The History of the La Jolla Grande Colonial Hotel

Leslie Araiza, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for The Grande Colonial Hotel accurately contends the luxurious hotel is La Jolla’s oldest operating accommodation. Over a century ago, the hotel was a tad smaller and slightly less formal, but much like the La Jolla community, the Grande Colonial experienced gradual growth as well as prominence over the ensuing years. In contemporary times, the La Jolla’s Grande Colonial hotel is the seaside community’s oldest, original hotel. Formerly known as The Colonial Apartments and Hotel, when it opened on the first day of February in 1913, its elegance was on the tongues of locals and immediately became a pillar and foundation of the burgeoning La Jolla community. The two original owners, A.B. Harlan and George Bane have passed on, but their legacy and persistent determination to bring quality living arrangements to La Jolla are retained in the spirit of the staff to this day.

Richard Requa, the master architect of the California Exposition in Balboa Park in downtown San Diego, designed the original white, wood-framed Colonial Apartments and Hotel. The newly constructed building was described as “a perfectly appointed apartment hotel, with the finest sun parlor and lobby overlooking the ocean on the Pacific coast.”

Bane, who shortly after the hotel became viable, became the sole owner of the Colonial in 1920. An astute businessman, he grasped the potential to draw in tourists to the picturesque seaside town and determined to provide the Colonial with an entire makeover. Consequently, in 1925, Bane commissioned architect Frank Stevenson to design a hotel that would “rival anything in the West.” To this end, the resulting transformation was indeed breathtaking. The sunburst design of the windows, as well as the semi-circle domes of leaded glass above the French doors served to capture the California sunlight in an especially distinctive way and drew it into the hotel. Inside the freshly and superbly redecorated premises, the interior included colonial fireplaces replete with marble hearths, elaborate chandeliers, and richly colored sofas and chairs. Leslie asserts that today it is an elegant and lively seaside hotel with a style all its own. She remarks that the contemporary owners are wholly committed to making continuous enhancements to the luxurious hotel to keep it up to date and modernized, as well as preserving its historic and alluring charm.

At any rate, subsequent to opening the new and expanded Colonial, Bane had occasion to lease the entire property to a “Hollywood man” by the name of W. S. Beard. Far from pleased with the way in which Beard was managing the Colonial, Bane reorganized the business in 1931, and accordingly R.C. Bugler was hired on as the hotel’s manager. Approximately a year later, a viable financial strategy was drawn up and put into place for the hotel which resulted in the rest of La Jolla to grow up around the community landmark and virtual cornerstone.

During the World War II years, the Colonial was home to many of the “top brass” from nearby Camp Callan. While the men were at Camp Callan during the day, their wives were volunteering with the local Red Cross. In addition to the officers, the hotel’s spacious sunroom was apportioned to create accommodations for single servicemen for overnight stays.

During that same period, the Colonial was a transitory home to several of Hollywood’s budding stars who happened to be performing at the La Jolla Playhouse, founded by Gregory Peck. Notable names from yesteryear included Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire, Groucho Marx, Jane Wyatt, Eve Arden, Pat O’Brien, David Niven, as well as a host of other celebrities, all of whom lived at the Colonial well into the late 1950s. Leslie proudly contends that throughout the almost 104-year history of the Colonial management and staff have been duly honored to host various celebrities from the past and present, artists, professional athletes, and countless business leaders from around the world.

The Colonial was subsequently purchased for approximately $1 million in 1976 by three industrious local businessmen. Consequently, the Colonial’s name was changed to the Colonial Inn. Over the next four years the hotel again underwent a $3 million restoration that brought back its original grandeur. The refurbishment was so efficacious that the Colonial Inn occasioned to receive the prestigious “People in Preservation” award from the Save Our Heritage Organization. The mark of quality continued to be preserved befitting the best of guests.

Business continued to be advantageous for the Colonial Inn, and in 1988 it was sold for an estimated $13.85 million to a Japanese-based investment firm, Tokyo Masuiwaya California. Thereafter, in 1993, the Colonial Inn was affectionately referred to as “La Jolla’s jewel,” and celebrated its 80th anniversary.

When July of 1998 rolled around, Franklin Croft LLC and Fargo Hotel investors LLC joined together to create Fargo Colonial LLC and purchased the Colonial. Fargo Colonial LLC brought in hotel veteran Terry Underwood as their general manager in 1999. From December 1999 through July of 2001, the Grande Colonial underwent yet another all-encompassing $5 million renovation. Under the guidance of Underwood, a consummate professional, all 75 guest rooms, the lobby and the restaurant were radically improved to maintain the spirit of the founders.

In January of 2012, the hotel unveiled yet another major milestone in its nearly 100-year history – the accomplishment of a $500,000 makeover of its entry and foyer, lobby, the immediate public spaces, as well as two adjacent meeting rooms. In eager anticipation of the hotel’s centennial anniversary, the owners went to boundless extents to enrich the overall mood of the hotel’s still intact, turn-of-the-century architecture originally designed by Requa in 1913.

The erudite and classy new décor prudently preserves the Grande Colonial’s enduring historic charm by imparting a definitive European character as well as a refined, contemporary sophistication. In this spirit, the outcome showcases the fine architectural details, including original Georgian style arches, original cast plaster crown moldings, lead glass windows, and intricate hand-stenciled ceilings.

On February 1st, 2013, the Grande Colonial celebrated its most significant milestone to date: its 100-year anniversary. Festivities and merriment to observe the centennial occasion peppered the busy calendar, thereby assisting one of San Diego’s most time-honored hotels to communicate the storied history of the veritable movers and shakers who occasioned to pass through its venerated doors over the 100 years since the hotel was established.

Leslie recalls the countless thousands of unforgettable moments and experiences, from myriad weddings to innumerable guests from out of town recounting anecdotes over a martini at the NINE-TEN bar. And, just as envisioned by George Bane, the Grande Colonial La Jolla remains a definitive European-style hotel that rivals anything the West has to offer. Moreover, the Grande Colonial staff endeavors to preserve the rich legacy established by the hotel’s original founders a century plus ago by providing the utmost gracious and amiable experience as far as resort and business accommodations are concerned.

Leslie notes that beyond the turn-of-the-century architecture, the veritable hallmark of the Grande Colonial consists of its warm, affable, and genuinely-friendly staff. She asserts that each and every one of the Grande Colonial’s employees takes pride in maintaining the heritage by the founders by offering guests the optimum experience in first-class accommodations. Truly historical in its grandeur and deluxe accommodations, the La Jolla Grande Colonial lives up to its founders desires as a true masterpiece by the sea.

CLICK HERE to learn more about The Grande Colonial.

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