Featured Project: A New Gateway in San Diego

April 1, 2006
By Janet Wiens
The Hotel Solamar serves as a new gateway between San Diego’s Gaslamp and Sports and Entertainment districts.

By Janet Wiens

Creating a gateway or transition between two distinct urban areas can be challenging. In San Diego, the task was successfully completed with the new 235,000 sq. ft. Hotel Solamar. This striking property is located between the city's historic Gaslamp District and the Sports and Entertainment District developed around Petco Park—the new baseball stadium for the San Diego Padres.

"The hotel's design had to be sensitive to two areas with very distinct characteristics," says Frank Ternasky, AIA, principal-in-charge for Architects Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker—the San Diego-based architectural firm that helped to create the hotel's image. "There are many three-story brick buildings, including shops, restaurants, small offices and warehouses in the Gaslamp District. The Sports and Entertainment District on the other hand has many newer structures that are seven stories tall and above. Our work had to respect both areas while also having its own signature."

Ternasky says that the design solution engages the street on three sides of the property. The main restaurant entry and retail are on J Street, which features a bold corner entrance. The hotel entry and restaurant bar is on Sixth Avenue, and the ballroom opens onto Seventh Avenue. The ample connections to the street encourage pedestrian interaction with the property.

"The three-story brick building that is part of the project features materials and details found in the Gaslamp District," Ternasky says. "We placed the pool, outdoor areas and Jbar on top of the structure to provide a place to look out onto the surrounding area. In contrast, the 10-story hotel tower has a smooth plaster finish and is more in keeping with the height of buildings found in the Sports and Entertainment District."

Hotel Solamar, which means sea and sun, is vibrant, engaging and fun. "Our theme started with the name," says Susan Caruso, president of Intra-Spec, Inc., Marina del Rey, (CA)—the hotel's interior designer. "The sun and sea are integral to the hotel's marketing plan, and elements related to these subjects are used throughout the public areas and guest rooms. The interior design also has an urban flavor that incorporates many distinct and playful touches."

Major features carried throughout the public areas include colors of chocolate and aqua blue, which begin in the lobby and appear in all areas of the hotel. Seashell touches in the lobby were also used in artwork found in the guest rooms.

The sun behind the registration desk in the lobby provides a vivid image for hotel guests. The French limestone floor, which is bordered and inset with palm wood, provides a nice "mirror" to the wood inset in the ceiling. An aqua creations wall at one end of the lobby further brings the sea into the space.

A living room off the lobby provides an intimate gathering space for guests and features a fireplace, multiple seating options and leather-covered walls. The area rugs have images of turtles, which appear to float on the floor. A library, which is also located off the lobby, has shelves full of books and a game table.

The placement of the 3,000 sq. ft. ballroom with its entrance on Seventh Avenue offers easy access during events. The ballroom can be divided into three sections to facilitate the hosting of simultaneous events for smaller groups.

Meetings can be accommodated in the boardroom or in one of two meeting rooms—all of which feature full AV capabilities. The boardroom, which is located adjacent to the living room, is very stately with its crown molding, which is also inset in the ceiling, wood chair rail and candle-pillar light fixtures. The mahogany table adds even more elegance to the room.

Bob Puccini, restaurant designer and president of the Puccini Group, is a San Diego native, so his work in the Jsix restaurant and Jbar evokes architectural influences from the area. In the Jsix restaurant, reinterpreted images of Balboa Park's Spanish-Moorish architecture, La Jolla's Athenaeum, and other icons from San Diego's past appear. The restaurant has two entrances, and a bar and demonstration kitchen were placed in the center of the space to connect the two sides of the restaurant together. The design includes plaster-cast ceilings with handcrafted flower and metal grillwork that draws the eye upward. Sheer stain and linen fabrics in rust, copper, olive and navy soften the volume of the ceiling, and the banks of arched windows balance the lighting used throughout the space with natural light during the daytime.

The Jbar is located upstairs from the restaurant on the pool deck and an elevator in the restaurant connects the two dining areas. Features in the bar include a thatched roof and teak furniture. Fabrics in hues of blue, purple and red are colorful and play nicely off the nearby pool. At night, the palm trees around the bar and pool are lit with blue, green and purple lights—a nice tie to the fabrics used in the bar.

Guest rooms continue the urban style with rich woods, generously sized veranda-style lounge chairs and white leather-like wallcovering with baseball-stitched leather panels—a subtle reference to nearby Petco Park. Kimpton, the hotel's operator, has made this a dog-friendly property, so it is fitting that the accent pillows used on many of the beds have dogs with bones. Throws at the foot of the beds have large polka dots—a nice contrast to the striped bedskirts. The bold-striped window coverings continue the aqua/chocolate theme that begins in the lobby. Bathrooms are very spa-like in quality with top-mounted sinks and back-lit mirrors that glow against the aqua-colored glass.

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