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Top San Diego restaurateur in escrow to buy North Park’s landmark Lafayette hotel

Lafayette Hotel in North Park
The Lafayette Hotel Swim Club & Bungalows is currently in escrow. CH Projects, a well-known San Diego restaurant group, is the prospective buyer.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Arsalun Tafazoli, whose restaurant holdings include Born & Raised and Ironside, confirmed he is hoping to finalize purchase of the 131-room boutique hotel, which first opened on El Cajon Boulevard in 1946

The prolific San Diego restaurant group, CH Projects, is currently in escrow to purchase the Lafayette Hotel, a North Park landmark that in its heyday was a retreat for some of Hollywood’s most famous movie stars.

The prospective sale, first reported Tuesday by SanDiegoVille.com was confirmed by CH co-founder Arsalun Tafazoli, whose company would be making its first foray into hotel ownership should the purchase be successful. CH Projects is known for its robust portfolio of San Diego drinking and dining venues, including Born & Raised and Ironside Fish & Oyster in Little Italy and Raised by Wolves in in Westfield UTC.

“This is a pretty rare asset with a pretty special history,” Tafazoli said. “The heart and soul of a great hotel is the F & B (food and beverage), so this is a natural progression for us. We wanted to have a truly independent hotel that was a reflection of the community it’s in.

“If we are given the opportunity to take stewardship of this special place, it would be a dream come true.”

Lafayette Hotel owner and developer Jay Wentz of JCG Development said Wednesday that he cannot comment on the sale other than to confirm that “I am in the process of selling it.”

Purchased by Wentz in 2004 for $11 million, the storied hotel underwent an ambitious $6 million renovation that was completed eight years later. Crews uncovered and restored the conservatory room’s terrazzo floor, period bathroom tile work, and the concrete floor in the hotel’s cafe, modernized the rooms with flat-screen TV’s and added a fully equipped workout room.

Also part of the redo were some environmentally sustainable features, among them fuel cells that were added to convert natural gas into electricity and heat the pool, originally designed by “Tarzan” star Johnny Weissmuller and used by Florence Chadwick before she swam the English Channel in 1951.

According to the county Assessor/Recorder’s office, the property’s current assessed value is $10.3 million, although that does not necessarily reflect the market value.

The hotel, which for decades was known for its old-school steakhouse — the now-closed Red Fox Room — is currently short on dining and drinking venues. It has just one eatery — Hope 46 — that is open for al fresco dining. Beefing up and expanding the culinary offerings is something that Tafazoli’s company is presumably well-positioned to tackle should CH acquire the property.

Tafazoli was unwilling to reveal any plans he has in mind for future restaurants or bars, although his overarching goal, he said, is to transform the hotel into a “cultural hub for the neighborhood” that is very oriented to locals.”

He said he expects that transformation could take about 1 1/2 years to execute.

“I think we’ll be able to do something pretty special with it,” Tafazoli predicts. “There are few places in San Diego proper that have that history, and it would be a gift and an honor to push that narrative forward.”

His most visible hotel-related project, which has yet to open, is the rooftop venue on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental in downtown San Diego. While construction is complete, the opening of the Reading Club, described on its website as a members-only restaurant and bar with meeting rooms and outdoor terrace, has been delayed because of the current pandemic restrictions on dining.

Built in a grand colonial style in 1946 by a former car dealer and developer, the Lafayette began life as the Imig Manor with about 250 guest rooms, suites, and apartments. In the 1950s, hotelier and San Diego Charger owner Conrad Hilton purchased the hotel and eventually demolished and relocated several of the property’s apartment buildings, according to the hotel website.

The biggest change recently is the departure of the Red Fox steakhouse after Wentz decided to not renew the lease. The Red Fox owners, though, are close to completing construction across the street of a new incarnation of the restaurant and pub, complete with its well-known piano bar.


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