1913-2013 (and counting): Grande Colonial Hotel marks 100 years in La Jolla with special events

By Linda Hutchison

Many La Jollans are turning 100 this year. As they celebrate their centennial year, so is a distinguished La Jolla landmark – the Grande Colonial Hotel – that opened its doors to guests on Feb. 1, 1913. The Colonial Apartments and Hotel, as it was called then, was billed as a luxurious blend of European elegance and contemporary American ambience overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The original white, wood-framed building was designed by Richard Requa, the master architect of the California Exposition in Balboa Park. It is the oldest original hotel in La Jolla.

The Grande Colonial Hotel on Prospect Street today and in yesteryear. Courtesy

The Colonial quickly became a popular gathering spot in La Jolla, which had been growing in size since its founding 25 years earlier. By 1913, La Jolla had train, phone and electrical service and was attracting more visitors, residents, and businesses.

In Europe, war was rumbling, but was still far away. At home in the States, Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president; the income tax was introduced, as were the first zipper, elastic bra, and the moving assembly line at Ford Motor Company. The Lincoln Highway opened from New York City to San Francisco. It was the first paved highway to cross the country.

The original building from 1913.

During the 1920s, La Jolla began paving its streets, too, perhaps not with gold, but definitely riding into a golden age. The Colonial’s owner George Bane decided to give his hotel a new look to take advantage of La Jolla’s tourist boom.

In 1925 he hired architect Frank Stevenson to design a hotel that would “rival anything in the West.” The original building was moved to the rear of the new building, where it still stands. The new building was completed in 1928 with 28 apartments, 25 single hotel rooms (available for $25 to $50 a month), and the first sprinkler system west of the Mississippi. Its solid cement stairways and fire doors still exist. Inside, the hotel were colonial fireplaces with marble hearths, ornate chandeliers and lots of sunlight streaming through the decorative, domed windows.

Soon the new building also included La Jolla Drugstore, which owner Silas Putnam moved from next door. He added an ice cream parlor on the sidewalk where, for more than 30 years, locals gathered to chat and enjoy sodas and banana splits. The drugstore’s pharmacist was Gregory Peck, the father of actor Gregory Peck, who grew up in La Jolla and in the 1940s, founded the La Jolla Playhouse with fellow actors Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer.

During World War II, the hotel housed military men and their wives, as well as single servicemen from nearby Camp Callan. During the 1940s and ‘50s, the Colonial attracted many movie stars performing locally, including Groucho Marx, Jane Wyatt, Eve Arden, Pat O’Brien and David Niven.

Ghosts of the past

The Colonial has also attracted its share of ghost stories through the years – including phone calls to the front desk from an empty room … always the same room. When someone goes to check the room, the phone is off the hook. Guests claim to have spotted elegantly dressed men and women floating down the hallways and stairwells, and hearing laughter from the apartments above the bakery.

Gregory Peck Sr. (right) was the pharmacist at the drugstore in the Hotel.

The kitchen staff says pots, pans and cupboard doors have moved on their own in the kitchen, although they’ve settled down since the latest remodeling.

After the drugstore moved out in 1960, the Colonial fell on hard times, until three local partners bought and restored it in 1976. Since then, there have been four additional restorations, new owners, and two popular restaurants, Putnam’s Grille (1980-2001) and NINE-TEN since 2001 (both located in the space occupied by the drugstore).

The hotel’s most recent renovation of its entry, foyer and lobby was completed a year ago in anticipation of this year’s 100-year anniversary celebration. The goal was to preserve the classic feel of a European hotel and blend its historic spirit with contemporary style. The renovation included preserving original Georgian style arches, crown moldings, lead glass windows and hand-stenciled ceilings.

“The Grande Colonial holds a very special place in La Jolla’s history and a fond place in the hearts of many in the community,” said Terrence Underwood, general manager of the hotel since 1999. “We join a very exclusive group of other hotels in San Diego that have celebrated such a milestone, including the Horton Grand, Hotel Del (Coronado) and U.S. Grant.”

A representative from California State Senator Mark Wyland’s office presents Grande Colonial General Manager Terrence Underwood (left) with a celebratory proclamation during a cocktail party March 21 to toast the hotel’s success.

Grande Colonial Centennial Events

• Centennial Celebration Package for guests includes two nights in an ocean-view suite, complimentary valet parking, history book, wine and two commemorative wine glasses.

• Monthly receptions with drawings for vacation packages and dinner.

• Special “throw-back” cocktail menus and promotions at NINE-TEN

• Centennial merchandise, including T-shirts, baseball cap, coffee mug, wine glasses, video and history book.

• The hotel would love to hear from former guests who have stories or mementos about their stay they would like to share.

• Phone: (858) 729-5385

• E-mail: info@gclj.com

• Website: thegrandecolonial.com

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Posted by Staff on Mar 27, 2013. Filed under About La Jolla, Featured Story, La Jolla, La Jolla Landmark Businesses, News, Visitors. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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