Craftsman Revisited

Premier San Diego location finally gets a premier property, the Lodge at Torrey Pines.

By: David Swanson

SAN DIEGO California architecture is often summed up as Mission Revival stucco walls and tile roofs like the 18th-century adobe missions built by Father Junipero Serra. But it’s not the experience I grew up with. For 23 years, my San Diego upbringing took place in a turn-of-the-century Craftsman house, the architectural style that has come roaring back and is keeping Restoration Hardware in business. So it was with a fair amount of anticipation that I stayed at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, the city’s newest resort, built on the seaside bluffs just north of La Jolla. Modeled after the landmark Gamble and Blacker houses of Pasadena, the Lodge expands on the early 1900s Craftsman designs of architects Charles and Henry Greene. The details, both original pieces and reproductions, are exquisite. The driveway is lined with undulating walls of clinker bricks; the entry is a perfect art-glass knock-off of the doors on the 1908 Gamble House (with the local Torrey pine taking the place of the Gamble’s oak), and behind the check-in desk is a trio of original stained-glass panels that the Greenes commissioned for the Tichenor House in Long Beach, Calif. In fact, the clinker bricks are cast-offs from an old factory in Unionville, Mo. and the glass entry was made by the Judson Art Glass Studio, the same studio that made the Tichenor panels in 1907. You don’t have to know these details to appreciate the Lodge, but they reflect the commitment of Bill Evans, managing director of family-owned Evans Hotels of San Diego. The Lodge took the place of the Inn at Torrey Pines, a worn-out motel that had the good fortune of standing next to one of California’s top golf courses. Evans Hotels, which also owns the Bahia and Catamaran resorts at Mission Bay, Calif., bought the inn in 1995, but wasn’t sure what to do with the property. Late one night Evans came across the Gamble House in an architecture book. “At 6 o’clock the next morning I drove up to Pasadena to see it,” Evans said. “But I arrived before they opened. And as I waited for the place to open, it forced me to really look at the exterior of the house to see what made it work. I got excited, and decided I was going to build an Arts and Crafts hotel.” Evans consulted Randall Makinson, a leading historian on the Greenes. “He said you can’t really do that a hotel is the antithesis of everything Greene and Greene did,” Evans said. “But we did massing studies to keep everything in residential scale.” Gradually, the $65 million, 175-room resort took shape. The lodge was opened in April 2002, and won the AAA Five-Diamond Award barely six months later. It’s the only hotel in San Diego with the distinction. There are two room categories, primarily based on view. The Signature rooms face a courtyard that is landscaped to imitate the rare coastal environment just beyond the hotel at Torrey Pines State Reserve. The smallest rooms are a generous 520 square feet, with Tiffany-style lamps, period wallpaper and lots of exposed wood. The more expensive Palisades rooms vary slightly, but most add a fireplace, a balcony and separate shower and tub. They face the ocean, though several hundred feet of golf course lie between the hotel and the edge of the bluff, which drops to Black’s Beach below. A collection of suites is housed in a separate wing. A 9,500-square-foot, full-service spa debuted with the hotel, offering treatments with an accent on native herbs such as coastal sage, one of 17 varieties found at the reserve. There also is a fitness facility, oversized swimming pool and whirlpool. The main restaurant is A.R. Valentien, named for the artist who painted many local wildflowers. His watercolors line the walls and his personal effects and medals are on display. Jeff Jackson, formerly of Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, heads the kitchen and the superb array of seasonal vegetables accompanying most of his dishes is a highlight. A second dining venue, the Grill, caters to golfers as well as hotel guests. The golf course, home of the Buick Invitational, is a key attraction for the hotel. The south course shines from last year’s $3.5 million renovation and it is to be the host of the 2008 U.S. Open. Reservations for the public course are difficult to obtain, but the lodge has guaranteed tee times daily. Did the Lodge bring back memories of my home? Yes and no. The dedication to local artists and the natural environment is inspiring, but the Lodge also has a slightly rigid feel, like a museum that lacks the warmth and fingerprints of a family residence. Bill Evans disagrees. “Museums are a place that you come in and view something,” he said. “This is a very organic piece of art, people add something to it.” In this case, my father’s paperwork wasn’t spread all over the dining room table for months on end, and no one was telling me to clean my room. It may not have been home, but the Lodge was definitely a refuge.