Acclaimed for its spectacular seaside setting, spirited architecture, and world-famous weather, Hotel del Coronado has enjoyed a “charmed history—filled with good fortune, visionary leadership and impeccable timing.”
Although elegant resorts were fairly commonplace in 19th century America, few were being built in locations as remote as Coronado Island, circa 1888. That didn’t deter visionary entrepreneurs Elisha Babcock, Jr., and Hampton Story, two well-to-do midwestern businessmen, who – without any hotel experience between them – decided to buy the peninsula of Coronado in 1885 for $110,000 and build a resort they envisioned as “the talk of the western world.”
Unfortunately, an unexpected downturn in San Diego’s economy (compounded by a nationwide depression) compromised the viability of the resort right from the start. Millionaire John D. Spreckels, of the San Francisco Spreckels Sugar Company, stepped forward to take over financial reins of the fledgling resort.
Thanks to Spreckels’ money and might, The Del was able to survive a triple threat: the institution of income tax (1913), the First World War (1917-1918), and Prohibition (1920), all of which affected personal wealth and travel habits. Spreckels held the modern world at bay until his death in 1926, after which the hotel remained in his family for another 22 years, a stabilizing tenure all but unheard of in American resort history.
As Prohibition dragged on from 1920-1933, the hotel was ideally situated, just minutes from prohibition-free Mexico, to survive as a jumping-off point for recreational pursuits south of the border. Meanwhile, during the Depression (1929-1945), Hollywood money helped keep The Del afloat.
Even during World War II, fortune smiled on The Del. For one thing, the resort was bolstered by San Diego’s ever-growing military economy. Additionally, in an arrangement with the Navy, the resort housed pilots-in-training for Coronado’s nearby Naval Air Station North Island. This infused the hotel with a hum of daily activity and a steady stream of visiting family members, along with a social scene hard to imagine within the context of war. Couples danced, romanced, married and honeymooned at The Del and returned after the war to celebrate.
Between the Depression and World War II, few of the nation’s grand hotels had been kept up and most had lost their civilian following. The post-war mentality was equally harsh, as consumers embraced whatever was new – from TV dinners, fast-food restaurants, and drive-in movies, to shiny new automobiles, bypassing America’s vintage “railroad resorts” in favor of motels.
With the celebration of America’s 1976 bicentennial, travelers began to seek out history-themed vacations, generating renewed interest in The Del’s one-of-a-kind past. Earlier this year, Hotel del Coronado celebrated its 130th birthday as one of America’s last-surviving grande dame resorts.
Ongoing restoration efforts have continued to ensure The Del keeps pace with demands of contemporary travelers while retaining the charm of its original architecture and fabled past. Today, Hotel del Coronado is a National Historic Landmark, proud of its unique position in American history and honored to serve new generations of travelers.