizzie Bad Dog (yes, Lizzie was very mischievous). 

Elizabeth has curated the home with a practiced eye, creating beautiful displays of accessories and collectibles. Visitors think the home is perfect. But, she insists, “Our house is a work in progress. I have three generations of things. I have to decide what I love best.” 

The couple love the outdoors as well. “I think I enjoy our patio and garden as much as the house,” she reflects. “The last tree to come down was in the patio, a large eucalyptus, and we have replaced it with a koi pond that I know my parents would have loved.” (The fat koi attracted a hungry great blue heron, so the Davidsons added a cover.) They often relax, Bloody Marys in hand, by the lushly landscaped pond, which is flanked by centuries-old stone elephants from an Asian temple.

The Davidsons added a koi pond on the patio where a large eucalyptus once stood
The Davidsons added a koi pond on the patio where a large eucalyptus once stood

Elizabeth has been involved with The Ark for 35 years as board president, volunteer manager, and grant director, and has priced 15,000 items over the years. The shop was preceded by Glorious Junque (later named Glorious Antiques) in Bird Rock, founded by Elizabeth’s mother and her mother’s best friend, Sheila Vardaman, and managed under the auspices of the San Diego Humane Society with the help of dedicated volunteers. In 2002, the Humane Society took over the shop. A year later, Elizabeth, her mother, and Vardaman regrouped with their volunteers, formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and reopened as Ark Antiques to provide grants to animal charities.

Elizabeth is proud to follow in the footsteps of her mother and Vardaman, and to reside in her childhood home once again. “I thank my parents for being able to live in this beautiful place every day,” Elizabeth says. “I appreciate the ocean view, sunsets, and sense of my history here.” 858.459.7755, arkantiques.com

Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

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