La Valencia turns 90 and is still in the pink
by BLAKE BUNCH
Published - 12/01/16 - 05:09 PM | 3163 views | 1 1 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
La Valencia's original brochure. Photo courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society.
La Valencia's original brochure. Photo courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society.
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La Valencia Hotel was never intended to exist simply as a structure. Instead, it serves a much greater function – a symbol of the artistic spirit and progressive attitudes of those who frequent the classic Spanish-style edifice. Lavish, yet refined, with an underlying sense of bohemia and collective purpose, the “Pink Lady" turns 90 this December. In the spirit of the Roaring Twenties (the hotel’s 'golden era'), they will be holding a Gatsby Gala on Dec. 15 to celebrate the occasion.

While natives surely mourn the loss of their beloved Whaling Bar, La Valencia, like La Jolla itself, has transitioned gracefully into the times in which she exists. The sheer beauty and steadfast character of the establishment, approaching the better end of a century, remains a constant in the heart of any La Jollan.

‘Humble’ beginnings

La Valencia opened for business on Dec. 15, 1926, originally as Los Apartmentos de Sevilla. This name was seldom used, however, and was designed to blend finer elements of various styles with Spanish architecture. The chief architect, Reginald Johnson, was a La Jollan esteemed for his knowledge of classic Spanish architecture. Though the idea to build this now-iconic hotel was initially unstable at best, the original owners, MacArthur Gorton and Roy B. Wiltsie, managed to secure funding of around $200,000 for its construction.

During the height of the Jazz Age, the grand opening of the apartment-hotel was an opulent affair. With his connections in Hollywood, Gorton understood the necessity of the budding hamlet’s endorsement of his seaside retreat in La Jolla. Although in close proximity to the City of Angels, it was far enough removed to serve as a de facto getaway for some of the finest actors and actresses known to man.

The hotel was formally renamed La Valencia two years later, on Dec. 29, 1928. Original architect, William Templeton Johnson, designed and constructed an edition that included the present-day lounge and overhead domiciles. The hotel began to host movie stars, heads of state, international men and women of influence and just plain guests. Originally complete with 21 apartments and 12 single rooms, a tea room, and banquet hall, the Pink Lady was tailored to the charismatic and creative set.

In the late 1930s, La Valencia opened the doors to La Cita, a two-room restaurant complete with “pewter candleholders, antique wooden shutters, and carved ivory scrimshaw.” The original concept had been to maintain a rotating series of paintings in tempera, of which they would be replaced every 45 days or so. This assured that resident artist Wing Howard was permanently employed, and supplanted with cocktails, of course.

The war effort

With its close proximity to the naval bases of San Diego, during WWII, all walks of life would trade two-hour shifts to scan the horizon for enemy ships or planes. The hotel became home to countless young officers and their brides, found either in the lobby or in the surrounding cottages (which were unbelievably inexpensive at the time).

In the 1940s, the iconic Whaling Bar and Cafe La Rue opened side-by-side. Arguably the centerpiece of the hotel, the Whaling Bar would ultimately provide a home to a wide range of internationally recognized artists, writers, and above all else, locals.

See and be seen

When the La Jolla Playhouse was founded in 1946 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy Macguire, and Mel Ferrer, La Valencia continued her natural progression – playing host to some of the most gifted minds of the Greatest Generation. Anyone on the lam from the suits in Hollywood sought solace at La Valencia, with La Jolla native Peck acting as the master of ceremonies. It was also quite common to see the likes of Mary Pickford, David Niven, Ginger Rodgers, Lorne Green, Charlton Heston, and other LJP cast members newly arrived in the village.

Chicago-born La Jolla transplant and master of the “hard-boiled” detective novel, Raymond Chandler, could also be found haunting the bar – sipping a scotch, or four. Chandler would eventually utilize the hotel as backdrop, albeit in a fictionalized manner, in his 1958 novel, “Playback.”

After the war, in 1950, La Valencia purchased the nearby Hotel Cabrillo, increasing the room count from 30 to 100. Further additions included a sky-room cocktail lounge, with a commanding view of La Jolla Park, the Cove, north shore, and snow-capped mountains to the east. During this time, La Jolla had expanded to 11,000 residents (a welcomed thought nowadays).

Another draw of La Valencia, the pool, was built during this time, along with a gym, sauna, putting green and shuffleboard court. Also, the lobby was updated on the seventh floor, with the three lower floors designated as “six, five, and four,” respectively. With these extensive upgrades, La Valencia became a “hotel known throughout the world.” One guest extolled: “Even the poorest room had a view that would satisfy anyone.”

A local jewel

During its 90 years of operation, La Valencia has taken several monikers. It has been referred to as Marblehead, The Gloucester, the Newport of the Pacific, and the Capri of America. While all of these affectionally-dubbed surnames depict the elegance and grace of a bygone era, the hotel ultimately has embraced the new millennium. In 2013, The Whaling Bar hung up their highballs for good. Replaced by The Med, a Mediterranean-style bistro, their culinary and aesthetic touches remain classic, yet modern.

It has been said that “remember when” is the lowest form of conversation. In La Valencia’s case, however, this embodies the tight-knit community of La Jolla, which has almost spanned a century and remained a fixture of this bejeweled area of the country.

Now flat-screen televisions and trendy décor grace the wonderfully constructed building, but with the right breeze, one can reminisce about the personalities that proceeded them. Always welcoming, full of class, and extraordinarily unique, La Valencia has secured its place in the annals of La Jolla.
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Pamela Hope
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March 06, 2017
Excellent Review; as a new resident to San Diego, I would drive pass this beautiful hotel and wonder about it's history. Next step would be booking a suite for the full experience, this article has inspired me to do so!
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