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Durlynn Anema: Coronado, a town from the past

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Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 10:49 pm

Sitting across from the bustling city of San Diego is a quaint village which has retained its charm even in the midst of modern life — Coronado.

As you know, I was born and raised in San Diego. One fond memory is riding the ferry between San Diego and Coronado — the only quick way to get to the peninsula because the bridge was not yet built. When my dad had no appointments and my mother was busy, we’d go downtown and ride the ferry back and forth.

Occasionally we’d get off and walk the streets of beautiful homes and small businesses. A friend who recently stayed in Coronado said, “I guess there wasn’t much there when you were young.”

There was a great deal.

While staying in Coronado recently, I walked many streets viewing the lovely houses built from the 1920‘s on. Among them were beautiful Spanish style homes, all of which today sell for a million dollars or more according to the real estate section.

My stay at the Coronado Beach Resort brought back memories as I walked both the commercial and residential areas. During the week it is a quiet, lovely place with many parks and close access to the beach. When I arrived on a Sunday it was packed with people headed to the beach or through the town for restaurants and upscale tourist shops.

In 1885, two men named Elisha Babcock and Hampton Storey purchased the barren peninsula so they could hunt rabbits. Picture barren sand dunes with sparse vegetation and you’ll see why these men thought it was a wonderful private hunting ground after they rowed across San Diego Bay. As they enjoyed themselves, they decided it would be a perfect place for a hotel.

The Hotel Del Coronado was completed in 1888, immediately attracting tourists from all over the United States. Easterners loved the temperate San Diego climate and hotel luxury situated right on the ocean with views of San Diego, the surrounding countryside, Point Loma and the Coronado Islands. John Spreckles, eldest son of sugar magnate Claus Spreckles and chief developer of San Diego, invested $500,000 in the Coronado Beach Company (their hotel) and by 1890 had a controlling interest.

Spreckles so loved Coronado he ended up owning all but five parcels on the peninsula and made the wooden Hotel Del a prominent name among U. S. resorts. Today it is one of the largest wooden hotels in the United States.

Because of his love of Coronado, he built a mansion on five acres across from the hotel as well as a beach house further west, Today this mansion is the Glorietta Inn. During World War I, Speckles sold North Island on the west side of Coronado to the Navy for five million dollars. That navy base is very active today. Thirteen presidents and many royals stayed at The Del. My memory of staying there was when I was working at UOP and went to a conference. Chuck (my first husband) and I were taken to our room. We couldn’t believe it. Rooms in the older section were so small the bed took up the entire space. Fortunately, the bellman had taken us to an occupied room (someone was in the shower) so we had to get another room in the annex.

As I was growing up, I saw the Spreckles name on several buildings but had no idea of the extent of Spreckle’s involvement with the city. While my grandmother served as Claus’ secretary/companion when he was old, I did not know the detail’s of John’s involvement with the city. It’s strange more historical events aren’t relayed to children.

The Hotel Del (as we always called it) is well worth visiting. It’s still the gracious example of hotels of the past — huge lobby, porches, walkways around the building and to the beach — all with a past elegance.

South of the hotel was an interesting resort entity — Tent City. Used between 1900 and 1939, 500 tents and cottages were on the property between the ocean and the bay. I remember hearing my mother’s stories of going there when she was young in the 1920’s. A street car ran between the ferry and the Hotel Del and Tent City.

I didn’t leave the peninsula during my stay, enjoying a different atmosphere and the beach. What amazed me were the enclaves of resorts and homes south on the Strand (San Diego Bay side). When I was young there was nothing on the Strand but sand dunes, views of the bay mud flats, the military installations along the ocean. If you have a chance, cross the bridge to Coronado or ride the ferry still in operation. You’ll have an enjoyable experience.

Have a relaxing week.


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