Aging gracefully: Casa de Mañana celebrates its centennial

With a century of yesterdays influencing its future, Casa de Mañana is a microcosm of longevity through evolution.

Spanish for “house of tomorrow,” Casa de Mañana is a storied feature of the La Jolla coastline, a hotel-turned-retirement community at 849 Coast Blvd. included in the recent national historic designation of the La Jolla Park Coastal Historic District.

Hardly humble beginnings

Casa de Mañana opened July 4, 1924, an upscale hotel imagined by Isabel Hopkins, a transplant from Colorado using her divorce settlement to fund the project.

Hopkins commissioned architect Edgar V. Ullrich – who hailed from her Colorado hometown and designed more than 25 buildings in La Jolla  – to conceive and draft the Spanish colonial-style Casa de Mañana, which came to life in seven months.

An undated article for “California Southland” by Elizabeth Whiting wrote the hotel’s “charm and restful character have increased the reasons for visiting La Jolla a hundredfold.”

Casa de Mañana c 1920. Photo courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society.

Casa de Mañana began its tenure in La Jolla to extreme popularity as a resting place for tourists (a 1930s advertisement shows rates for $9 to $12 per night for a one-person room) and an event space for fine dining, charity balls and more.

At one point, Hopkins planned a horned toad race that drew more than 100 racing toads, based on a frog race featured in a Mark Twain story, current Casa de Mañana resident Kerry McFall said. 

Even Hollywood came calling; two movies have featured scenes here: the 1927 silent film likely titled “Tea for Three” but now lost and the 1977 Peter O’Toole movie “The Stunt Man,” for which Casa de Mañana residents were offered $25 a day to be extras and a biplane found its way onto The Children’s Pool beach across the boulevard. 

La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps was also a fan, sponsoring a late-1930s stay and talk with Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, according to current Casa de Mañana resident Brigid O’Farrell. 

And yes, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover stayed within the casa’s walls as well.

House of changes

Mirroring the changing landscape of American life, Casa de Mañana underwent its own evolution.

The “Depression was hard on Casa de Mañana,” O’Farrell said, leading to staff layoffs.

Hopkins managed to retain the hotel, which enjoyed a resurgence after the end of Prohibition with the La Concha Lounge and its well-recognized curved ceilings and 35-cent martinis established where Casa de Mañana’s library is now: A La Concha cocktail napkin from the 1930s proudly states “All roads lead to La Jolla,” with the hotel at the center of a community map.

Keeping Casa de Mañana functioning during World War II “was really a struggle,” O’Farrell said, with visitor numbers decreasing and the hotel’s proximity to the ocean necessitating U.S. Naval use.

The hotel closed for a short period of time, was used for Red Cross and officers’ purposes, and then sold in 1944 to Gerald White, according to a July 1974 article by Marcella Maddux.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society.

In 1953, Casa de Mañana gained new life as a retirement community, as the Methodist Church, under the nonprofit company Pacific Homes Corporation, bought the property in February 1953 as was normal for religious entities at the time.

The sale price is estimated somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000.

Hopkins, in one of the only known papers with her signature on it, wrote in a letter she approved of the new operation of her beloved hotel before her death in 1956.

The Methodists turned the Prohibition-era “private dining rooms” into a chapel and made other edits, but the Casa de Mañana edifice and place in society remained.

“One of the things that struck me as I was doing the research and looking at the early days of this place as a retirement community,” said resident Susan McLeod, “was that … even in the very beginning, they spent a lot of time trying to accommodate newcomers and get them involved in the life of the community.”

Early 1950s components such as having all the newcomers for a certain period be introduced at a “very dressy party [and] would come down the grand staircase” have faded, McLeod said, but “there’s still this culture of ‘These people are newcomers and we really need to integrate them into the life of the community and get to know them and make them feel at home.’”

House holds on

Casa de Mañana underwent “extensive renovations” throughout its time as a retirement community, according to a 1973 brochure “The First 20 Years.”

By the end of 1953, 111 charter members “occupied all available space,” leading Casa de Mañana to initiate an expansion program, the brochure states.

Several new buildings in various projects and phases have been added through 2000.

One such expansion to demolish 26 units in favor of 62 units in two- and three-floor buildings faced “community opposition” in late 1987, according to a newspaper article; La Jollans argued the changes – which the city of San Diego approved in 1989 regardless – conflicted with Casa de Mañana’s established 1987 historicity. 

Another project meant a distinctive 1924 colonnade on the north side of the building was preserved during demolition in the 1990s, with architects carefully detaching the colonnade, hauling the arches away on a flatbed truck, and then moving it carefully to the Casa Norte building patio, where it stands today. 

In 1999, three nonprofits, including Pacific Homes, merged to become non-denominational, nonsectarian Front Porch Communities, which now owns and operates Casa de Mañana along with 18 other communities.

The La Jolla community has 210 residents on 5.5 acres in eight buildings and 191 apartments; the residents’ minimum age is 60 and the average age is 82, according to Casa de Mañana.

“The sense of culture and civic work … comes through the retirement community,” O’Farrell said. 

Casa de Mañana is marking its centennial with a few small, private events throughout the summer, including a San Diego County proclamation, a recognition of its land provenance as Kumeyaay, a “Centennial Day” with period costumes and a 1924 menu and more.

“There’s a culture here of caring for each other as well as caring for yourself,” McLeod said. “I think that comes directly from the origins.”

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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