The Intriguing History of Hotel Del Coronado


Hotel del Coronado is a jewel that sets off the beauty of San Diego. If you haven’t had a chance to visit, it is worth every minute. This sprawling historic beachfront hotel complex is in the city of Coronado, which is just across the San Diego bay. It is unique for so many reasons, including an architectural one: it is one of the few surviving examples of a wooden Victorian beach resort. In fact, it is the second largest wooden structure in the United States and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and a California Historical Landmark in 1970. In fact, the only wooden structure that is larger than Hotel del Coronado is the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon.


When you walk inside the lobby of this grand hotel, you truly feel transported back in time. It opened its beautiful doors in 1888, and at the time was the largest resort hotel in the world. Many US Presidents, royalty and celebrities have enjoyed their stays at the Hotel del Coronado through the years. A few years ago, USA Today ranked it as one of the top ten resorts in the world.


The Del was unique, with its one-of-a-kind sweeping silhouette. Some have called it a cross between a well-trimmed ship and ornate wedding cake. It became a landmark destination for the rich and famous of the day, who would come with servants in tow and stay throughout the winter months.


Who Built Hotel del Coronado?

In 1885, two retired mid-western businessmen, Elisha Babcock, Jr., and Hampton Story bought the entire undeveloped peninsula of Coronado. They divided the land, sold off the lots, and with their proceeds began to build what they envisioned as the “talk of the western world.”  Remember that during this time, San Diego didn’t have a way to support such an enormous effort, so everything had to either be imported or built on site. In fact, they had a lumber mill, foundry and electrical power plant right on the property. Incredibly, despite the logistical challenges, the hotel was opened only 11 months after construction began.


In the Beginning

At the start, Hotel del Coronado was supposed to be a hunting and fishing resort for the wealthy. After all, Coronado’s ocean and bays were teeming with marine life, and the nearby lands filled with small game including quail and rabbit. Back in the day, the hotel’s chef would cook a guest’s ‘catch of the day.’ There were a number of activities for hotel guests: billiards, bowling, swimming, boating, croquet, bicycling, golf and of course fine dining. Other rooms were set aside so guests could read, write, play cards or chess, and listen to music.


The Del was also a showcase for its modern technology. It was one of the largest buildings in the country to have electric lighting. Guests could use the hotel’s telephones, elevators and many private bathrooms. Fine china and linen arrived from Europe, and furnishings came in from the east.

Is the Hotel Haunted?

In 1892, a beautiful young woman checked into Hotel del Coronado, and never checked out. Legend has it that her likeness and gentle spirit of Kate Morgan remain as the resident’s ghost. Kate was 24 when she arrived at the hotel on Thanksgiving Day, alone and unhappy, waiting for a gentleman to join her. He never did. After 5 days, Kate took her own life. She was married but estranged from her husband, and it was assumed she arrived at the hotel to rendezvous with a lover. Following her death, guests and employees have attested to ghostly activity. They have seen flickering lights, a TV that turns itself on and off, inexplicable scents and sounds, items moving about, doors that open randomly, unexplained footsteps and voices. Her third-floor room is the most requested room in the hotel.  The book “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado” is available in the hotel’s gift shop.


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