From the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s downtown San Diego experienced a protracted decline and lost its luster as a retail and entertainment destination. Now under new ownership, the Pickwick Hotel started to show its age as well.
New owners Ken Winslow and Harki Parekh purchased the property in 1986 and systematically started to repair the hotel over the next 20 years. With the opening of the immensely successful Horton Plaza retail mall, the rejuvenation of the historic Gaslamp District and the construction of Petco Park, downtown San Diego became a desirable destination again. The location of this hotel was absolutely ideal for us in our discoveries of downtown San Diego.
Brian and Danny, my tour guides
After this brief introduction of the hotel’s history, we stepped outside the hotel, which is located at the intersection of West Broadway and First Avenue. The statue of the businessman outside the entrance was dedicated to the Center City Development Corporation and City Council as a way of thanking the city for revitalizing this entire district. Brian pointed out that Horton Plaza and the Gaslamp District are literally just a 10 minute walk away. The Sofia is also just seven blocks from the waterfront and the Port area.
The sculpture of the businessman outside the Sofia Hotel
Talking about history, the Sofia Hotel became a member of the Historic Hotels of America last year and is the only historic hotel in downtown San Diego. A photo in the entrance area shows the radio towers that used to adorn the hotel in 1934 where 50,000 Watts of airwaves were beamed out all over San Diego.
A downtown landmark since 1926: The newly remodelled Hotel Sofia
In a hallway to the left of the lobby we stopped to admire some pictures of the renovation. Brass pictures of the designer, the architects and the owners adorn the wall. One of the pictures shows the renovation, and the unique thing about the entire remodeling process was that the owners kept 12 housekeepers as well as Brian and Danny on staff to help with the demolition. The team removed carpets, ceiling fans, sinks and toilets from 242 hotel rooms, and 720 old doors were ripped out. Danny and Brian said it was great to keep their jobs during the renovation phase and to participate in the transformation of this hotel. Their sense of ownership and pride of the newly restored and glamorous Sofia Hotel was obvious.
A true historical landmark
Less than three weeks away from Christmas, the lobby was aglow with holiday decorations. Brian added that the hotel currently features a total of 14 Christmas trees, all decorated by the owners. Real orchids adorn the common areas as well as all the hotel rooms. At the back of the lobby facing the entrance is a painting of a young girl on the beaches of Coronado. This girl, Ken Winslow’s granddaughter, is named Sofia and was the inspiration for the new name of the completely remodeled hotel. A cozy sitting area invites guests to sit down and relax by the fireplace.
A well-equipped business centre
To the left of the lobby is the business centre which features three brand-new desktop computers, high-speed fibre-optic Internet, colour and black & white printers and fax capabilities. This business centre is available to the guests 24 hours a day.
Dramatic architecture inside the “Currant” restaurant