WASHINGTON, July 7, 2017 — Travelers, historians, ghost hunters and movie buffs should all rejoice: The Hotel Del Coronado has changed hands once again. It was owned by the Anbang Insurance Group, a Beijing-based Chinese insurance company, but is now a Hilton property, owned by The Blackstone Group out of New York.
The landmark resort property has looked out over the San Diego Bay since 1887. It is one of the last remaining examples of American-Victorian, wooden beach resort architecture.
The story of the Hotel del Coronado is a story of American ingenuity. In November, 1885, a group of men—E.S. Babcock, Hampton L. Story, Jacob Bruendike, Heber Ingle and Joseph Collett—who hunted birds on the property bought 4,000 acres for $110,000, creating the Coronado Beach Company.
Architect James W. Reid of New Brunswick Canada, who at 34 was young for the job, envisioned a grand hotel. He wrote:
“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.”
When it first opened, the 757 room Hotel del Coronado was the largest resort hotel in the world. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Construction began in earnest in May, 1887, employing 250 men. At the time, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that there was “a million feet of lumber scattered about the yard and more is coming all the time.” The hotel was built of Douglas fir (the frame), California redwood (the exterior), hemlock and cedar timbers. The magnificent lobby, housing the first working elevator in North America, features white oak from Illinois.
To provide the bricks necessary for the construction, kilns were built on the property, along with a metal shop and iron works. The trees, shipped down the coast from Dolbeer & Carson Lumber Company of Eureka, California, were planed into lumber on site.
Labor was provided mostly by Chinese immigrants from San Francisco.
The hotel is the second largest wooden structure in the United States. The largest is the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon. The Victorian-style building was designed in the shape of an E for Queen Elizabeth.
The Crown Room, where it is said that Prince Edward first met Wallace Simpson, the commoner for whom he would abdicate his crown, is an architectural marvel. It was built with pegs and glue, and not a single nail. The cottage in which their romance flourished is preserved and can be viewed by visitors.
Hotel del Coronado has been at the center of our popular culture. Frank Baum designed the chandeliers in the Crown Room because he thought the room needed some “elegance”, and it his said he wrote his story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on Coronado Island. Abrose Bierce used the hotel as a setting for “An Heiress From Redhorse.”
Singer Jim Morrison called The Del home for a while.
Eleven U.S. presidents, including President Taft, whose sister lived in Coronado, have spent at least one night under The Del’s red roof. President Franklin and Mrs. Roosevelt visited in 1935, flying the presidential flag from the red turret and making The Del the White House for the day.
President Nixon hosted the first state dinner held outside the White House at The Del. The guest list included President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz of Mexico, former President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, California Governor and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.
President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Carter stayed at The Del in 1979, 1989, 2012 and 2013. President Ford was also a frequent visitor.
Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic film, “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis was filmed there. The movie plays on a continuous loop on the property.
The hotel is also home to a resident ghost, Kate Morgan, who committed suicide on the beach in 1892. The legend is that she was pregnant and waiting for her husband, who never showed. Despondent, she killed herself.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was honored with a celebration in the Crown Room after his solo trans-Atlantic flight.
The Hotel del Coronado is the first to have a steam powered, hydraulic elevator, still manually operated, and was a first for having incandescent electric lights, something new to San Diego in 1886.
The hotel had a freshwater pipeline that ran under the bay to San Diego that would bring water to gravity flow, state-of-the-art fire sprinklers. There are also two cisterns with foot thick walls in the basement, to store rainwater for use in case of fire. However, they were only used during prohibition to store cases of alcohol.
Aiding in their cocktail production, the hotel had an artificial ice machine that produced 15 tons per day, its own electrical plant and laundry machines.
The original hotel featured the luxury of private bathrooms, and in 1888 it boasted water on demand for its toilets and 71 bathtubs.
Hilton officials told the Union-Tribune on Tuesday that the company’s physical presence will be understated; no large Hilton marquees will adorn the facade of the famous, red-roofed Victorian building. Hilton says it expects its marketing muscle and membership program will broaden the reach of the 757-room hotel that already is widely known.