The resident historian at Hotel del Coronado notes that the historic beachfront property — marking its 125th anniversary this year — not only put San Diego on the map as a national tourist destination, but also helped pave the way for the military presence that also drives the local economy.
Businessman and entrepreneur John D. Spreckles came to the rescue of the hotel’s original owners as the property struggled in the tough economy of 1888. Under Spreckles’ ownership, the hotel promoted development of a military base, and Spreckles himself later offered low-cost land parcels to the nation’s earliest independent aviation pioneers to test out their planes.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, all of this caught the attention of the U.S. Army, and later the U.S. Navy, which went on to make San Diego its largest home base in the nation.
“It was pivotal in the business development of Coronado, but it’s become an icon of the whole San Diego region,” said Christine Donovan, the hotel’s director of heritage programs. “The hotel was very fortunate over the years to be owned by people who were very forward-thinking.”
125th Birthday Milestone
Her name is not on the cover, but Donovan authored a newly released book, Hotel del Coronado History, published by its heritage programs department in commemoration of the property’s 125th birthday. It will be followed throughout the year by a series of hotel promotions and holiday events incorporating the milestone.
The 1888 opening date has traditionally been observed as Feb. 19, when the first meal was served at the hotel, though newspaper reports at the time noted that guests began arriving in late January. Over the decades, it has undergone a series of ownership changes, renovations and rebirths after major struggles to stay in business.
History and nostalgia buffs are among the most avid visitors to the 757-room beachfront property, which employs more than 1,000 people and has hosted Hollywood stars, U.S. presidents and numerous other notables over the years.
“Our history page on our site is one of the most visited pages,” said Barry Brown, the hotel’s regional director of sales and marketing. “There is a multi-generational thing at work here, where people remember their grandparents and their parents taking them here when they were young, and now they are taking their own kids to The Del.”
The hotel continues to compete effectively with much younger and hipper properties for major U.S. industry awards and accolades, with numerous recognitions for its history, architecture, family friendliness and well-kept sandy beach area. Most recently, USA Today named it among the top 27 out of 1,400 U.S. hotels of historical significance, based on feedback from historians and frequent travelers.