Hollywood and the Grande Colonial Hotel La Jolla

By: Grande Colonial / 01 Sep 2022
La Jolla Playhouse Founders: Mel Ferrer, Dorothy McGuire and Gregory Peck

Photo Credit:  La Jolla Playhouse founders (L-R) Mel Ferrer, Dorothy McGuire, and Gregory Peck. Photo courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.


La Jolla is the proud home of the La Jolla Playhouse, a world-class theater that has produced and premiered many Broadway hits such as Tommy, Jersey Boys, A Walk in the Woods, and Memphis. The Playhouse--just like the Grande Colonial hotel La Jolla --served as the summer home for many Hollywood actors, actresses and writers who loved live theater.

In 1947, the war was over. Actors and theater- goers wanted entertainment to lift their spirits. Native son Gregory Peck and fellow actors Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire, along with financial partner The Kiwanis Club of La Jolla, started a summer stock theater here in the resort town that Peck grew up in. In trying to build local support he exclaimed, "We have no idea what plays we'll present or who's going to be in them, but we guarantee you ten plays a year and our word that they will be good." Can't you just see him saying that?

The Playhouse was an instant hit with its first production, Night Must Fall. The plays were performed at La Jolla High School where the auditorium seated only 500 people. They had to build plywood risers and the audience sat on hard chairs, but it created a more intimate experience for all. Garden parties were thrown for every production's opening night. La Jolla's socialites loved rubbing shoulders with screen stars such as Olivia DeHavilland, James Mason, Ginger Rogers, and Vincent Price. And who could pass up the opportunity to sip a cocktail with Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor. "It became the thing to do, to come to the opening and mix in the patio between acts on a beautiful summer evening" according to Peck. It must have been fun!

A new play was performed every couple of weeks, bringing down a constant parade of notable stars from Los Angeles. For many of those actors, their La Jolla residence was the Colonial Hotel. The hotel's luxurious suites provided the comforts of home, an ocean view, and extra privacy for stars like Groucho Marx and David Niven, who gained reputations as pranksters whenever they came to town. When first asked to perform, Groucho quipped "Oh, I don't know, that's a very strait-laced community down there." The Colonial also hosted Hollywood greats Charlton Heston, Pat O'Brien, Eve Arden, and Jane Wyatt.

Peck delivered on his promise of quality. In 1949, Time Magazine granted high praise calling it "The nation's most star-studded summer theater…the first night audience looked like a Hollywood premier". The Playhouse changed the cultural landscape of the town. It inspired and sometimes even included aspiring locals such as Raquel Welch (Tejada) who was in the chorus for Pal Joey while she was still attending La Jolla High School.

Since the inception of the Playhouse decades ago, the Grande Colonial hotel La Jolla has enjoyed a steady stream of celebrities, political leaders, luminaries, and literati. Whether visiting for professional reasons or simply to enjoy a welcome respite, the hotel continues to be the choice of the likes of Jane Seymour, Robin Leach, Cheech Marin, Robin Wright-Penn (who also attended La Jolla High School) and Will Ferrell to name but a few.

The La Jolla Playhouse helped create a strong foundation for the arts in a town that was already home to many academic, science and business leaders. Today, the Playhouse is world-class, launching multiple Broadway hits and receiving its own Tony Award for Best Regional Theater. The Colonial quietly played its supporting role well in making La Jolla a glamorous as well as artistic seaside resort of international acclaim.

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