Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hotel Del Coronado

The weekend of June 14 was, not only Fathers’ Day but also my son Hunter’s birthday so it seemed a good excuse to pay him a visit in Los Angeles.

I thought that even for me it would be a good idea to stay away from any art museum or exhibition for a few days so that it would not just be another busman’s holiday.  It would also not be a treat for Hunter to just do what he has always done with his parents.
So we decided to spend the weekend at a resort near San Diego, not too far from LA, except on Friday afternoon when the 2½ hour drive took 5 hours!   It was worth it, however.

We stayed at a historical resort, the Hotel Del Coronado also known as the Del.  It is a nineteenth century fantasy castle.

In fact our room mirrored part of the fantasy.   We had a view over the beautiful garden with palm trees that were higher than the 3 story hotel. We also had two closets one with a window that had room enough for a cot.  Hunter said, I could have brought some of my friends along!

In 1885 two mid-western businessmen, Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story, bought the entire uninhabited Island of Coronado and decided to build their fantasy, which opened in 1888.   It was the largest resort in the country and in 1977 it was designated a Historic Landmark.

The purchasers of the island, Babcock and Story had to bring electricity (quite a modernity at the time) to the island and they clearly were not so sure about its reliability since they ran the electric lines along the gas lines to the rooms.   They also brought fresh water to the island delivered through pipelines under the bay.  They built a steam ferry capable of carrying 60 people and 13 teams of horses.   Even though the island was only a mile off shore in the 1960’s a 2½ mile bridge was built from San Diego to the island.  Since the North Island had become a Naval base they had to make the bridge that long in order to achieve a height under which an air craft carrier could pass. Babcock and Story held a land auction to help defray the costs of the hotel, offering benefits to those who started building within the first 6 months of ownership.   Already by 1887 a year before the hotel was to open Babcock was having financial difficulties and in 1888 he started borrowing funds from John D. Spreckels of the Spreckels Sugar Company and by 1889 Spreckels was the majority shareholder but Babcock continued to work at the hotel for the next 15 years.  Spreckels brother stayed in San Francisco where they had grown up and his heirs became good clients of Rosenberg & Stiebel.  Some years ago the director asked me to look up the history of works of art that they had received from the family many years ago.

Quickly, the Del captured the imagination for its beauty and luxury.  11 U.S. presidents have visited the hotel starting with Benjamin Harrison in 1891 going up to modern times and George W. Bush.   Another client of our art gallery is mentioned in the brochure of the hotel, the Prince of Wales came in 1920.  He would become King Edward VIII and when he abdicated to marry the American divorcee Wallis Spencer Simpson became the Duke of Windsor.  I remember that they had pug dogs and they bought several 18th century Meissen pugs from us.

Less surprising is that many actors visited the Del since it is so near to Hollywood but we also find films were made here.  The 1950’s were not a great period for the Del, which made it less expensive for producers giving them a further enticement.  The run-away hit “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis was filmed there in 1958.  The in-room film about the history of the hotel included clips from several other movies that had been made there.

One of the tidbits that I found particularly appealing was the Frank Baum who wrote the “Wizard of Oz” wrote some of his later Oz books there and I wouldn’t be surprised if parts of Oz were not inspired by the hotel itself.  Baum spent many months at the hotel every year and in fact he designed the chandeliers for the hotel’s grandest room.  They echo its name, the Crown Room.

From 1887, before the hotel even opened, the property became a popular place to hold weddings.  Both nights that we were at the hotels we saw weddings and one was celebrated on the beach with the cocktails and dinner also in the sand.  There were many other couples who were celebrating their anniversaries.

To take full advantage of all the restaurants at the Del as well as the many shops, the pools and, of course the beautiful beach and oceanfront a few more days would not have been wasted!

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