“The Pink Lady” Turns 90
La Valencia marks a milestone
Posted on Dec. 5, 2016
When it comes to anything labeled “historic,” there’s a fine line between being a classic and becoming a relic. It’s a line of which La Valencia, the iconic La Jolla hotel, doesn’t want to cross to the wrong side. “We’re always going to be historic, but we really strive to be ‘classically vintage,’ which allows us to be more edgy, grow with each generation, and make sure we’re not getting pigeonholed into something that’s not relevant anymore,” says Mark Dibella, La Valencia’s managing director.
The history of this central fixture of downtown La Jolla features a colorful 90-year evolution flecked with Hollywood glamour, arts, literature, and even war. For the first 40 years it was luxury apartments, then an apartment hotel and popular rest stop for celebrities between the Del Mar Race Track and Tijuana casinos. The hotel’s eateries made La Valencia a culinary destination in an area relatively devoid of top-quality restaurants at the time.
Legend has it that La Jolla fixture Gregory Peck came up with the idea for the La Jolla Playhouse in the hotel lobby, where he regularly gathered with friends. Theodore Geisel penned some of his Dr. Seuss works at the hotel, inspired by his view of some odd-looking trees in the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Novelist Raymond Chandler even mentions the hotel and Whaling Bar in his books. Perhaps one of the most beloved visitors, though, is Selma Malk, who checked in to La Valencia 33 years ago, and never left; the hotel has even named a cocktail after her. During World War II, its tower was used as a lookout against a potential Japanese invasion. La Valencia has also played a part in the evolution of both the La Jolla Music Society and the La Jolla Historical Society.
“I love the idea that things that are so renowned for San Diego, La Jolla, and the country started somewhat as an idea or a thought under our roof,” says Dibella.
The Pink Lady, as it’s lovingly called, has in fact only been pink since the late 1950s, after its owners at the time visited two iconic pink hotels — the Royal Hawaiian and Boca Raton Resort & Club — and chose the distinctive shade to update the classic Spanish colonial white stucco. The shade, now trademarked and sold at Frazee Paint stores, is named “La Valencia Pink.” Long before the paint job, however, the “Pink Lady” moniker was derived from a tile medallion in the hotel’s Wedding Garden. On the grounds since 1928, the tile features a beautiful Spanish maiden wearing a pink dress, a true “pink lady,” gazing out at a view of the ocean that has remained virtually unchanged since that time.
Despite an appreciation for its storied history, La Valencia, or “La V” as it’s also known, continues to anticipate and adapt to the demands of an increasingly diverse and demanding travel consumer. Its latest introduction, the Icon Collection of three unique luxury suites, is the hotel’s take on a “presidential suite.” In mid-2017, the hotel will debut Spa La V, which Dibella says is a move that will also bring a name change: La Valencia Resort & Spa. A limited, exclusive social membership program, Club 1926, is also planned to debut next year.
To the people who call La V “your grandmother’s hotel,” Dibella replies, “It was your grandmother’s hotel if she was the sexiest woman on the block — she is an edgy girl, she has continued to reinvent herself, and I think she’s never looked better.”
La Valencia will celebrate its 90th birthday with a roaring ’20s-themed party, Gatsby Gala, on December 15. 858.454.0771, lavalencia.com Deanna Murphy
Photography courtesy of the La Jolla Historical Society & La Valencia Hotel