It’s a simple idea. Begin at Cabrillo National Monument, then proceed around the Bay until you reach North Island, as close to the Southern entrance to San Diego Bay as the Navy will let you, and at the same time, as close to San Diego Bay you can get. Along the way, see, hear, smell, and learn about the big, little and interesting things nestled next to the bay. The included pictures are monochrome.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
On September 28, 1850, just 19 days after admitting California to the Union, Congress appropriated $90,000 to construct lighthouses along the California coast. A second appropriation of $59,434 made in 1854 completed the job. Lighthouses were designated for Alcatraz Island, Point Conception, Battery Point, Fararon Island, Point Pinos and Point Loma. A site chosen in 1851 was near the summit of Point Loma. Construction began in April 1854, when a shipment of materials arrived from San Francisco. The lantern and lens came from Paris and arrived in August 1855. The lighthouse, completed by October 1855, and lighted for the first time at sunset November 15, 1855. It was designated light number 355, of the Twelfth United States Lighthouse District.
While in operation the lighthouse had the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States. However, the location on top of a 400-foot cliff meant that fog and low clouds often obscured the light from the view of ships. On foggy nights the lighthouse keeper would sometimes discharge a shotgun to warn ships away. On March 23, 1891, the flame was permanently extinguished and the light replaced by the New Point Loma Lighthouse at a lower elevation at Ballast Point.
When the lighthouse was constructed, an additional small structure arose next to it. This building, originally used as a storehouse for oil, wood, and other supplies, became a two-room apartment for the assistant lighthouse keeper in 1875. Originally built with rough lumber and the inside lined with cloth and paper, cracks would frequently develop in the walls. The walls are now tongue and groove boards. Today this building serves as a museum.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was not just the housing for a light; it was also the home of the people who took care of the light. The keepers and their families lived in the lighthouse. Visitors can now view some of the rooms to see what their life was like. The lighthouse was a bustling family home. The Israel family, including their three surviving boys and a niece, all grew up there. They gardened, kept horses, and raised chickens, pigs and goats. The children rowed across the bay to Old Town each day for school. People from town would sometimes drive by horse and buggy over a dirt road (now Catalina Boulevard) to picnic and visit the lighthouse and its keeper.
After deactivation the old lighthouse fell into disrepair. In 1913, the Army proposed to tear down the dilapidated lighthouse. By 1935 the metal lantern room and the lighthouse returned to their original condition. A concessionaire lived in the lighthouse, offering tours of the building and operating a tea room in the southern room on the main floor.
With the outbreak of war in 1941, the lighthouse, now painted camouflage green, became as a signal tower to direct ships into San Diego Harbor. After the war the lighthouse returned to the National Park Service. During the 1980s restoration filled it with period furnishings to resemble its appearance when the Israel family lived there. In 2003–2004 restoration extended to the surrounding area giving it a more authentic look. It now includes native plants, a vegetable garden, and a water catchment system. The lantern room currently houses the third-order lens from the Mile Rocks Lighthouse.
Today the lighthouse is no longer in service but stands as a landmark and museum. Visitors may enter the lighthouse and view parts of the living quarters there. Visitors are sometimes greeted by volunteer historical reinactors including “Captain Israel,” a real historical figure who was lighthouse keeper from 1871 to 1892.
Hotel Del Coronado
The Hotel del Coronado, the center of all things Coronado, a national historic landmark, delivers breathtaking ocean views, displays whimsical Victorian era architecture, provides its visitors endless activities, caters to famous celebrities, harbors ghostly haunts, and is a world class tourist attraction. It’s all at the world famous, 32-acre, Hoteldel Coronado, known affectionately as “The Del.”
Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story built the Hotel del Coronado in 1888. The Del was the first structure built on Coronado on what was then an uninhabited barren land accessible only by boat. The railroad had not yet made it to San Diego, but the plans were in the works. So, these two visionaries bought the entire island for $110,000. Building a giant hotel in the middle of nowhere was challenging. Electricity didn’t exist in Coronado, or most of California either, so their first step was to build one of the state’s first power plants to provide electricity to the Hotel del Coronado and to the entire Coronado Island.
Across the street from the hotel is a restaurant that looks quite similar to the Hotel del Coronado. That’s no accident. This was their “practice” building. The architects were not moving very fast so as the Hotel Del was being built, without a blue print, the workers were left to their own creative devices to build the hotel.
To build the Hotel del Coronado, they had to bring in workers who didn’t live there. The building on property near the parking lot was the Oxford hotel that housed the workers who built the hotel 24 hours a day. This hotel was not then on the property, it was down the road. After the Hotel del Coronado no longer had a need for it, it had other uses through the years including a brothel. In the 1970s it when scheduled for tear it down, the Hotel Del purchased it because it’s a key part of its history. They basically cut the building down the middle and moved it in two pieces to the Hotel Del Property, and put it back together. Today it houses many of the Hotel Del’s 1400 employees. Right next to the Oxford Building is a series of unassuming buildings. More employees work here. These buildings were the stables for the horses since horse and buggy travel was all that was available in 1888.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Del is the whimsical Victorian era architecture. The style is called “Queen Anne Revival” and it’s known for these iconic turrets, asymmetrical designs (some parts of the building have three floors and other have five), and freestyle design that leads you down maze-like hallways with unanticipated dead ends. Babcock and Story built the Hotel Del for a total of $1,000,000, $600,000 for the hotel itself, and $400,000 for all the decor and furniture.
At the front stands a tree, the Dragon Tree, brought over from the Canary Islands, with red blood like sap if you cut into it. It was set in the backdrop of Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe who stayed at The Del for a month while filming. The Hotel Del treasured this tree, but while the movie was filming the producers saw a large limb in their way. Not realizing how treasured this tree was, they took it upon themselves to cut off the offensive limb. When the Hotel Del owners discovered this they were so angry them almost kicked them off the set. Today there are several other pruned limbs to clear the passage way for the millions of visitors every year.
In the lobby, sits an old fashioned elevator. This is Otis elevator #61. #61 representing the 61st elevator that Otis ever made. It is the original elevator from 1888, one of the oldest in existence, and still run by an employee who is the elevator operator and takes guest up and down all day long.
Off of the lobby is the famous Crown Room. This room currently serves as a meeting space and room for The Del’s famous Sunday brunch. When The Del opened it had the “American Plan” and all the guests ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. Charles Lindbergh had a celebratory dinner here after his 1927 solo flight from New York to France. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz who spent months at the Hotel del Coronado writing, designed the still original crown shaped lobby chandeliers. Many believe that the Hotel del Coronado was his inspiration for the Land of Oz. The ceiling is also original, designed with a “tongue and groove” method which means no nails at all keeping it together. Over the years the Hotel del Coronado has had many psychics stay at the hotel, and one of them shared that this room is the most “haunted” of all. Because this was where all the guests gathered for three meals a day, the psychic said she could see hundreds of ghosts just partying and having a grand time up in the ceiling of the Crown Room.
The Hotel del Coronado boasts a beautiful courtyard inside the hotel. Kate Sessions, a local botanist, known for being the “Mother of Balboa Park,” designed the courtyard and all its greenery.
He was supposed to meet her at The Del a few days later, but never did, and 5 days later they found her dead body on the stairway leading to the beach with a gunshot to her head. It was ruled a suicide, but theories prevail that it was her husband. Regardless of what happened, she still walks the hallways of the 3rd floor in her Victorian dress, and has some fun with visitors who stay in “her” room 3327. Many request that room especially on Halloween night. Guests who stayed in that room shared many stories such as getting the covers ripped off at night, the TV turning on randomly, and door handles shaking. The room itself is not one of The Del’s finest, it’s small and has a view of the dumpsters.
The stairs from the lobby are quite uneven. While some may look at this as an old flaw, it is part of the the Del’s charm. When built in 1888 the wood was installed “green” meaning still a little damp. This was intentional, because fire ruined many of the construction projects in that era. So installing the wood “green” meant it would resist fire, but when the wood dried out, it warps, leading to uneven floor boards and stairs.
In 1888 the prime rooms were on the first floor, and the lower end rooms were on the 5th floor. At the time everyone traveled with their maids and servants. Therefore, the 5th floor was where the maids and servants slept. The ceilings are very low, and the rooms much smaller. Many years ago the hotel decided to break the walls down between some of the rooms because they were just so tiny they were hard to make guests happy. There is a room on the 5th floor that has many more guests reporting “incidents” and many more psychics reporting paranormal activity. The belief is that this haunted room was where Kate Morgan’s maid stayed.
The staff removes beautiful lobby chandelier once a year, when The Del displays its incredibly ornate and tall Christmas tree that attracts thousands of visitors over the holiday season. When The Del opened, the land in Coronado was still barren. The men would leave in the morning to hunt and fish. Their ladies would sit in rocking chairs on this second level knitting or reading, just waiting for them to return, clapping when their husbands returned and displayed their fresh kill and show it off.
There is a staircase near the ballroom leading to The Del’s shops and dining. These same stairs tend to be avoided by the night employees, as they have reported smelling a strong perfume and getting a gentle push as they walk down these stairs in the wee hours of the morning.
Outside the Hotel del Coronado towards the backside, near the beach, a mecca of activities awaits. While only hotel guests get to enjoy the pool area, a day visitor can enjoy almost everything else. The Windsor lawn, which is now astroturf, becomes an ice skating rink every holiday season so visitors can skate by the beach. Nearby stands a random looking house used as meeting space called the Windsor cottage. This cottage is the setting of one of the most famous love stories of all time. In 1920, England’s Prince of Wales visited The Del. He would later become King Edward VIII who eventually gave up his throne to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson because the English rules did not permit a king to marry a divorced woman. During his visit in 1920, Wallis Simpson was living a few blocks away from The Del. The Prince of Wales met Wallis Simpson during his stay at The Del. Sometime much later, like the Oxford Building, the city scheduled the demolition of the building in which Simpson lived. Eager to hold onto this part of The Del’s storied past, the owners purchased and moved the building onto the property where it has remained ever since.
A big draw of the Hotel del Coronado is its lengthy and beautiful beach, but that beach was not always the size it is today. Coronado has increased in size due to dumping dredge material on its shoreline and through the natural accumulation of sand. The “Country Club” area on the northwest side of Coronado including the Hotel Del, the “Glorietta” area, and golf course on the southeast side of Coronado, most of the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, most of the Strand Naval housing, and most of the Coronado Cays all stand on material dredged from San Diego Bay.