Take a journey into the last 85 years of La Valencia History. For a comprehensive history, through photos then and now and postcards from every era, consider purchasing the La Valencia history book.
Rosy beginnings and fabled acquisitions. Lavish openings and glamorous settings. From the very beginning, La Valencia left its mark on La Jolla and the world.
La Valencia opened its doors as an apartment hotel on December 15, 1926. While its first name, Los Apartmentos de Sevilla, was not widely used, the new apartment hotel in La Jolla was designed to integrate the finest elements of various styles of the Spanish school of architecture. The architect, Reginald Johnson, was a local man known for his integrity and knowledge of classic Spanish architecture. In 1926, with an uncertain future and great potential for failure, La Valencia’s owners, MacArthur Gorton and Roy, went out on a financial limb to build it for approximately $200,000. Despite all obstacles, the apartment-hotel opened and in a very short time things seemed to be coming up roses.
The grand opening of La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla was a lavish affair. It was the beginning of a golden era in Hollywood, and its co-owner, MacArthur Gorton, had moving picture connections; he knew the value of Hollywood’s endorsement of the hotel. To Hollywood, La Jolla was an undiscovered, unspoiled “jewel,” and its beaches and cliffs were often used for location shots. Hollywood’s stars, the nation’s Gods and Goddesses of the day, used (and still do) La Valencia as a hideout from hectic Hollywood pressures.
Imagine yourself at the main gate of La Valencia on that sunny Saturday, December 1926. As you enter, you cross the lobby and pass newly fitted offices and the Living Room with its colorful ceiling and tiled fountain. Cozy appointments and a huge seaward window appear at the bottom of the stairs railed with wrought iron. Lounges and chairs, tables topped in black marble and richly toned carpets decorate the room, every one of them designed for La Valencia to enrich and enhance the flavor of her design. Above the Living Room, today called La Sala, reached by the tiled stairs, was the mezzanine with the Galeria and social rooms. These card and reading rooms were all planned with the comfort of La Jollans and traveling guests in mind.
The new sleeping rooms were arranged singly or en suite and a number of them could be combined to accommodate a larger family party. The furnishings were said to be the best in the world and were harmonious with the Spanish design. There were quaint and comfortable easy chairs, brown wood dressers with tiled tops, and wall mirrors, all of which combined art and convenience, the keynote of La Valencia. Every room was advertised to have a sea view. One guest extolled `…even the poorest room still had a view that would satisfy anyone.’ This was La Valencia in 1926.
Officially named La Valencia in 1928, the late twenties and early thirties proved to be bleak years as the nationwide depression deepened. In 1930 McArthur hired Gethin Williams as La Valencia’s General Manager – the second of what would be only seven General Managers in La Valencia’s eighty five year history to date, including MacArthur Gorton himself.
During World War II, because of La Jolla’s proximity to San Diego, La Valencia Hotel and her guests were very much a part of the war effort. Locals spent long hours perched in the windswept tower scanning the skies and seas for enemy planes or ships. Frequently guests, who did not care to let the war interfere with their traditional winter vacations at La Valencia, also took their two-hour-a-day turns, in good weather and bad, with diligence. The hotel also became the temporary home to hundreds of young officers, often milling about in the lobby, either waiting to go overseas or enjoying leave. Young brides tended to stay and wait for their husbands at the hotel or in the charming cottages nearby, which then could be rented very inexpensively.
The Whaling Bar and Café La Rue restaurant, opened and instantly became, then as now, the centerpiece of the hotel for both guests and La Jolla residents alike. Today it is impossible to imagine La Valencia without the Whaling Bar. The décor invokes a sense of timelessness, with its pewter candleholders, antique wooden shutters, and displays of carved ivory scrimshaw. These create the perfect complement to the dramatic murals that adorn the walls to this day, including The Whale’s Last Stand, painted in the 1930′s by local artist Wing Howard.
In 1946, La Valencia entered her period of greatest expansion when Dick Irwin became her third General Manager. The three floors (numbered four, five and six) below the seventh floor lobby were completed in 1949. The pool was built in 1950 with the gym, sauna, putting green and shuffleboard court put in shortly afterwards. Above all, under Irwin, the Hotel Cabrillo, located next door, was acquired, and its 30 rooms brought La Valencia’s room count to 100. The Hotel Cabrillo, currently referred to as the West Wing, is as rich in history as the main building.
The Hotel Cabrillo, built eighteen years before La Valencia in 1908, was at that time a notable achievement in local construction. It opened on June 26, 1909 and became very popular at once. The register book, signed by the likes of future President Woodrow Wilson, is treasured to this day and remains well preserved at the La Jolla Historical Society. The Cabrillo only changed ownership twice until 1956, when La Valencia Hotel took possession and management started the remodeling job necessary to tie it in with the 1925 building. It was now entirely La Valencia. The two hotels were one, and with that fait accompli, many fascinating chapters had been written into the Pink Lady’s colorful history.
The La Jolla Playhouse era was one of the hotel’s most glamorous. From the start, Hollywood had claimed La Valencia as a hideaway. Now the hotel became the gathering place of choice for those who launched, and performed in the famous La Jolla Playhouse including: Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Mel Ferrer, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotton, Richard Basehart, Charlton Heston, Ginger Rogers, Jennifer Jones, Lorne Green, David Niven and many others to numerous to mention over that seventeen year period.
Playhouse founder, artistic director, and La Jolla resident Gregory Peck often played host to the new cast at the Whaling Bar. Even La Jolla resident Raymond Chandler, famous mystery writer of the forties and fifties, used La Valencia under a thinly disguised fictitious name as a backdrop for the thriller, “Playback.”
In the late sixties, Dick Irwin introduced the Sky Room. Formerly a sun balcony for guests on the hotel’s tenth floor, the Sky Room opened as a restaurant, offering just twelve tables, all of them with 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean. The restaurants’ romantic ambiance and exquisite cuisine continues to delight hotel guests and locals alike to this day.
As the 1960′s gave way to the 1970′s and 1980′s, the hotel, like the town, remained a destination for visitors looking for a change in climate and scene, as well as a magnet for those who lived and worked in La Jolla. During her sixtieth birthday year, La Valencia welcomed her fourth general manager, Patrick Halcewicz. That same year, La Valencia was chosen to join the select company of Preferred Hotels Worldwide. This association represents a handful of luxury hotels that meet only the highest standards of amenities and service, MacArthur Gorton’s original goal.
Throughout the years, all of La Valencia’s improvements were undertaken with scrupulous attention to incorporate her old-world ambiance with today’s amenities. La Valencia has stood in a class by herself for decades. In a time when new hotels are competing with each other for the opulence of their design, she retains a timeless elegance that gives her a personality all her own. At once hospitable and lively, iconic and serene, she inspires a following of both locals and guests from around the world. Such is the storied Valencia Hotel, La Jolla’s own Pink Lady.