La Jolla’s Whaling Bar mural re-installed in La V boardroom


Hot on the heels of the March installation at 1162 Prospect St. of artist Raul Guerrero’s Mural’s of La Jolla project, “Raymond Chandler at the Whaling Bar” (which included a depiction of the famed mural that once hung in the bar) the actual Whaling Bar mural, “The Whale’s Last Stand,” is going back up in the La Valencia Hotel’s Ballernero Boardroom.

Finishing touches are being made to the room’s décor, and the artist’s son is expected to help with minor mural repairs. In the coming days, the completed boardroom will open for public viewing when not in use.

“I thought it would be fitting to put the mural in a room that faces the ocean, and ballernero (the name of the boardroom) is Spanish for whaling,” said La Valencia general manager Mark Dibella. “We spent $45,000 to move the mural and get it reinstalled because it is such a massive piece.”

The mural by Wing Howard has been sitting in storage since February 2013, when La Valencia closed the Whaling Bar (once frequented by actor Gregory Peck and authors Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Raymond Chandler) and renovated it into Café la Rue.

“When I got here, we realized it was time to sunset the Whaling Bar, which has a great legacy, but needed a different ambiance,” Dibella explained. “We wanted to save the mural. The mural was painted directly on the wall that divides the bar, so we had to cut out the wall, at 26 feet long. We couldn’t get it all in one piece, so we cut it into four pieces.” The wall divided the Whaling Bar from Café la Rue, and when it came down, the entire space became the café.

As part of the removal process, Dibella said six columns were installed to hold up the ceiling so it could be separated from the middle wall. The columns are still there and part of Café la Rue décor. “We are not reopening the Whaling Bar, and we don’t need to, but we wanted to pay homage to its art,” Dibella said. In addition to the mural, the boardroom will be punctuated with lanterns from the original bar, the former Whaling Bar brass sign, old books and other memorabilia.

“Some people were aghast at changes by the hotel’s new ownership (Pacifica), but I think the ownership has done a phenomenal job, at my insistence, to make sure we respect the legacy,” Dibella said.

The Ballernero Boardroom is on the hotel’s lower level under the lobby, next to the Veranda Room where the Rotary Club of La Jolla often meets. The boardroom may be rented for dinners or meetings. When not in use, Dibella said the door will be open for those who want to see the mural.

Hotel history

The La Valencia Hotel (aka La Jolla’s Pink Lady) opened in December 1926, and area that now houses Café la Rue was a retail space, Dibella said. The hotel also had apartment units.

“In the 1940s, the owners of the time decided to open a café and bar, with a wall down the middle,” he added. “They commissioned Wing Howard who, at that time, was an up-and-coming artist living in the hotel, to paint murals in exchange for room and board. On the wall of the bar, he painted a mural that was not liked. So he covered it up with ‘The Whale’s Last Stand,’ prompting the owners to name it the Whaling Bar. On the other side of the wall, he painted what are known as the Café la Rue murals. They depicted French village scenes.

“In the 1970s, the owners at the time located Howard, who had become known for his murals and was very successful. They asked him to paint replicas of all the murals because they were getting damaged. So he painted a new whaling mural on canvas, but people didn’t like it because it looked so bright, compared to the dark, aged whaling mural. Because people didn’t like it, the new mural went into storage.” Howard also painted the Café la Rue murals on canvas, which now hang in the restaurant because, Dibella said, they’re brighter and fit the ambiance.

The re-painted “Whale’s Last Stand” mural on canvas hangs in an office downtown. La Valencia Hotel is located at 1132 Prospect St.