The Little Hotel by the Sea at Grande Colonial La Jolla

By: Grande Colonial Hotel / 01 Jul 2023
Little Hotel by the Sea. Circa 1930s


The Little Hotel by the Sea, one of three adjacent all-suite wings at the Grande Colonial Hotel La Jolla, celebrated its gala grand opening on January 14, 1925.  Then owners Mr. & Mrs. Hellwig opened their new hotel and cafe', serving a "Swedish Peasant" dinner at tables arranged Scandinavian-style in a horseshoe, probably for good luck.  There were 40 guests and after this repast, chairs were pushed aside for social dancing on the polished floor.  The café was a single large room with walls of rosy brown and light varnished woodwork, blue and white checkered curtains and windows with a view for everyone.  On the upper floor were seven light, airy bedrooms with ocean views.  The building was of rather nondescript white stucco with blue window casings.

little hotel by the sea heidi house

In 1928, the hotel had acquired its second owner, Mrs. Agnes Hurley and her family.  With the aid of Thomas L. Shepherd of Mann Shepherd Architects, the original small building of "nondescript exterior" was converted into a charming low-lying building of Mediterranean-style and tastefully appointed rooms.  The size was nearly doubled, and a rooftop solarium was added providing the guests with a sunny resting place with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and La Jolla shoreline.

In 1929, it took another stride forward when it went through a major remodeling and redecorating, under Shepherd's skillful hands.  It emerged with a new lobby and the large main window was enhanced with window boxes and tiles from Mexico.  The hotel also emerged with a six-passenger solid-mahogany elevator housed in a steel tower erected from solid rock beneath the hotel.  Soon after, it became recognized as the "The Smallest Hotel in the World with an Elevator".

The hotel continued to flourish. Its locale and atmosphere lent itself to people vacationing from all over the world. These people would return time and again because of the homelike surroundings conducive to quiet and rest.  Pages of the hotel register show the signatures of such personalities as Mrs. Cecil B. DeMille in 1927 and the Wellman family (producer/director) from Hollywood.

In 1940, a nationally known publisher and writer of children's stories, Helena Chase Johnson, bought the hotel and renamed it "La Posada". She and her family of five children lived locally with two Shetland ponies named "Peanuts" and "Pardner".  The two ponies were legends in the small seaside community, often seen grazing on the front lawn "pasture" of the Johnson home. They had the run of the family's home as if they were a pet dog or cat.  They had always shared everything that the Johnson family took part in...Holidays, birthday celebrations, even nightly dinner gatherings.  That is, until the grand re-opening party of La Posada. In 1940, the Johnson's threw a party in the hotel's roof-top solarium to which all in La Jolla were invited. It was the event of the town and one which the entire family would be present...including Peanuts and Pardner…or so they thought. Unfortunately, the only way to reach the solarium was via the hotel's new six-passenger elevator. Despite attempts, it did not prove feasible to get Peanuts and Pardner up the new elevator shaft and they had to sit out on the festivities and serve as official greeters on the ground-floor.

The hotels' name was changed once again in 1957 when a young woman named Heidi and her husband (both arriving straight from Switzerland) took over the management and added to its atmosphere of a European-style "Pension".  It was named The Heidi House until 1966 when it changed to its final and current name, The Little Hotel by the Sea.


little hotel by the sea

In 2007, the property officially became a part of the historic Grande Colonial after operating as a residential apartment complex for the previous 30 years.  Prior to its conversion into hotel accommodations, the Little Hotel underwent a $3.5 million historical restoration project, adding a total of 8 new, residential-style suites to the Grande Colonial's existing inventory of guest rooms and suites.  Upon completion, the wing maintained its individual name as the Little Hotel by the Sea wing.

Two significant elements of the Little Hotel by the Sea project include the restoration of the building's rooftop "loft" and deck, and the restoration of the 1929 Baker & Sons elevator.  Today, the rooftop area is used as a guest library and sitting room, as well as an outdoor terrace providing panoramic views of the Pacific.  The Baker & Sons elevator was also restored to full operation.

The Little Hotel by the Sea wing of the hotel is located at 8045 Jenner Street.  To recognize its historical significance in the development of La Jolla, the building was designated as a historic site in 1984.  The Grande Colonial is located at 910 Prospect Street in La Jolla, California. For additional information, call 858-454-2181 or visit our website at

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