“A one-of-a-kind hotel experience to excite and inspire a new generation”
Plans have been submitted for a new and modern Villa Capri, the hotel property that sits at 1417 Orange Avenue, just across from the entrance of Hotel del Coronado, and that was once part of John D Spreckels’ backyard Japanese tea garden.
The hotel was acquired in October of 2017 for just over $6 million by J Street Hospitality, a real estate investment and development company specializing in hospitality projects, based in downtown San Diego.
Led by President Saj Hansji, a resident of Coronado, the firm prides itself on developing lifestyle-branded hotels and concepts that are exciting and community-based.
Just as Villa Capri was considered new and modern for the times when it opened in 1956 – complete with neon signage and a purple wrought-iron staircase crossing its courtyard pool – the new hotel will feature a design that is modern, elegant and inspirational.
The former motel property will be replaced by a 40-room boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant. The new hotel intends on honoring the past by maintaining not only the name Villa Capri, but also the iconic diving lady and large neon signs that locals are used to seeing lighting up Orange Avenue. The new design will replace the existing row of parking along Orange Avenue and curb cut that runs the length of the property with a striking new pedestrian-friendly entry experience.
“The effect is to bridge the space between pedestrians on the sidewalk with guests in our lobby,” explained project architect Frank Ternasky, AIA, LEED AP, of the San Diego-based architectural firm, Delawie. “We have aimed for a design that is minimal, relaxed and high-end.”
The ground floor viewscape will stretch across a covered motor court accented with natural brick pavers, and through the hotel lobby, made seamless through foldaway glass doors.
While altogether original, Villa Capri’s design will also be familiar through the integration of the hotel’s history, pulling from Japanese and Italian influences.
Through the Japanese principal of “Wabi-Sabi,” the new Villa Capri will feature a design that is focused and minimal, with natural colors and textures such as clean concretes and nature-inspired textures. Warm and rich ipe hardwoods will be used on shutters and as accents in the lobby, which will also include a carved stone water feature. Curated botanicals will include several species of bamboo, red dragon tree, oyster plants, dwarf yeddo hawthorne, lemon butter fern and green gem fig.
Connecting with the spirit of Italian “mod” through the concept of “La Dolce Vida,” the new design with be infused with pops of color, bold, yet restrained design and artwork that will change seasonally. The three upper floors will be accessed via an interior elevator, and a stairway entrance will be graced by the original “Diving Lady” neon blade sign. The original Villa Capri neon script will be highlighted in the rooftop restaurant and bar, which will feature light appetizers and drinks. “We definitely want the lounge to enhance the guest experience as a calm and casual gathering spot,” Ternasky said. “In addition, the rooftop lounge will provide the community a place to enjoy views that stretch all the way from Glorietta Bay to the hills of Mexico.”
The design theme will carry over to all guestrooms that will feature either king or double queen beds; baths will incorporate spacious showers. Several rooms will feature balconies and four ground-floor rooms will include private patios. Guestrooms will feature luxury amenities and plush bathrobes.
“We want our guests to enjoy an immersive inspirational experience that entices the senses and elevates the spirit,” explained Jeff Schwartz, J Street Hospitality’s Executive Vice President, who leads the Villa Capri project team. The team also includes J Street Director of Architecture Sam Beard, Project Manager Jon Cummings, as well as Principal in charge Frank Ternasky and Project Manager Kirstin Berquist of Delawie.
“For example, we plan to have a signature hotel scent – perhaps white tea sea salt – and curated playlists for guestroom entertainment centers,” Schwartz said. “At check-in, we’ll have welcome gifts for our guests as well, perhaps Italian spritzers and warm guest hand towels.”
Guests will find it much easier to arrive and depart the hotel, Schwartz noted.
A turnout will allow guests to pull into a covered plaza via a small vehicle entry, where a valet will greet them, and direct them to the reception desk. Meanwhile, the valet will attend to their luggage and park the car in the underground parking garage, accessed by car elevator.
The garage will accommodate 21 vehicles, via “stacker” technology, effectively doubling the number of current parking spaces. When valets deliver cars for guests’ departure, the vehicles will face forward, allowing easier access to Orange Avenue. An additional ADA-accessible space is located on the main level.
J Street Hospitality has employed the car elevator system at its Moxy by Marriott 126-room property that opened last year in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. Prior to Moxy, the company has completed three other Gaslamp Quarter projects: Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn by Marriott and Hotel Z. The company is in the development process on five additional sites in the San Diego and San Francisco regions.
When it opened in 1956, Villa Capri was considered “hip and modern,” J Street Hospitality’s President Saj Hansji noted, with owner Bettye Vaughen bringing a bit of Hollywood to the hotel.
“Bettye’s style, both in architecture and brand experience, set the Villa Capri apart for a generation,” Hansji said.
Bettye Vaughen was a model and aspiring actress, whose agent also represented Rita Hayworth and Cary Grant. Shortly after she married, Bettye was introduced to director Howard Hawks, who chose her to play opposite John Wayne in the 1948 film, Red River. Alas, when Bettye announced she was expecting her first child, the role was assigned to another actress. Bettye and her husband, a Navy pilot, soon moved to Coronado, where he flew out of North Island.
Bettye quickly noticed that there was a lack of hotel choices in Coronado, particularly for visitors of a discriminating taste who wanted something new and different. Seeing an opportunity, she approached her mother, Dulcie Trowbridge, who was active in real estate, and together they purchased a 7,000-square-foot land parcel that had once been part of the John D. Spreckels’ Japanese tea garden at the rear of his mansion (now Glorietta Bay Inn). Their purchase price: $14,500.
The new hotel of 15 rooms, designed by Bettye and her contractor, former Coronado Mayor Walter Vestal, opened July 25, 1956. It featured such modern features as a central courtyard dominated by an oval pool, with a vibrant purple staircase crossing its waters to reach the second floor.
Opening night, and several nights thereafter, featured pool parties, under the delighted eyes of the diving bathing beauty on the novel neon blade sign out front.
Bettye Vaughen, who ultimately raised six children and returned home to Los Angeles 20 years after Villa Capri’s opening, remained the hotel’s owner until her death at 97 years in 2016.
Hansji, who grew up in Southern California, founded J Street Hospitality in 2011 after several years in the hotel industry. He holds a Bachelor of Science in hotel administration from Cornell University and an MBA from University of Southern California.
In describing his company, Hansji said it is “radically traditional” with the values of honesty, transparency and integrity underlying all its actions. “If something is based on truth, that will ultimately suffice,” he said.
Hansji said these same values are what led him three years ago to choose to live in Coronado.
“This is a community that I feel connected to. Coronado is a humble community, where everyone I meet is honest, open and friendly.
“Also, I have traveled extensively, and I can tell you with certainty that Coronado’s beach is one of the most beautiful in all the world. Developing a new hotel so close to this asset makes the utmost sense.
“We look forward to developing Villa Capri for new generations to enjoy. We don’t want it to be homogenous, we don’t want it to be ‘status quo.’
“When we approach projects, there is always a purpose – an underlying reason that interests or excites me,” Hansji continued. “If there is history or a story that has some relevance, that’s exciting to me! In San Francisco, we are planning to convert a historic office building that traced its roots to 1922 as the Spring Valley Water Company headquarters to an AC Hotel, by Marriott. There, we will honor Maynard Dixon, one of the premiere artists and muralists of the American West, whose mural still resides in the building, and who worked as an illustrator for the San Francisco Call newspaper. Coincidentally, the newspaper was owned for a time by John Spreckels.
“In San Diego, we honored longtime city planner John Nolen who mapped out much of San Diego’s early landscape by naming our rooftop bar and lounge atop the Courtyard Marriott in his honor.
“History and art are important in development and design work. These elements help honor and celebrate a community’s character,” he said.
As Hansji looks back at the history of Villa Capri, he places himself in the shoes of Bettye Vaughen, back in the mid-1950s, as she introduced Villa Capri to Coronado.
“Offering something new and different for visitors of a discriminating taste was an overarching goal set forth by Bettye in her original vision for this site,” Hansji said. “Her style, both in architecture and brand experience, set the Villa Capri apart for a generation. It is the goal of J Street to continue that legacy by again creating a one-of-a-kind experience that addresses the needs of the local community as much as those of the discerning traveler.”