Herringbone Haunted by C. Arnholt Smith? Cocktails Toast ‘Friendly Ghost’

Bartenders at Brian Malarkey’s La Jolla restaurant often leave out a drink for ‘Mr. San Diego’

Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey and managing partner James Brennan have no doubt. Their new Herringbone restaurant on Herschel Avenue is haunted.

“It is a friendly ghost. And he is there,” Brennan stated via email.

Even the contractors sensed something during construction. One said he saw unexplained shadows during the revamp from empty warehouse to stylish restaurant, its owners say.

“We truly believe this is a good-natured ghost,” Malarkey said.

And which spirit occupies a place that serves them?

The warehouse-turned-restaurant on Herschel Avenue sat vacant for 30-plus years and is said to be haunted by the spirit of its former owner—C. Arnholt Smith, the prominent banker, developer and original Padres owner.

Smith, a man formerly known as “Mr. San Diego,” was a close friend, adviser and major contributor to President Richard Nixon, as noted by his New York Times obituary. He was a San Diego High School dropout, the developer of the Westgate Hotel downtown, and was convicted of embezzling $8.9 million. But our story does not start with his life; it starts in the after-life.

Smith died in 1996 in Del Mar at the age of 97. Legend has it that his ex-wife Maria Helen Alvarez Smith believed his spirit lived on in the Herschel Avenue property.

The property was once an Oldsmobile dealership, and a wine business run by Smith’s son for a very short while in the 1970s, according to La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten, but sat vacant through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

Legend has it that the property sat vacant because his ex-wife refused to sell the property with Smith’s spirit in the building. It was not until 2010 when she passed away that the long-vacant and run-down property became available. It had served as storage for the family for many years.

But chef Malarkey, whose marketing acumen is legend, won’t let a good tale go untold.

“I haven’t seen him, but we make cocktails for him,” he said. “We do believe he is here.”

Have you sensed or seen a spirit at Herringbone—besides the alcoholic kind?


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