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La Jolla, California
  • History of La Valencia Hotel California

Nine Decades of san diego luxury

Overlooking miles of South California coastline and the Pacific Ocean, La Valencia Hotel has been an glamorous destination since it opened in December 1926. Perched high above La Jolla beach, this stunning landmark - The Pink Lady of La Jolla  - exudes vintage elegance with its Mediterranean style architecture, art and dramatic coastal views. Over the decades, its has been a place of romance, glamour and celebration. Take a journey into the last 92 years of La Valencia's history through our timeline. For a closer look into our rich history, purchase the La Valencia history book with photos and postcards from every magical era.

Birth of a Legend

Rosy beginnings and fabled acquisitions. Lavish openings and glamorous settings. La Valencia left its mark on La Jolla and the world.

La Valencia opened 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 known for his integrity and knowledge of classic Spanish architecture. In 1926, with an uncertain future, La Valencia's owners, MacArthur Gorton and Roy, went out on a financial limb to build it for approximately $200,000. Despite the 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 used (and still do) La Valencia as a hideout from the hectic pressures of La La Land.

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 essence 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 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 the best in the world and 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 hallmark of La Valencia. Every room was advertised to have and ocean view. One guest extolled, "even the poorest room still had a view that would satisfy anyone.' This was La Valencia in 1926.

Depression and War

Officially named La Valencia in 1928, the late twenties and early thirties proved to be bleak years as the country's 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 90 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 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 side by side in the 1940's and instantly became the centerpiece of the hotel for guests and La Jolla residents alike. In January of 2014, (after almost a year of renovations) the space was reopened as Café la Rue, a Modern European Bistro & Bar, with indoor banquet seating and a sidewalk patio. A few of the lively "European Village" murals commissioned for La Valencia in the 1930's by local artist Wing Howard, adorn the walls.

La Valencia Acquires the Hotel Cabrillo

In 1946, La Valencia entered her period of greatest expansion when Dick Irwin became her third General Manager. The three floors (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 were put in shortly afterwards. Under Irwin, the Hotel Cabrillo 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 18 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 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 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.

La Jolla Playhouse Auditions

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 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  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."

1960s to Present

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, with just twelve tables, all with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. The restaurant's romantic ambiance and exquisite cuisine continue to delight hotel guests and locals 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 haven 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 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 and a personality all her own. At once hospitable and lively, iconic and serene, she inspires a following of locals and guests from around the world. Such is the storied Valencia Hotel, La Jolla's Pink Lady.

2010 introduced new owners with a new passion of the Pink Lady. Pacifica Companies has dedicated itself to ensuring that the legacy and relevance of La Valencia inspires generations of travelers still to come. Pivotal enhancements and additions have included a total renovation of the property including the addition of the ICON collection of suites and the reimagination of Cafe la Rue.