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In 1943, the United States was in the middle of fighting World War II. The entire country had undergone complete mobilization, with all its resources geared toward defeating the Axis powers. Several American metropolises were even converted into virtual fortresses, including the coastal Southern Californian city of San Diego. But that did not stop one San Diegan from constructing his own dream retreat. Indeed, the entrepreneurial Larry Imig purchased a sizable plot of land along the city’s bustling El Cajon Boulevard with the intended goal of making such a destination possible. Many considered the plan to be unrealistic, given the economic obstacles affecting the country at the time. Nevertheless, he hired the accomplished architect Frank L. Hope Jr., who went on to create a beautiful facility anchored by a gorgeous hotel. All the structures displayed a marvelous blend of Colonial Revival and Neoclassical motifs, creating an incredibly memorable appearance that stood out within San Diego’s architectural landscape. But Imig also sought to fill the nascent compound with a wealth of stunning venues to ensure its guests never got bored. Among the areas that Imig and his team constructed was an opulent dance hall known as the “Mississippi Room,” named after the well-known street that ran behind the budding complex. Another timeless attraction that Imig’s team built was an amazing outdoor pool. Designed specifically by the famous swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, the pool itself could hold up to 300,000 gallons of water and was just a couple inches short of meeting Olympic size qualifications! 

All in all, the vibrant “Imig Motel” quickly became one of San Diego’s most celebrated social gathering spots when it finally debuted in 1946. In fact, hundreds of guests eagerly congregated on-site during the opening ceremonies that July, including the renowned comedian Bob Hope. (He would later own one of the hotel’s two penthouses, with Imig himself using the other.) Many more people soon followed suit, arriving by way of the busy El Cajon Boulevard. Contemporary celebrities found the ambiance of the Imig Motel to be particularly appealing, as well. For instance, stars such as Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, and Katharine Hepburn often spent many days resting within one of the suites. Great entertainers like Harry James also ordered cocktails at the bar after an energetic night performing inside the Mississippi Room. Even the accomplished athlete Florence Chadwick had used the pool to prepare for her first marathon across the English Channel. Recognizing the economic potential of the Imig Motel, legendary hotelier Conrad Hilton approached Imig to buy the destination. Completing the 1949 sale, Hilton overseen his own series of extensive renovations that grew the compound to feature around a dozen structures. However, he also sought to leave his own mark on the iconic facility, renaming it as the “Lafayette Hotel” in honor of its colonially inspired architecture. (Hilton even used the site to host several of his other ventures, too, including the corporate headquarters for his professional football team, the San Diego Chargers.

Unfortunately the debut of Interstate 8 during the 1960s had dire consequences for the hotel’s future. The thoroughfare gradually rerouted much of San Diego’s traffic away from the El Cajon Boulevard, which reduced the number of motorists who were exposed to the location. Business dwindled significantly , resulting in the eventual cessation of the hotel operations around the end of the 20th century. Furthermore, subsequent owners of the building concealed its historical character as a way to render it more appealing to contemporary audiences. (Other facilities, like the Mississippi Room, managed to remain open, though.) Its fate appearing to be very bleak, the historic hotel thankfully received a new lease on life when Hampstead Lafayette Partners acquired it in 2004. The company pursued a comprehensive renovation that thoroughly restored the complex’s historical architecture, thus saving it for newer generations to appreciate. Now known as “The Lafayette Hotel and Club,” this magnificent local landmark has since reemerged as one of the best hotels in downtown San Diego. Much of its success is due to the dedicated stewardship of the current owner, who completed their own extensive restoration in 2023. As such, the team today hopes that its work to preserve the celebrated heritage of the destination will once again make it one of San Diego’s most amazing gathering spots. Cultural heritage travelers today are certain to adore the reinvigorated character of The Lafayette Hotel and Club. (The U.S. Department of the Interior has also listed The Lafayette Hotel & Club in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, citing its wonderfully resurrected architecture and history as the main reasons behind its decision.)  

  • Location +

    Long considered to be one of the birthplaces of California, San Diego is among the most historic communities on America’s Pacific Coast. The area’s first inhabitants were actually various tribes of Native Americans, including the Kumeyaay, the Payoomkawichum, and the Cahuilla. They occupied numerous settlements throughout the borders of present-day San Diego, with the largest being the village of Cosoy. Indeed, it was these indigenous people that the first Europeans encountered when they arrived during the 16th century. Led by Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the group had sailed north from the port of Navidad to chart the coastline. Upon sailing to the region in 1542, Cabrillo and his team claimed the territory on behalf of the Spanish Empire and named it “San Miguel.” Additional Spanish mariners continued to visit the region over the next two centuries, who eventually gave it the new title of “San Diego” in honor of a famous monk that lived in Alcalá de Henares. Nevertheless, no permanent Spanish presence appeared until the arrival of Gaspar de Portolá during the latter half of the 18th century. He specifically created a military outpost known as a “presidio” in 1769, which adopted the name of the surrounding area. The presidio itself remained fairly small, save for a Franciscan mission that priest Junípero Serra constructed alongside it at the same time. (The mission was the first of a series that Serra created along the California seashore.) But settlers began to develop a town around the complex in the wake of the Mexican War of Independence that also assumed the name “San Diego.” The community initially grew in size shortly thereafter, although tensions with the neighboring Kumeyaay ultimately stunted its growth.   

    Despite its miniscule size, San Diego nonetheless became a strategic American target during the Mexican-American War. The town was one of several that the United States had captured as part of its greater effort to conquer California. Following the war, San Diego rapidly gained national economic importance throughout America due to its proximity to a natural harbor. To help facilitate its development, entrepreneur Alonzo Horton spearheaded the creation of a whole new section of San Diego closer to the ocean. This district was subsequently referred to as the “New Town,” while the original settlement became known as the “Old Town.” (The New Town is known locally today as the celebrated “Gaslamp Quarter.”) The relocation greatly affected the town’s future, allowing it to grow into a full-fledged city at the start of the 20th century. Also assisting San Diego’s growth was the arrival of the Santa Fe Railway during the 1880s, which allowed for local goods to head further into the American interior. San Diego had thus become one of the country’s major metropolises by the 1920s. San Diego’s status as a thriving seaport inspired the various branches of the American military to eventually open their own facilities throughout the area, too. Among the most prominent were Camp Pendleton, Naval Base San Diego, and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which later played invaluable roles in conflicts like World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Today, San Diego retains its prestigious identity as one of California’s top communities. Not only is it the state’s second largest city, it is also among its most culturally vibrant. San Diego is also home to many fascinating destinations as well, such as the Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the Old Town State Historic Park. 

  • Architecture +

    The Lafayette Hotel and Club stands today as a wonderful interpretation of Colonial Revival architecture. Colonial Revival architecture itself is perhaps the most widely used building form in the entire United States today. It reached its zenith at the height of the Gilded Age, where countless Americans turned to the aesthetic to celebrate what they feared was America’s disappearing past. The movement came about in the aftermath of the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, in which people from across the country traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the American Revolution. Many of the exhibitors chose to display cultural representations of 18th-century America, encouraging millions of people across the country to preserve the nation’s history. Architects were among those inspired, who looked to revitalize the design principles of colonial English and Dutch homes. This gradually gave way to a larger embrace of Georgian and Federal-style architecture, which focused exclusively on the country’s formative years. As such, structures built in the style of Colonial Revival architecture featured such components as pilasters, brickwork, and modest, double-hung windows. Symmetrical designs defined Colonial Revival-style façades, anchored by a central, pedimented front door and simplistic portico. Gable roofs typically topped the buildings, although hipped and gambrel forms were used, as well. This form remained immensely popular for years until largely petering out in the late 20th century. Nevertheless, architects today still rely upon Colonial Revival architecture, using the form to construct all kinds of residential buildings and commercial complexes. Many buildings constructed with Colonial Revival-style architecture are identified as historical landmarks at the state level, and are eve listed in U.S. National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  

    However, this magnificent historic structure displays representations of Classic Revival architecture, as well. Also known as “Neoclassical,” Classic Revival design aesthetics are among the most common architectural forms seen throughout the United States. This wonderful architectural style first became popularized at the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in Chicago in 1893. Many of the exhibits displayed architectural motifs from ancient societies like Rome and Greece. As with the equally popular Colonial Revival style of the same period, Classical Revival architecture found an audience for its more formal nature. It specifically relied on stylistic design elements that incorporated such structural components like the symmetrical placement of doors and windows, as well as front porches crowned with classical pediments. Architects would also often install round front porticos that possessed balustraded flat roofs. Pilasters and other sculptured ornamentations proliferated across the façade of the building, too. Perhaps the most striking feature of buildings designed with Classical Revival-style architecture were massive columns that displayed some combination of Corinthian, Doric, or Ionic capitals. With its Greco-Roman temple-like form, Classical Revival-style architecture was considered best for municipal buildings, such as courthouses, libraries, and schools. But the form found its way into more commercial uses over time, like banks, department stores, and of course, hotels. The celebrated architectural firm McKim, Meade and White produced some of the finest buildings that showcased Classical Revival architecture, with a majority of their work debuting during the early 20th century. Examples of their portfolio can be found throughout most of America’s major cities, including Philadelphia and New York City. They were later joined by many other prominent architects, including the original architect of The Lafayette Hotel & Club, Frank L. Hope Jr.  

  • Famous Historic Guests +
    • Bob Hope, comedian and patron of the United Service Organization (USO).  
    • Lana Turner, actress known for her roles in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Peyton Place, and The Bad and the Beautiful. 
    • Ava Gardner, actress known for her roles in Mogambo, The Killers, and The Barefoot Contessa.  
    • Betty Grable, actress known for her roles in such films like Mother Wore Tights and How to Marry a Millionaire.  
    • Katharine Hepburn, actress known for her roles in The African Queen and The Philadelphia Story.   
    • Bing Crosby, singer and actor known for his roles in Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.   
    • Florence Chadwick, athlete remembered for being the first woman to swim across the English Channel.  
    • Harry James, big band leader known for working alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Louie Bellson.  
    • Ted Fio Rito, composer and big bandleader who was popular on American radio during the 1930s and 1940s.  
    • Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels chain and one-time owner of The Lafayette Hotel and Club.  
    • Johnny Weissmuller, swimmer who won multiple Olympic gold medals competing in swimming.