By Frank Sabatini Jr.
A marquee in Hotel Circle draws second glances
It has become a common sight in which drivers and their passengers shoot fast photos of the Town and Country’s towering marquee while waiting for the traffic light to change at the corner of Hotel Circle North and Fashion Valley Road.
For decades, the sizable marquee overlooking the busy crossroad was reserved for displaying the names of organizations holding conventions at the 32-acre resort. Yet as of last summer it became a signboard for some of the quirkiest and funniest public statements the hotel industry in Mission Valley has ever seen.
“Procrastinators conference postponed,” read one of the earlier postings.
“A penny saved is a really bad savings plan,” read another, followed weeks later by: “3 out of 2 people have trouble with fractions.”
Mission Hills resident Tommy McNeil works in a nearby office complex and regularly passes the marquee on his way to work. The random statements—posted always in removable, uppercase letters—started grabbing his attention last year. He soon called the hotel for an explanation.
“I was confounded and amused,” he recalls. “They told me it was part of an ongoing contest for Town and Country employees, for whoever can come up with the most imaginative thoughts.”
Before recently leaving her position as the resort’s director of sales and marketing, Stephanie Hinkley described the “contest” as a lighthearted effort for keeping the hotel “relevant and fun” as it finally approaches the first phase of a $70 million makeover.
The sweeping renovation, due to start later this year, comes after lengthy holdups involving labor groups and the San Diego City Council. It will see the demolition of Googie-style buildings, vintage bungalows, weathered gazebos and tended gardens that have become indigenous to the property since it opened in the early 1950s as a quaint motor lodge.
The redesign is slated to include freshly constructed guest structures, a new pavilion, green spaces and more than 800 housing units. All phases of the project are due for completion in 2022.
“It will be transformative, but much of the design will still have that midcentury feel,” Hinkley said.
Since June, employees at the hotel have been invited to submit random thoughts to the marketing department for a chance at seeing them splashed across the marquee, which Hinkley said will also be torn down in the redevelopment process “maybe later this year.”
In the meantime, the marketing coordinators sift through an ever-growing repository of marquee submissions and choose a favorite every week. Employees whose ideas are used receive internal shout-outs and recognition in the company newsletter.
The hotel’s chief engineer, John Medcalf, contributed a winning submission that appeared on the marquee for a week in February: “If a dog sees a police dog, does he think cop?”
The idea, he recalled, “just kind of formed in my mind.” It was chosen over his previous submission that read: “Magicians, quit making the money disappear.”
Haley Asturias is the hotel’s social media coordinator. She says guests and locals alike regularly post pictures of the marquee on social media almost every week. She, too, saw her submission looming over the property earlier this year—and with a season-appropriate slant intended to incite chuckles from back-East guests: “In San Diego we like to watch winter from our televisions.”
But the weekly musings posted on the marquee aren’t the only offbeat visuals catching people by surprise.
Wander through the grounds and behold lawns occupied by large flocks of multi-colored plastic flamingos as well as herds of ceramic “security” rabbits poised alertly on their hind legs. In addition, bright-yellow rubber ducks have taken residence in the main fountain, located near an enclosed Tiki-style hut that will soon disappear.
“These are all reminders to relax and have fun. They mark a change in our creative department for guests to think of the Town and Country as a throwback to simpler times,” said Asturias.
Hinkley cited that in waiting for the green light over the past year to move ahead with renovations, “we needed to be less serious.” She added that public feedback to the property’s unconventional installments, particularly the marquee postings, has been “incredibly enthusiastic.” A few people, she noted, have expressed confusion or distaste for what they’ve seen “even though there’s been no ill intent on our part.”
The Town and Country is co-owned by Lowe Enterprises, AECOM Capital and C. Terry Brown. It is located at 500 Hotel Circle North. For more information and updates, call 619-291-7131 or visit towncountry.com.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.