Hotel del Coronado

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Hotel del Coronado
Coronado del Hotel from the beach.jpg
Hotel del Coronado from the beach, 2011
General information
Location United States
Address 1500 Orange Avenue
Coronado, California
Coordinates Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Opening 1888
Owner Strategic Hotels & Resorts
Technical details
Floor count 7
Design and construction
Architect Reid & Reid
Other information
Number of rooms 680
Number of suites Junior Suites
Victorian Suites
Signature Suite
Resort Suites
Beach Village cottages
Beach Village villas
Number of restaurants 7
Hotel del Coronado
Architectural style Late Victorian, Queen Anne
NRHP Reference # 71000181
CHISL # 844
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 14, 1971
Designated NHL May 5, 1977
Designated CHISL 1970

Hotel del Coronado (also known as The Del and Hotel Del) is a historic beachfront hotel in the city of Coronado, just across the San Diego Bay from San Diego, California. It is one of the few surviving examples of an American architectural genre: the wooden Victorian beach resort. It is the second largest wooden structure in the United States (after the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon) and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977[3][5] and a California Historical Landmark in 1970.[4]

When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. It has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities through the years.[6] The hotel has been featured in numerous movies and books.

The hotel received a Four Diamond rating from the American Automobile Association[7] and was once listed by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world, though it has since been removed from that list.[8]


San Diego land boom

In the mid-1880s, the San Diego region was in the midst of one of its first real estate booms. At that time, it was common for a developer to build a grand hotel as a draw for what would otherwise be a barren landscape. The Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood, California, the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena, the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, and the Hotel Redondo in Redondo Beach, California, were similar grand hotels built as development enticements during this era.[9]

Coronado Beach Company

The Hotel Redondo, ca.1900
Main building of the Hotel del Coronado

In November 1885, five investors went together to buy all of Coronado and North Island, approximately 4,000 acres, for $110,000.[10] Those people were E. S. Babcock, retired railroad executive from Evansville, Indiana; Hampton L. Story, of the Story & Clark Piano Company of Chicago; Jacob Gruendike, president of the First National Bank of San Diego; Heber Ingle and Joseph Collett.

In April 1886, Babcock and Story created the Coronado Beach Company, after which they established a number of additional enterprises to support the development of Coronado. The Coronado Ferry Company built wharves and storage facilities and developed ferryboat service between Coronado and San Diego; The Coronado Water Company piped fresh water under San Diego Bay from the San Diego River; The Coronado Railroad Company provided rail lines in Coronado and eventually a "Belt Line" connected Coronado to San Diego via the Strand. Hotel del Coronado also boasted one of the largest electrical power plants in the state, providing service to the entire community of Coronado until the 1920s.

Restored photochrom print of Hotel del Coronado by William Henry Jackson, c. 1900

The men hired architect James W. Reid, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, who first practiced in Evansville and Terre Haute. His younger brother Merritt Reid, a partner in Reid Brothers, the Evansville firm, stayed in Indiana, but brother Watson Reid helped supervise the 2,000 laborers needed.[9]

Babcock's visions for the hotel were grand:

"It would be built around a court...a garden of tropical trees, shrubs and flowers,.... From the south end, the foyer should open to Glorietta Bay with verandas for rest and promenade. On the ocean corner, there should be a pavilion tower, and northward along the ocean, a colonnade, terraced in grass to the beach. The dining wing should project at an angle from the southeast corner of the court and be almost detached, to give full value to the view of the ocean, bay and city."[11]


Lobby of the Hotel del Coronado

Construction of the hotel began in March 1887, "on a sandspit populated by jack rabbits and coyotes".[12] If the hotel were ever to be built, one of numerous problems to overcome was the absence of lumber and labor in the San Diego area. The lumber problem was solved with contracts for exclusive rights to all raw lumber production of the Dolbeer & Carson Lumber Company of Eureka, California, which was one of the West's largest. Planing mills were built on site to finish raw lumber shipped directly from the Dolbeer & Carson lumber yards, located on the shores of Humboldt Bay.[9] To obtain brick and concrete, Reid built his own kilns. He also constructed a metal shop and iron works.[13]

Labor was provided largely by Chinese immigrants from San Francisco and Oakland.[9]

The Crown Room was Reid's masterpiece. Its wooden ceiling was installed with pegs and glue. Not a single nail was used.[14]

Landscaping for the hotel was completed by Kate Sessions.[10]

Dealing with fire hazards

Reid's plans were being revised and added to constantly. To deal with fire hazards, a freshwater pipeline was run under San Diego Bay. Water tanks and gravity flow sprinklers were installed. He also built two giant cisterns with concrete walls a foot thick in the basement to store rainwater. Although these cisterns were never used for rainwater, they were reputedly very handy for storing alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. Reid also installed the world's first oil furnace in the new hotel, prompting a Los Angeles oil company to build tankers to carry the oil to Coronado.[13] Electric lighting in a hotel was also a world first. The electric wires were installed inside the gas lines, so if the "new-fangled" electricity didn't work, they could always pipe gas in to illuminate the rooms.[9] Contrary to popular rumor, Thomas Edison was not involved in the installation of The Del's electrical system. The electricity was installed by the Mather Electric Company out of Chicago (sometimes referred to as Mather-Perkins Company). An early Del brochure touted its "Mather incandescent electric lamps, of which there are 2,500." Electricity was still new to San Diego, having been first introduced in 1886.

In 1904, Hotel del Coronado introduced the world's first electrically lit, outdoor living Christmas tree. From the San Diego Union, December 25, 1904: "The tree selected for the honor is one of the three splendid Norfolk Island pines on the plaza [grassy area in front of the hotel]. It has attained a height of fifty feet and its branches stand proudly forth. All day yesterday electricians were busy fitting it up and by night 250 lights of many colors gave beauty to the fine old pine. Lanterns, great and small, hung from its boughs. And now that an open-air Christmas tree had been introduced, it is likely that another Christmas Eve will find many California gardens aglow with light scattered from living foliage."

Grand opening and real estate bust

View from the Cabrillo National Monument

When the 399-room hotel opened for business in February 1888,[10][15] 1,440 San Diegans traveled across the bay. Reports of the new grand hotel were wired across the country, but just as the hotel was nearing completion, the Southern California land boom collapsed. Babcock and Story needed additional funds at a time when many people were deserting San Diego. Babcock turned to Captain Charles T. Hinde and sugar magnate John D. Spreckels, who lent them $100,000 to finish the hotel. The Coronado Beach Company was then capitalized with three million United States dollars. The company directors at this time were E.S. Babcock, John Diedrich Spreckels, Captain Charles T. Hinde, H.W. Mallett, and Giles Kellogg.[16] By 1890 Spreckels bought out both Babcock and Story. The Spreckels family retained ownership of the hotel until 1948.[9]

The original grounds had many amenities, including an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, and a yacht club with architecture resembling the hotel's grand tower. A Japanese tea garden, an ostrich farm, billiards, bowling alleys, hunting expeditions, and deep sea fishing were some of the many features offered to its guests.[9]

Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson

On April 7, 1920, Edward, Prince of Wales was honored with a grand banquet in the Crown Room. There has been speculation that it was at this event that he first met his future wife Wallis Spencer, later known as Wallis Simpson, who lived in Coronado at the time.[14] However, most historians believe they did not meet at that time,[17] and both Edward and Wallis wrote in their memoirs that they met much later.[18]

Hollywood's playground

The popularity of the hotel was established before the 1920s. It already had hosted Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Wilson.[19] By the 1920s Hollywood's stars and starlets discovered that 'the Del' was the 'in place' to stay and many celebrities made their way south to party during the era of Prohibition. Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Mae West were a few of the many actors who stayed at the hotel.[20]

On New Year's Day 1937, during the Great Depression, the gambling ship SS Monte Carlo, known for "drinks, dice, and dolls", was shipwrecked on the beach about a quarter mile south of the Hotel del Coronado.[21]

World War II, middle age, and rebirth

During World War II, many West Coast resorts and hotels were taken over by the U.S. government for use as housing and hospitals. The Hotel del Coronado housed many pilots, who were being trained at nearby North Island Naval Air Station on a contract basis, but it was never commandeered. General manager Steven Royce convinced the Navy to abstain from taking over the hotel, because most of the additional rooms were being used to house the families of officers. He pointed out that "the fathers, mothers and wives were given priority to the rooms because it may be the last time they will see their sons and husbands." Ultimately the Navy agreed, and the hotel never was appropriated.[22]

The hotel was designated as a "wartime casualty station". It began a victory garden program, planting vegetables on all spare grounds around the hotel.[23]

Barney Goodman purchased the hotel from the Spreckels in 1948.[24] From the end of World War II until 1960, the hotel began to age. While still outwardly beautiful, neglect was evident. In 1960, local millionaire John Alessio purchased the hotel and spent $2 million on refurbishment and redecorating.[25] Alessio sold the hotel to M. Larry Lawrence in 1963.

Lawrence's initial plan was to develop the land around the hotel and ultimately, to demolish it.[26] Lawrence later changed his mind. During his tenure, Lawrence invested $150 million to refurbish and expand much of the hotel. He doubled its capacity to 700 rooms. He added the Grande Hall Convention Center and two seven-story Ocean Towers just south of the hotel. The Lawrence family sold the hotel to the Travelers Group after his death in 1996.[27] The Travelers Group completed a $55 million upgrade of the hotel in 2001, which included seismic retrofitting.[28]

The Hotel today

View from the surf showing the Beach Village to the left, the Victorian Building in the center, and the California Cabanas and Ocean Towers to the right

While retaining its classic Victorian look, the hotel continues to upgrade its facilities. In July 2005, the hotel obtained approval to construct up to 37 limited-term occupancy cottages and villas on the property. They also received approval to add up to 205 additional rooms.[28]

In 2003, Travelers sold the property to CNL Hospitality Properties Inc. and KSL Recreation Corp (CNL/KSL). This ownership group completed a $10 million upgrade of 381 rooms in June, 2005. The hotel is currently owned by the Blackstone Group LP (60%), Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. (34.5%), and KSL Resorts (5.5%). When Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. bought its stake in 2006, the hotel was valued at $745 million; currently, the hotel is valued at roughly $590 million.[29] In 2014, Strategic Hotels & Resorts became full owners of the hotel.[30]

Notable guests

Notable guests have included Thomas Edison, L. Frank Baum, Charlie Chaplin, King Kalakaua of Hawaii,[31] Vincent Price, Babe Ruth, James Stewart, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. More recently, guests have included Kevin Costner, Whoopi Goldberg, Gene Hackman, George Harrison, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey.[32]

The following presidents have stayed at the hotel: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.[19]

Another famous resident of the hotel is the purported ghost of Kate Morgan. On November 24, 1892, she checked into room 304 (then 3318, now 3327). She told staff she was awaiting the arrival of her brother who was a doctor. She said he was going to treat her stomach cancer, but he never arrived. She was found dead on the steps leading to the beach three days later. The case was declared a suicide; she had shot herself.[33] Another tragedy took place on the beach at the hotel in 1904 when actress Isadore Rush drowned.

In popular culture

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, did much of his writing at the hotel, and is said to have based his design for the Emerald City on it.[34] However, other sources say the Emerald City was inspired by the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.[35][36] Ambrose Bierce used the hotel as the setting for his short story, An Heiress From Redhorse.[citation needed] It also was the setting for the 1975 novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson; however, for the movie version, Somewhere in Time, the story setting and filming were moved to the Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island) on Mackinac Island, Michigan.[citation needed]

The initial story inspiration for the movie and short story 1408 came from a collection of real-life news stories about parapsychologist Christopher Chacon's investigation of a notoriously haunted room at the hotel. The short story was written by Stephen King.[citation needed]

The hotel was first featured in a film in 1927, when it was used as a backdrop for the film The Flying Fleet. Since then, it has been featured in at least twelve other films, including: Some Like It Hot (which starred Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis) where it was called the "Seminole Ritz" (and supposed to be located in southern Florida), The Stunt Man (which starred Peter O'Toole), Wicked, Wicked (which was completely filmed on location there), and the 1990 version of My Blue Heaven (which starred Steve Martin and Rick Moranis).[37]

In the 14th and 15th episodes of the 4th season of Baywatch, called Coronado del Soul Part 1 and 2, the story evolves in and around the Hotel.

The hotel is featured on a US Postage Stamp honoring director Billy Wilder, with images of Marilyn Monroe and the hotel from Some Like It Hot.[38]

James Burke filmed his special The Neuron Suite at the Coronado.[39]

Each December since 1994, Lamb's Players Theatre and the Hotel have presented An American Christmas, a 3-hour Feast & Celebration set 100 years earlier, in the hotel's Ballroom.


  • December lights in Coronado
  • An American Christmas held in the hotel's Ballroom each December
  • Hotel del Coronado Walking tour

See also

  • Thomas Gardiner, Coronado Beach Company advertising manager in the 1890s
  • Charles T. Hinde, board member of the Hotel del Coronado, vice president of the Spreckels Brothers Commercial Company, railroad executive, and steamboat captain.
  • Grand Floridian Hotel, a 1988 hotel whose exterior architecture is based on the Hotel Del Coronado
  • Grand Rapids Hotel, a 1922 hotel built by Frederick Hinde Zimmerman, the nephew of Captain Charles T. Hinde, one of the original investors of the Hotel del Coronado.


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  14. 14.0 14.1 Historic American Buildings Survey: 5
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  16. McGrew, Clarence Alan "City of San Diego and San Diego County:the birthplace of California, Volume 1 (Google eBook)" American Historical Society, 1922
  17. Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1992
  18. San Diego Union Tribune, October 13, 2009
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  35. Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2009
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Further reading

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  • Nolan, John Matthew "2,543 Days: A History of the Hotel at the Grand Rapids Dam on the Wabash River" Discusses Charles T. Hinde, one of the silent investors of the Hotel del Coronado and how the Hotel del Coronado influenced the Grand Rapids Hotel in Wabash County, Illinois.

External links