Have you ever wondered what’s beneath Hotel del Coronado’s soaring, red-roofed, signature Victorian turret?
For over 125 years – ever since the hotel opened in 1888 – the San Diego resort’s historic Ballroom has enjoyed this oceanfront seat of honor. Outfitted with a stage and panoramic Pacific view, this grand and sweeping space has enjoyed a lifetime of fabulous parties and first-class performances.
Capped with an exterior walkway and an enormous American flag, the shingled Ballroom tower also features a row of double-hung windows, along with two tiers of windowed dormers. In the early days, the underside of the roof formed the interior ceiling of the Ballroom, and the windows provided light and ventilation for visitors below. But, by the mid-20th century, fashion and technology dictated a less cavernous interior space (among other things, acoustics was a problem), and the ceiling was lowered.
Today, the area hidden between the ceiling and the roof contains remnants of days gone by, including an interior balcony, from which early guests viewed Ballroom activities below while enjoying the ocean vista provided by double-hung windows (hence the turret’s 19th-century moniker “the observatory.”)
Although it is possible to climb to the inside of the top of the turret via a narrow, circular staircase – which provides access to the exterior walkway 150 feet above ground – this area was never meant for public use. It is an intriguing climb, however, and those lucky enough to make the trip (mostly hotel maintenance workers) are rewarded with a fantastic, 360-degree view of Coronado Island, San Diego, and points beyond.
Through the Years: A Turret Resume
• An incredibly strong superstructure supports the top of the famed turret from within, and in the early days, gravity flow water tanks were installed here.
• Originally called the “theatre,” the commodious Ballroom venue once featured a raised oceanfront seating area for those guests who wanted to while away the hours in restful wicker rockers.
• In Victorian times, the turret was referred to as the “observatory” because it offered Pacific views via double-hung windows in its balcony.
• Almost ten stories tall, The Del’s turret is featured on navigation charts and has served as a nautical and aeronautical landmark for decades.
• During World War II, it was reported that armed sentries sometimes patrolled the beaches from the San Diego hotel’s lofty lookout.
• Look for The Del’s famous turret as a backdrop in Some Like It Hot, America’s award-winning comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, or in The Stunt Man, which features a dramatic battle atop the Del’s red roof.
• Today, Hotel del Coronado’s turret is famous for its Christmas decorations, which professional steeplejacks attach to its complex roofline every year.