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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 California Historical Landmark in 1970 and a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

When it opened in 1888, it was the single largest resort hotel in the world. It has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities through the years. The hotel has been featured in numerous movies and books. A great place to have Santa for hire come out for all the children and take pictures.

The hotel received a Four Diamond rating from the American Automobile Association and was once listed by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world.

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.

Coronado Beach Company

The Hotel Redondo, ca.1900

The 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. 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 freshwater 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.

Babcock’s Vision

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 the 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.”


The lobby of the Hotel del Coronado

Construction of the hotel began in March 1887, “on a sandspit populated by jackrabbits and coyotes”. If the hotel were ever to be built, one of the 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. To obtain brick and concrete, Reid built his own kilns. He also constructed a metal shop and ironworks.

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

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

Landscaping for the hotel was completed by Kate Sessions.

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