By Sal Maccarone
During the 1880’s while the west was still being won, the transcontinental railroad had finally reached a spur of land on Glorietta Bay near San Diego, California. That is where the rail line ended. This last train stop on the Coronado Peninsula eventually became the city of Coronado, and as with so many rail stops, it was inevitable that a grand hotel would be built there. The Hotel Del Coronado is a story about railroad history, hotel history, perfect weather and good timing.
The “Del” as it is known to locals and frequent guests, is the last remaining grand wooden beach resort hotel. It was the largest hotel in the world when it first opened in 1888. Both a California Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, this Queen Anne Victorian masterpiece is like no other.
First built as an enticement to encourage development during the original San Diego land boom, the Gilded Age Hotel Del Coronado now enjoys a rich 133 year history. The buildings were designed by architects James and Watson Reid in collaboration with the two original owners. At that time, the hotel and adjacent supporting buildings were set upon four thousand acres of land that included the shoreline. Seven stories framed entirely with old growth Douglas fir, it took twenty-two hundred laborers close to a year to build.
The lumber was brought in by sea, and the rest of the building materials, such as the hotel’s distinctive red bricks, were all produced onsite. At first glance, the red roofs, protruding dormers and rotunda are the most distinctive architectural features, but the ornate Queen Anne style is evident inside and out. Very innovated at the time the Hotel Del Coronado featured its own power plant, oil heat, electric lighting and indoor plumbing. Designed around a four sided inner courtyard, the grounds around the hotel were planted with exotic shrubs and trees. There was an onsite bowling alley, a billiard hall, four restaurants and a beautiful beach just steps away. Who would possibly want to leave?
Through the years, the hotel has played host to eleven U.S. presidents, royalty from many nations, authors, inventors and celebrities of every kind. Featured in countless movies, cinematographers from the earliest days of motion picture history have collaborated at the Del. Marilyn Monroe even played the ukulele there during her stay in 1958. Well before that happened, Babe Ruth was said to have hit a baseball from the covered porch of the hotel far into the sea. And, before that, L. Frank Baum worked on his Wizard of Oz series during his many stays at the hotel.
Currently undergoing a phased masterplan of renovations, the Del is still open to the public. Architects and builders are slowly upgrading the entire historic property so that it will last for another 133 years.
Here is a link to a great video about the history and present renovation process at Hotel Del Coronado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr7WbWgr3c0