Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado (also known as The Del and Hotel del) is a beachfront luxury 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 one of the oldest and largest all-wooden buildings in California and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and is a designated California Historical Landmark.

When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world and the first to use electrical lighting. It has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities throughout the years. The hotel has been featured in numerous movies and books.

The hotel received the Four Diamond rating from the American Automobile Association, and was once listed by USA Today as one of the "Top 10 Resorts In The World," though it has since been removed from that list.

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 Del Monte in Monterey, and the Hotel Redondo in Redondo Beach California were similar grand hotels built as development enticements during this era.

Coronado Beach Company

On December 19, 1885, Elisha S. Babcock, retired railroad executive from Evansville, Indiana; Hampton L. Story, of the Story and Clark Piano Company of Chicago; and Jacob Gruendike, president of the First National Bank of San Diego, bought all of Coronado and North Island for $110,000.

A 24-page prospectus with the title Coronado Beach. San Diego, California, asserted that "The Coronado Beach Company has been organized with a capital of One Million Dollars …." The officers were Babcock, Story, and Gruendike. Also involved with the company at this early stage were three men from Indiana: railroad baron Josephus Collett of Terre Haute, lumber merchant Heber Ingle of Patoka, and John Igleheart, a miller, who later became famous through the development of Swansdown flour.

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.

Babcock's visions for the hotel were grand:


Construction of the hotel began in March 1887 "on a sandspit populated by jack rabbits and coyotes". Among numerous problems to overcome if the hotel were ever to be built, 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.

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

Reid's plans were being revised constantly and added to. To deal with fire hazards, a freshwater pipeline was run under San Diego Bay. Water tanks and gravity flow sprinklers were installed. Reid installed the world's first oil furnace in the new hotel. 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 illuminating gas into the rooms.Thomas Edison inspected the final electrical installation and returned in 1904 to oversee the nation's first illuminated outdoor Christmas tree, which was placed on the hotel's lawn.

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

Grand opening and real estate bust

When the hotel opened for business in February 1888, 1,440 San Diegans traveled across the bay. News reports of the new grand hotel were wired across the county, but just as the hotel was nearing completion, the Southern California land boom had turned bust. Babcock and Story needed additional funds at a time when many people were deserting San Diego. Babcock turned to sugar magnate John D. Spreckels, who loaned them $100,000 to finish the hotel. By 1890 Spreckels bought out both Babcock and Story. The Spreckels family retained ownership of the hotel until 1948.

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.

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. However, most historians believe they did not meet at that time, and both Edward and Wallis wrote in their memoirs that they met much later.

Hollywood's playground

The popularity of the hotel was established before the 1920s. It already had hosted Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Wilson. By the 1920s Hollywood's stars and starlets discovered that "the Del" was the "in place" to stay. Many celebrities made their way south to party during the era of Prohibition and used the Hotel Del as their personal playground. Tom Mix, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, and Ramon Navarro were a few of the many actors who stayed at the hotel during weekend getaways.

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.

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. Then-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.

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

Barney Goodman purchased the hotel from the Spreckels in 1948. 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. 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. 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. The Travelers Group completed a $55 million upgrade of the hotel in 2001, which included a seismic retrofitting.

The Hotel today

While retaining its classic Victorian looks, 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.

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 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.

  • Front of the Hotel del Coronado

  • Dragon Tree located at the Hotel del Coronado

  • Old building of the Hotel del Coronado

  • The entrance sign at The Del

  • A full view of The Hotel del Coronado

Notable guests

Notable guests have included Thomas Edison, L. Frank Baum, Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Price, Babe Ruth, Veronica Covance, and Reggie White.

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

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), to meet with her husband who was a doctor and he was going to give her medicine for 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. Ever since then, some guests that have checked into room 3327 have reported flickering lights and floating objects.

In fiction and film

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 designs for the Emerald City on the hotel. However, other sources say the Emerald City was inspired by the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.Ambrose Bierce used the hotel as the setting for his short story, An Heiress From Redhorse. 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.

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 del Coronado. The short story is written by Stephen King.

The hotel first was featured in a film during 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), The Stunt Man (which starred Peter O'Toole), the 1973 film Wicked, Wicked (which was completely filmed on location there), and the 1990 version of My Blue Heaven (which starred Steve Martin).


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