When it opened in 1946, Bob Hope was the first guest at the Historic Lafayette Hotel in North Park and Ava Gardner was among the many Hollywood luminaries of the era who stayed there.
Building on the elegance and grace of that post-war period will be a key part of the hotel’s latest renovation planned by Consortium Holdings, which has acquired the property for $25.8 million.
“We definitely want to stand on the shoulders of that history,” said Arsalun Tafazoli, co-founder of Consortium Holdings and CH Projects. “It’s really a special place.”
Details on the renovation and how much it will cost are still being worked out but Tafazoli said he wants guests to have a feel for what the hotel was like when it opened in 1946.
“Ideally, you’ll be able to have an immersive enough experience so it feels like it’s back in the glory days of that property,” Tafazoli said. “To be stewards of this thing as locals, it’s a dream come true in many ways. It’s a responsibility that we’re not going to take lightly.”
The Soul of the Project
With 131 rooms and an Olympic-sized pool, the hotel “generated strong interest from several investors” when it was put up for sale, said Victor Krebs of Colliers International who brokered the sale.
Tafazoli plans to overhaul the hotel’s food and beverage offerings, including rebranding the Hotel 46 restaurant and redoing the area that had long housed Red Fox Steakhouse & Piano Bar.
“The soul of a great hotel to me has always been great food and beverages, so that’s going to be a foundational part,” Tafazoli said. “When you look at the evolution of restaurants and bars, it was born out of the hotel. The original bartenders were concierges. We’re definitely going to be paying homage to that, the roots of our industry.”
Built by former car dealer and developer Larry Imig as Imig Manor at 2223 El Cajon Blvd., the Lafayette was purchased in the mid 1950s by Conrad Hilton, a former owner of the San Diego Padres.
At one point, the hotel covered nearly 2.5 acres and had 24 shops, four restaurants, a nightclub, and 250 guest rooms, suites and apartments, according to the hotel’s website.
When the Lafayette was built, San Diego was competing with Palm Springs as a trendy getaway spot, Tafazoli said.
El Cajon Boulevard was the main east-west thoroughfare but that all changed with Interstate 8 came through and the Lafayette was no longer in a prominent spot.
Jay Wentz of JCG Development bought the hotel in 2004 for $11 million and spent $6 million renovating it with the help of a $2.4 million forgivable redevelopment loan.
That renovation brought back a sense of post-World War II San Diego that Tafazoli said he plans to enhance.
Cameron Lamming, chief development officer West of Hostmark Hospitality Group and owner of Lamming Company, said the hotel had reached the point where more work was needed.
Lamming said his company manages the hotel and is a minor partner in its renovation.
“It got to the point where it needed some significant renovation dollars and Jay had previously done that when Jay purchased it,” Lamming said. “We’re going to have some fun with really taking it to the next level.”
That includes “doing a refresh of the rooms that will kind of tie in with the rest of the property,” Lamming said.
“This is one of the few hotels in San Diego that has historical significance,” Lamming said. “It’s kind of like the local dive bar of hotels. It’s the place people want to go to have a friendly environment.”
A Place for Locals
The latest renovation is tentatively planned to be done in stages, rather than shutting down the entire hotel, starting in winter 2022, Tafazoli said.
“It’s going to be one of the bigger renovations. In terms of investment, it’s a moving target,” Tafazoli said. “We approach it more as being able to make sure the best idea wins.”
Whatever the details, Tafazoli said the hotel will be designed for “staycations.”
“We see it more as an amenity for locals in many ways, for people on the city, which is how we’re approaching it. Obviously, there will be a tourist aspect of it, but I think tourism has evolved,” Tafazoli said, adding that visitors “want more of authentic experience.”
“There’s a desire to get a real feel for a place, and hopefully, we’ll draw people wanting a more interesting experience than from the more traditional tourist hubs,” Tafazoli said. n