As a child, new La Valencia Hotel managing director Summer Shoemaker split her time between Northern California and Hawaii (with divorced parents), and credits living in a hospitality-driven community for half the year with introducing her to what would be her life’s passion.
“I spent the early parts of my life traveling a lot and with a dad in Maui, I spent most of my vacations during the spring and summer ‘on vacation’ in Hawaii,” she said. “I think in many ways, just seeing and being in such a heavily leisure location, put hospitality in my blood early.”
With those deep roots, she took the reins as general manager in early May, succeeding former GM Mark DiBella. She points out that she went from appreciating hospitality to working in it by the time she was 19.
“I won’t say how many years ago that was,” she joked. “But I started at the front desk, answering phones and checking guests in. I truly believe that it’s a great to start from the ground up in hotels and hospitalities because you get to experience every position along the way. From the front office I moved to catering and spent most of my career in catering and events.”
Eventually, she made her way to the Estancia Hotel in La Jolla, where she spent the last 15 years, before moving to the La Valencia.
“It’s an iconic building and iconic hotel, so I was excited for the opportunity,” Shoemaker said of the 92-year-old building, known as The Pink Lady at 1132 Prospect St. in the heart of The Village.
The La Valencia opened as an apartment hotel in December, 1926 and was designed to integrate the “finest elements of various styles of the Spanish school of architecture,” according to its history. It survived the Great Depression; and, over the years, became a gathering place for performers from the early days of the La Jolla Playhouse, including Gregory Peck. In 1986, La Valencia was chosen to join the Preferred Hotels Worldwide network. In 2010, Pacifica Companies acquired it and ushered in changes, including a total renovation of the property, and the controversial transformation of the Whaling Bar into Café la Rue.
Going forward, Shoemaker said she has a two-fold vision for the hotel.
“We have to remember and be mindful of the history this property has and its importance to the community, as we’ve been a living room of sorts, and have people who are truly vested in this place,” she explained. “The spirit of this hotel needs to be remembered and honored. But at the same time, there are always opportunities to look at how we can better serve guests and adapt to today’s environment to make sure we’re providing a service level they expect. It’s an older property and although that gives us a lot of exciting things to talk about, we’re unlike any other place, and that comes with challenges. We have to be creative with how we use the different spaces.”
As an example, she said the management plans to renovate the ballroom at some point and roll out a new event program. “That’s not going to happen overnight, but I hope to launch engaging food and beverage experiences we can share with guests and the community,” she said.
Further, Spa La V, which has been in the planning or construction stages since May 2017, should open later this year. Its debut would be one of many changes for the Pink Lady over the last 40 years.
In her free time, Shoemaker said she likes to be outdoors. “Hiking, camping or just walking on the beach and being out and about with my 10-year-old son is what I love most,” she said. “Really, spending time with my son while he still wants to spend time with me is good.”