La Jolla hotels: the Grande Colonial

Over half a century ago, I stayed at the venerable Carlyle Hotel in New York City in the days when the Kennedys (John and Jackie) maintained an apartment there. I still remember that teenage stay vividly. The Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla reminded me of my night there; there’s a grandeur and elegance that hark back to a bygone era.

The grand dame of La Jolla

The original building at the Grande Colonial La Jolla photo Steve Collins

Original building was moved in 1925, photo/Steve Collins

The Grande Colonial, a true grand dame hotel, opened in 1913 as the Colonial Apartments and Hotel. Designed by Richard Requa, the master architect” for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, it was described as “a perfectly appointed apartment hotel, with the finest sun parlor and lobby overlooking the ocean on the Pacific coast.”

In 1925, owner George Bane decided that a grander and larger hotel was needed. He wanted his new hotel to “rival anything in the West.” To make room the new hotel, the original, modest by today’s standards, was moved to the back of the property.  The historic, all suites building, is now adjacent to the swimming pool. In 1988, the current owners bought the hotel and the name was changed to the Grande Colonial While many of the remaining grande dame hotels, such as The Homestead in Virginia or the Mohonk Mountain House in New York’s Hudson Valley, are large and bustling, the Grande is an intimate boutique hotel with attentive staff unobtrusively providing excellent service.

The “new” Colonial

The new Colonial just after completion in 1928 photo/courtesy Grande Colonial Hotel.jpg

The new Colonial just after completion in 1928 photo/courtesy Grande Colonial Hotel.jpg

In 1928, the “new” Colonial was opened. Today, having stood the test of time, it’s a true grande dame hotel, regal and filled with history. The new hotel had 28 apartments and 25 hotel rooms as well as the first sprinkler system west of the Mississippi and a steel fire door that is still there. The original Otis elevator is still in service. Yes, it’s a bit slow, but it only needs to ascend five levels and the rich wood paneling and the lift’s equally rich history remind guests of the stately pace of a more gracious era. Look for the brass Otis Elevator emblem embedded in the floor. Other original features such as dental molding in the lobby, original staircases and the original fire door remain to remind guests of the building’s rich history.

Hollywood at the Grande Colonial

The lobby at the Grande Colonial La Jolla photo Steve Collins

The original molding details grace the hotel’s lobby, photo/teve Collins

The pharmacist at the La Jolla Drugstore which opened in the hotel’s lobby in 1928 was actor Gregory Peck’s father. When Peck started the La Jolla Playhouse, many of the then up and coming actors such as Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire, Groucho Marx, Jane Wyatt, Eve Arden, Pat O’Brien and David Niven stayed there. The hotel hosted movie stars through the 1949s and 1950s.

The Grande Colonial in the 21st century

The Grande Colonial La Jolla photo/courtesy of Gil Guarduno

The Grande Colonial La Jolla photo/courtesy of Gil Guarduno/MN Gastronome

Today, while offering modern amenities such as flat screen TVs and Wi-Fi, the Grande has the aura of a kinder, gentler time gone by, an oasis from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life. Book a room or suite with an ocean view and relax. The majestic Pacific is a block away or if you prefer, spend your days soaking up the sun in the pool on the back terrace. The refurbished lobby has retained the wonderful original architectural details including elaborate ceiling molding. Don’t forget to look up! Dine in-house at least one night. Their Nine-Ten restaurant offers a creative fusion menu for dinner. They’re also open for breakfast and lunch.

Ghosts at the grand

Old hotels often have ghosts. Santa Fe’s La Posada has one, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park Colorado is loaded with them and even offers tours, and the St. James in Cimarron, New Mexico has a room they don’t rent because of a reportedly malevolent spirit. The Grande Colonial says this about ghosts “Yes, no, maybe?” Guests and staff have reported ghostly encounters. There are the phone calls from the room that used to house Groucho Marx when it’s unoccupied. Is the late cigar-smoking comedian calling for room service? There was the late-night sighting of a couple in formal wear that disappeared into thin air when they turned the corner. Someone reported the soft-glowing presence of a woman dressed in lace, and a young boy saw “several small Abraham Lincolns jumping around in his room.” Will you have a ghostly sighting at the Grande? Who knows? Our stay was spirit-free. Read more about the hotels’ ghosts.

Ride in an authentic London taxi

London taxi at the Grande Colonial photo Steve Collins

Authentic London Taxi parked outside the Grande waiting for guests, photo/Steve Collins

It’s fitting that the Grande Colonial has a London taxi to shuttle guests around La Jolla. We used it one rainy morning to get to breakfast and that evening to get to dinner. It was very convenient and we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

If contemporary high rises are not for you and you want to experience the grandeur of times past, make the Grande Colonial your home away from home in La Jolla.

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