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Concerns arise over loss of La Valencia fountain

The remnants of La Jolla’s early architectural heritage being lost to development and redevelopment are a continuing concern for residents, and former residents, as well.

A case in point is the fountain mural missing from the front patio of the La Valencia Hotel. A recent casualty of remodeling, the mural is one of those irretrievable architectural “treasures” that John Barbey, a former La Jolla resident now living in San Francisco, believes could have — and should have — been spared.

Barbey, who grew up in La Jolla and has family members still living here, has always favored a “fabulously tiled” little corner of the hotel’s front breakfast patio — a distinguishing feature of which was a 1920s vintage oval portrait of a young woman with flirtatiously half-open eyes he refers to as “the 1928 Valencia lady.”

“It’s gone,” Barbey said of the mural and oval portrait. “It’s been replaced by a completely plain fountain with plain tiles that you see everywhere. I was stunned.”

David Friederich, managing director for Rancho Valencia Resort and La Valencia Hotel, said the tiled mural to which Barbey is referring was not historical.

“It was not part of the original building,” he said. “It was added later.”

Friederich agreed it’s regrettable that the tiled mural was lost, but added that restoring it would have been a nearly impossible task.

“We did actually try to save it,” he said. “But when we tried to extract the tile, it cracked. The only way to save the entire mural would have been to have those cracked tiles remade — you’d be adding brand-new tiles — and we would have had to cut out a whole entire section of the wall and somehow try to figure out how to put that back into the new construction.”

Barbey insists that ways currently exist to reproduce period tile such as that which was lost at La Valencia.

“There are new high-tech methods available today that would make it possible to replicate broken tile pieces with complete accuracy and inexpensively: Digital reproduction of artwork has soared in recent years,” he said. “Apart from the digital reproduction techniques, there are many craftspeople working today in places like Guadalajara, Mexico, and throughout Italy who could easily replicate the Valencia mural from photographs.”

Friederich said La Valencia went to great lengths in cooperating with city historical officials to ensure that the hotel remodel completed by Thanksgiving was done appropriately.

“We had a kitchen restoration that had to take place,” he said. “For us to do that, we had to put four temporary trailers on the patio, which means we had to remove some trees and various other different components in order to still operate the hotel during that time.”

Though some architectural elements were lost during the remodel, others were gained.

Friederich said: “We put new tile on the floor. We have redone our flower-bed garden. We actually added a fountain and a fire feature with a mural, using the same sorts of textures, tiles and stones in keeping with the integrity of the property.”

Barbey insists that more attention needs to be made to preserve the Jewel’s architectural heritage.

“Not that much survives from La Jolla’s heyday,” he said. “I’d like to see them value what is still there.”