This month in La Jolla history: Attempted bank robbery, hotels established, more

A Dec. 10, 1928, article in the San Diego Evening Tribune reported a bank robbery attempt in La Jolla.
A Dec. 10, 1928, article in the San Diego Evening Tribune reported a bank robbery attempt in La Jolla.

This Month in History is a recurring feature in the La Jolla Light highlighting local happenings from yesteryear. If you are aware of historical events from any year in La Jolla history that deserve recognition, email

On Dec. 10, 1928, a man tried to rob La Jolla National Bank of San Diego, now the site of Citibank at the corner of Wall Street and Herschel Avenue, according to “This Day in San Diego History” by Linda Pequegnat.

San Diego police were prepared, however. Howard Randolph wrote in his 1955 book “La Jolla Year by Year” that the police “had been tipped off that there would be attempted robbery simultaneously at four San Diego banks … so extra vigilance was maintained.” Two officers were stationed near the bank in La Jolla.

At about 12:30 p.m., “a young man with a gun entered and ordered a customer to one side,” Pequegnat wrote. “The [bank’s] vice president, Mr. Plaister, said to the robber, ‘You can’t pull that here,’ and reached for his own revolver.

“The robber fired, and Plaister returned fire. A total of 11 or 12 shots were fired. The other people in the bank dodged the shots by hiding behind partitions and furniture,” Pequegnat wrote.

“Plaister was wounded ... by a bullet that grazed his forehead, and his hands and face were cut by flying glass,” she wrote.

The suspect ran down Wall Street, Pequegnat wrote, and the two police officers stationed nearby chased him, firing several shots. One of the officers’ bullets struck the man in the side, according to an article in the San Diego Evening Tribune.

The officers followed the suspect, continuing to shoot as he got into his car and drove down an alley, according to Pequegnat. “They caught up to the car on Ivanhoe Avenue and found him slumped over the wheel, unconscious,” she wrote.

The suspect, who identified himself at a hospital as Leander J. Schmelz, “steadfastly [refused] to implicate anyone else in the attempted robbery,” according to the Evening Tribune. Schmelz died during surgery.

Plaister’s injuries were “superficial,” according to Randolph, and he was “highly commended for his courageous action.”

Other December events

La Jolla Park Hotel, pictured in 1888, did not open until 1893.

Dec. 12, 1887: A contract was signed to build La Jolla Park Hotel at the head of Grand — now Girard — Avenue at the north end of Prospect Street, Randolph wrote. Construction began on the 80-room hotel in January 1888, but injunctions prevented it from opening. Randolph wrote that “it stood there, large, stately and empty … for years.”

The hotel finally opened in January 1893 to about 200 visitors. But its register had no record of guests after Feb. 29, 1896, indicating “the hotel must have closed soon after,” according to Randolph. “It was empty when it caught fire and burned to the ground on June 14, 1896.”

Dec. 20, 1896: Dr. Joseph Rodes, who bought property across from La Jolla Cove in 1894 and erected a cottage later called Brockton Villa (now a restaurant), went fishing with his brother-in-law and the boat capsized as they returned to The Cove, according to Randolph.

A rescue boat also capsized, and a third, larger boat retrieved the men. However, Rodes “was so badly injured that he died before he could be brought ashore,” Randolph wrote. Rodes was 33.

Dec. 1, 1906: The first building of First Presbyterian Church of La Jolla was dedicated at the corner of Girard Avenue and Torrey Pines Road, according to Randolph. Called the “Little Brown Church,” it was moved in 1907 farther north on Girard, then was relocated again in 1914 to Draper Avenue, still the site of the now-named La Jolla Presbyterian Church.

The building was removed in 1928 to make way for the current building, Randolph wrote. It settled on Torrey Pines Road near its original spot.

La Valencia Hotel, pictured in 1937, opened in 1926.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

Dec. 15, 1926: La Valencia Hotel opened on Prospect Street. It originally was an apartment hotel named Los Apartmentos de Sevilla. Its name was soon changed to La Valencia.

The hotel had 21 apartments, 12 single rooms, a tearoom and a banquet room and became so popular that an addition was built that increased the number of rooms to 125 and added a large lobby, roof gardens and a tower, according to Pequegnat. The addition opened in 1928.

La Valencia became known as “The Pink Lady of La Jolla” and in 1987 was named a historical landmark by the San Diego Historical Resources Board.

Dec. 9, 1927: Architect Frank Stevenson signed the preliminary plans and blueprints for a new Colonial hotel at Prospect and Jenner streets, Pequegnat wrote. The old Colonial hotel, opened in 1913 and designed by Richard Requa, was moved to the rear of the lot, where it stands today. The new four-story building opened June 28, 1928, the first fireproofed hotel west of the Mississippi.

The property, owned by George Bane, was sold in 1976 for $1 million and reopened after extensive restoration in 1980 as the Grande Colonial, Pequegnat wrote. ◆