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A Brief History of the Hotel Del Coronado

Opened in February 1888, Hotel del Coronado debuted as an architectural masterpiece, acclaimed for its spectacular seaside setting and world-famous weather. Outfitted with electricity and every modern amenity, The Del was a destination resort before the term existed, attracting a wealthy clientele from the Midwest, East Coast, and Europe. These guests – who arrived with their own servants in tow – generally stayed for months at a time.

Although seaside resorts were fairly commonplace along both American coasts during the late 19th century, few were as large as The Del or as distinctive. With its one-of-a-kind sweeping silhouette – once likened to a cross between an ornate wedding cake and well-trimmed ship – the resort was recognizable throughout the country and around the world.

Coronado’s island-like allure and year-round sunshine further ensured The Del’s reputation as a standout resort, described as the “unrivaled Queen of seaside resorts … this enchanting spot has no equal in America … or the world.”

Building The Del

Hotel del Coronado was conceived by two retired, mid-western businessmen, Elisha Babcock, Jr., and Hampton Story, who became acquainted after moving to San Diego. In 1885, the entrepreneurs bought the entire undeveloped peninsula of Coronado, subdivided the land, sold off the lots, recouped their money, and proceeded to build what they envisioned would be the “talk of the western world.”

Constructed early in California’s history, well before San Diego had the materials or manpower to support such a colossal effort, everything had to be imported or manufactured on site. Architects were brought in from the Midwest; lumber and labor came from the Northwest; there was a lumber mill, foundry, and electrical power plant on hotel property; and early employees were wooed west from Chicago’s finest hotels. Despite these logistical challenges, the hotel was opened after only 11 months of construction.

In the Beginning

When Hotel del Coronado received its first visitors, California was separated from the rest of the country by vast unsettled territories. At this time, most guests traveled to The Del by train, and a trip from the east took seven days. Wealthy travelers journeyed in relative luxury, the wealthiest of whom had their own private rail cars that were hitched up to trains back east and unhitched when they reached the resort; to accommodate private rail cars, the hotel had a spur track on property.

Not only was Hotel del Coronado part of the movement west, it epitomized the luxurious lifestyle of America’s wealthiest families. In fact, the hotel’s early patrons very likely spent their days traveling from one fabulous resort to another, following “the seasons” (i.e., California in the winter; New England in the summer). At one time, The Del was one of many famed 19th-century American resorts; today, it is one of the few that has not only survived, but still flourishes as a world-class hotel.

The Early Years

Originally intended as a fishing and hunting resort, Coronado’s ocean and bays were rich with marine life, and the nearby scrub was filled with quail, rabbit, and other small game (the hotel’s chef would cook a guest’s catch). In addition to these pursuits, The Del offered a variety of activities including billiards (separate facilities for men and women), bowling, croquet, swimming, boating, bicycling, archery, golf, and fine dining. There were also special rooms set aside for more passive indulgences such as reading, writing, cards, chess, music, and even smoking.

The Del also showcased a lot of modern technology: it was lighted by electricity (at that time, the hotel was one of the largest buildings in the country to have electric lights); there were telephones (although not in the guests’ rooms); there were elevators and numerous private bathrooms. There was also a fire alarm system and state-of-the-art fire fighting equipment (although it is not known to have ever been used). The hotel was outfitted in fine china and linen from Europe; furnishings came from the east.

Hotel del Coronado quickly became a Mecca for sophisticated eastern travelers who had grown bored with the resorts on that side of the country and were looking for exotic alternatives to traditional European destinations.

Our Hollywood Connection

Hotel del Coronado, established in 1888 as San Diego’s Pacific landmark resort, has enjoyed a long relationship with Hollywood. Almost from its earliest days, moviemakers have sought The Del’s spectacular location, as have Hollywood stars, who have long enjoyed the island retreat as a Los Angeles getaway.

Stage actress Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) may have been The Del’s first celebrity vacationer. During her 1888 stay, Langtry said of The Del, “Its immensity astonishes me, and its perfect beauty delights me.”

The first movies filmed at The Del were short “documentaries” produced in the late 1890s by none other than the Edison Moving Picture Company. These included simple films such as Dogs Playing in Surf and Ferryboat Entering Coronado Slip. At that time, Hollywood was still a rural community, but in a very few years, it would emerge as the filmmaking capital of the world, with The Del well situated to become a permanent part of its history.

Southern California’s near-perfect climate was ideal for the fledgling industry since all filming had to be done outside, using daylight (without advancements in electricity, even interior scenes were created out-of-doors). Endless days of California sunshine, without heat or humidity, were perfectly suited to early filmmaking requirements.

This probably explains why some of the world’s greatest producers and directors have been drawn to The Del, including legendary filmmakers Frank Capra, Hal Roach, and Daryl Zanuck.


Maiden and Men is thought to be the first feature film shot at The Del. Directed by Allan Dwan, the resort romance was referenced in Motion Picture World, which noted the movie’s “bewildering array of settings, whose equal have certainly never before been seen in motion pictures.”

In 1915, Siegmund Lubin, a motion picture giant in his day, established Lubin Studios in Coronado. Hotel owner John D. Spreckels – who wanted to encourage the community’s commercial development – offered Lubin an expansive piece of property along San Diego Bay in exchange for a $1-a-year rental fee. Lubin, in turn, invested $10,000 to build a studio – complete with extensive storage facilities, repair shops, dressing rooms, garages, etc. – all surrounded by a dramatic castle-like wall. Although Lubin’s tenure was short-lived, his studio made more than twenty movies in Coronado, including Billy Joins the Navy.

By 1915, movies were also being filmed at Coronado’s Naval Air Station North Island, with stars such as Mary Pickford housed at The Del.

In 1916, director Harry Pollard, along with actress-wife Margarita Fischer, took a fancy to Coronado, casting the hotel’s garden patio as a South Sea island in Miss Jackie of the Navy. That same year, the Pollards filmed Pearl of Paradise at The Del.

Actress Mae Murray was featured in Princess Virtue in 1917, using The Del’s nearby Tent City setting [PHOTO AVAILABLE]; and in 1918 Rudolph Valentino starred in The Married Virgin as a dashing social climber who marries his lover’s daughter to gain cess to the family’s fortune. Now available on DVD, this silent film showcases the hotel’s gardens and beaches.



Rudolph Valentino returned to The Del in 1922 with Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks, the story of a bride who falls in love with someone else during her Del honeymoon. Swanson acted at the hotel again in 1925, playing a young heiress in The Coast of Folly. These early films helped establish Hotel del Coronado as a retreat for America’s wealthy.

In 1924, My Husband’s Wives was filmed at The Del, starring Bryant Washburn and Shirley Mason [PHOTOS AVAILABLE], followed by The Flying Fleet in 1929 with Ramon Navarro and Anita Page [PHOTO AVAILABLE], who fell in love with a Navy officer during her stay, eventually marrying and settling in Coronado.

In 1935, Coronado actor Johnny Downs (from the Our Gang comedies) was featured in Coronado, the story of a rich hotel guest who falls in love with a Tent City singer. This film, which also starred Jack Haley and Andy Devine, once again cast The Del as a playground for the wealthy. Yours for the Asking with Dolores Costello, George Raft, and Ida Lupino was filmed at the hotel in 1936.

Although the 1920s and 1930s produced the Great Depression (1929-1941), Hollywood seemed immune to the nation’s financial setbacks, and moneyed celebrities continued to frequent The Del, including Charlie Chaplin (he enjoyed playing polo), Douglas Fairbanks, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Rita Hayworth, Helen Hayes, Ruby Keeler, Stan Laurel, Anthony Quinn, George Raft, Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, Will Rogers, and James Stewart.

During Prohibition (1920-1933), The Del was a favored destination for Hollywood celebrities, who preferred it as home base for daytrips into Mexico, where they could enjoy cocktails and horseracing. And, in 1938, when legendary crooner Bing Crosby established Del Mar Racetrack, The Del became even more attractive for Hollywood’s horseracing set.

Meanwhile, with war raging in Europe in the 1930s, Naval Air Station North Island was the setting for many military-themed movies, including Hell Divers (1931), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), Wings Over Honolulu (1937), Flight Command (c. 1938), and Dive Bomber (1941). These, in turn, drew additional celebrities to The Del, including Clark Gable (he later married actress Kay Williams, the former daughter-in-law of hotel owner John D. Spreckels), Wallace Beery, Conrad Nagel, James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Ray Milland, George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Robert Taylor, Walter Pidgeon, Red Skelton, Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, and Alexis Smith.

World War II and the 1940s

Throughout World War II, Hotel del Coronado was San Diego’s premier watering hole for military personnel stationed in the area. One guest – the wife of a Navy officer herself – remembers seeing actor Robert Montgomery at The Del: “He walked through the lobby in his Navy uniform. He was very popular in those days and gorgeous!”

But not all celebrities at The Del were in the armed forces. During the war years, the hotel also played host to Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Maureen O’Hara, Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, and Rudy Vallee.

After the war, celebrity sightings included George Sanders, as well as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And, in 1946, America’s premier dance instructor, Arthur Murray, established a studio at The Del.

An interesting Hollywood postscript: According to a guest from the hotel’s World War II years, women with black eyes were all the rage. It turned out The Del had become a not-so-private retreat for actresses recovering from facelift surgery.


Movie stars – and now, television stars – flocked to The Del throughout the 1950s and ’60s, with visits from Doris Day, Joan Crawford, Walt Disney, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Donna Reed, Dinah Shore, and Loretta Young, just to name a few.

The hotel was also instrumental in helping to launch the careers of some television giants. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz retreated to The Del in 1950 to polish their comedy routine under the direction of “Pepito the Spanish Clown,” a renowned vaudeville performer. They stayed at the hotel for a couple of weeks, where they also developed their “Ricky and Lucy” personas (he the serious Cuban bandleader; she his zany star-struck wife). They then took their show on the road, eventually landing their own television program, I Love Lucy. In one episode, “Lucy and Ricky Ricardo” stay at Hotel del Coronado with their friends, “Fred and Ethel Mertz.”

Liberace, the undisputed king of keys and candelabras, was playing piano at The Del when he was discovered in 1950. On that fateful night, Liberace’s audience was so small the hotel told him he could cancel his performance. Liberace declined, and lucky for him he did. In the audience that night was a television producer who – recognizing Liberace’s ability to connect with a small audience – realized the pianist would be perfect for the immediacy and intimacy of the “small screen.” And the rest, as they say, is Hollywood history!

In 1957, Ronald Reagan filmed Hellcats of the Navy at Naval Air Station North Island, becoming a frequent visitor during his years in Hollywood. He continued to visit The Del when he was Governor of California and later as President

1958 Some Like It Hot

Hollywood history was again made at The Del in 1958, when Some Like It Hot was shot at the hotel starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon [PHOTOS AVAILABLE]. Although the stars were well known at the time and the movie received rave reviews, few could have predicted the film’s staying power – recently heralded by the American Film Institute as the best comedy of all time. It is also the Marilyn Monroe movie most shown on television today. The film’s 25th anniversary in 1984 brought Lemmon, Curtis, and famed director Billy Wilder back to The Del for a special celebration [PHOTOS AVAILABLE].

Additional Some Like It Hot celebrations at the hotel have included the 1995 Marilyn Monroe stamp dedication sponsored by the United States Postal Service and a Some Like It Hot 50th anniversary weekend in 2009, where Tony Curtis was honored at a Crown Room dinner, with the “girls in the band” in attendance.

In 2012, a U.S. postage stamp was issued with a likeness of Billy Wilder, along with a ukulele-strumming Marilyn Monroe (her character in Some Like It Hot) and The Del’s iconic turret.


Hotel del Coronado has always had the ability to attract Hollywood “royalty” as well as its newest superstars. In the 1970s and 1980s, The Del played host to mega-celebrities such as Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Burt Lancaster, as well as Goldie Hawn, Sylvester Stallone, and Renee Russo.

A variety of movies were filmed at the hotel in the 1970s, including the cult classic, The Stunt Man, starring Peter O’Toole and Barbara Hershey. During the filming in 1977, the hotel’s exterior was altered and then “blown up” as part of the story line [PHOTOS AVAILABLE]. Director Richard Rush and cast members reunited at The Del in 2002 to produce a documentary about the film entitled The Sinister Saga of Making “The Stunt Man.”

Other movies from the 1970s and 1980s include Wicked, Wicked; $ with Goldie Hawn; Loving Couples with Shirley MacLaine, Susan Sarandon, and James Coburn [PHOTOS AVAILABLE]; K-9 starring Jim Belushi; and Steve Martin’s My Blue Heaven with Rick Moranis and Joan Cusack.

Many television shows and made-for-TV movies were also filmed at The Del during the 1970s and ‘80s, including Space with James Garner, Michael York, Blair Brown, Beau Bridges, Harry Hamlin, and Bruce Dern; Ghost Story with Sebastian Cabot, Gena Rowland, and Karen Black; The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything; Captains and Kings with Henry Fonda, Ray Bolger, and Patty Duke; Rich Man, Poor Man with Nick Nolte, Dorothy McGuire, Ed Asner, and Susan Blakely; as well as Hunter; Hart to Hart with Robert Wagner; Simon & Simon; and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

1988 Centennial Celebration

In 1988, the hotel celebrated its 100th birthday, and some of America’s biggest stars joined the festivities including Mary Martin, Donald O’Connor, and Frank Sinatra, as well as some of the original munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.


In 1995, the movie Mr. Wrong was filmed at the hotel, starring Ellen DeGeneres. Television shows/movies included Ladies on Sweet Street with Helen Hayes; Baywatch (this two-part episode focused on the hotel’s ghost); Garth Brooks Live; and Silk Stalkings. The hotel continues to be a popular subject for television programs such as Today Show, Historic Hotels, America’s Castles, California and the Dream Seekers, Weddings of a Lifetime, and True Mysteries.


Today, Hotel del Coronado continues to attract celebrity A-listers thanks, in large part, to the exclusivity and privacy of Beach Village at The Del. The ultra-luxe oceanfront cottages and villas ensure that The Del’s glittering Hollywood history will continue uninterrupted for generations to come. Recent celebrity visits include Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Seth Rogen, Robert Downey Jr., Eva Mendes, Will Farrell, Shakira, Al Pacino, Jennifer Garner, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Oprah Winfrey, Julia-Louis-Dreyfus, Whoopie Goldberg, and Steven Spielberg.


Presidential Visitors at the Hotel del Coronado


Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893): In conjunction with a cross-country train trip, President Benjamin Harrison arrived in San Diego early on the morning of April 23, 1891, becoming the first in-office president to visit the city. Almost immediately, President and Mrs. Harrison were conveyed to Hotel del Coronado for breakfast, where they were greeted by a delegation of dignitaries, including Governor Henry H. Markham and Baja California Governor Luis E. Torres. Afterward, Harrison returned to San Diego by boat across the bay, with a sendoff serenaded by the Coronado Band, which a local newspaper reported could “vie with any band in the country in discoursing good music.”

William H. Taft (1909-1913): William H. Taft had a sister living in Coronado, whom he visited in April 1900 (before his presidency). In 1915, Taft returned to Coronado and stayed at The Del, probably to attend San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition, commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Franklin D. Roosevelt had a long history with Hotel del Coronado, starting in 1915, when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, in conjunction with San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition. An especially noteworthy Del visit began on October 1, 1935, when President and Mrs. Roosevelt arrived for San Diego’s California Pacific International Exposition. Regarding his Hotel del Coronado visit, a local newspaper reported: “The chief executive enjoyed an inspiring view of the broad Pacific, where a goodly part of the Untied States fleet rode at anchor, the lights from the warships shedding their glow over the temporary White House.” President and Mrs. Roosevelt continued their close ties to Hotel del Coronado, returning in 1938, and again during World War II, in part because their son, James, was stationed in Coronado.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1968): Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by Mrs. Johnson, attended President Nixon’s Hotel del Coronado state dinner for Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz in 1970.

Richard M. Nixon (1968-1974): President Richard Nixon hosted a state dinner in the hotel’s historic Crown Room for Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz on September 3, 1970 (the first state dinner to be held outside the White House). Among the 1,000 people in attendance were former President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson and Governor and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. The dinner was also attended by Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977): President Gerald Ford attended an economic conference at The Del in April 1975. Ford made other visits to the hotel in 1980, 1991, 1992, and 1993.

Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): When President Jimmy Carter attended the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades convention in 1979, a reception was given in his honor at The Del on October 11. Carter returned to the hotel in October 1989 with the Habitat for Humanity project, and again in 2011-13 for The Carter Center.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1988): Ronald Reagan was a longtime Hotel del Coronado visitor, starting with his days as a Hollywood actor, and continuing through his presidency. During their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Reagan – along with their children – were also frequent guests. In 1970, then California Governor Ronald Reagan, accompanied by Mrs. Reagan, attended President Nixon’s Hotel del Coronado state dinner. President Reagan returned to The Del on October 8, 1982, when he hosted talks with Mexican president-elect Miguel de la Madrid. After Reagan’s death, Mrs. Reagan stayed at Hotel del Coronado for the home-porting ceremonies of the USS Ronald Reagan.

George H. Bush (1988-1992): An avid tennis player, President George Bush stayed at Hotel del Coronado both before and during his presidency.

Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Although President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to land at Coronado’s North Island Naval Air Station, President Clinton (aboard Airforce One) used the airfield many times for numerous visits to Hotel del Coronado during his presidency.

George W. Bush (2001-2009): President and Mrs. Bush stayed at The Del in August 2005, when they attended a 60th anniversary celebration of V-J Day at nearby Naval Air Station North Island. Mrs. George W. Bush also visited The Del in March 2001.

Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama, visited the hotel in March 2007, along with her two children, Malia and Sasha. At that time, Obama was a Senator from Illinois, campaigning for president. Unfortunately, a last-minute change in plans prevented Senator Obama from accompanying his family on their Coronado vacation.


The first vice presidential guest was Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served during Grover Cleveland’s second presidency, and visited The Del in 1893. During his stay, Stevenson had his hair cut in the hotel’s barber shop, where Vincent Surr, a bootblack, remembered: “My recollections of the great man are rather mixed and consist principally of a figure swathed in a barber’s sheet, from which some kind of a head emerged.” Surr had a clearer view of Stevenson’s private secretary or valet: “What made him a conspicuous figure was his remarkable likeness to Uncle Sam, as depicted in the comic papers.” Years later, Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (grandson of the first Adlai Ewing Stevenson) visited The Del in 1952.

Other vice presidential visitors have included Spiro Agnew, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Dan Quayle, as well as Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Gore.

In addition to the family members referenced above, presidential offspring who have visited Hotel del Coronado include Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower, Steve Ford, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., Robert Todd Lincoln, and James Roosevelt.


“Some Like It Hot” Filmed at Hotel del Coronado

In 1958, Hotel del Coronado made Hollywood history when it became the setting for director Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. Released in 1959, this romantic romp was voted the #1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute and named #14 on its list of the 100 Greatest Movies. As film historian Laurence Maslon – who authored a companion book about the film – noted: With the addition of “the famously photogenic Del Coronado, it’s easy to see why this movie has stood the test of time.”

The Plot

The Prohibition-era story follows the exploits of Lemmon and Curtis, two out-of-work musicians who accidentally witness Chicago’s 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” In a run for their lives, the men disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band traveling by train to a “Florida” resort, with Hotel del Coronado’s vintage architecture providing the era-appropriate backdrop.

The band’s ukulele-strumming singer, played by Monroe, catches the eyes of both cross-dressing men, but it is Curtis’ character who assumes still another identity to successfully woo and win Monroe, reinventing himself as an unlucky-in-love millionaire. Lemmon’s female character, meanwhile, is vigorously pursued by a bona fide millionaire played by Joe E. Brown.

Sunshine … California-Style

At least one Floridian was less than happy with Wilder’s decision to shoot the movie in San Diego, that being Miami Mayor Robert King High, who reportedly said it was “a sacrilege” to allow Southern California to assume the role of Florida’s “Sunshine State.” This sour criticism was ably met by Coronado’s mayor, who wired back: “Some like it hot, but not as hot as Miami in September.” The mayor’s rebuttal also referenced Florida’s gnats, mosquitoes, and hurricanes, none of which plagued the temperate, insect-free island of Coronado.

The Del Plays a Starring Role

Like many American resorts, Hotel del Coronado had endured some benign neglect during the Depression and World War II, which helped preserve the 1888 resort, making it the perfect setting for Wilder’s 1929 story. Said Wilder, “We looked far and wide, but this was the only place we could find that hadn’t changed in thirty years. People who have never seen this beautiful hotel will never believe we didn’t make these scenes on a movie lot. It’s like the past come to life.”

Unfortunately, at least one critic didn’t believe the hotel was real, describing The Del as “an uproariously improbable set,” an apt reference to the resort’s fanciful Queen Anne architecture, complete with a rambling seaside silhouette and castle-like turreted roof. Although only exterior scenes were shot at The Del, interior sets were designed to replicate the hotel’s spaces, right down to the placement of the lobby’s stairs and the design of the paneling.

Only at The Del: The Stars Align

The 200-member cast and crew – most of whom made the trek from Los Angeles to the hotel via train – were housed at The Del for the duration of the shoot, a little more than a week.

During filming, Marilyn Monroe was accompanied by her husband, esteemed playwright Arthur Miller, who made a special trip from the East Coast to join her at The Del. Also in Monroe’s entourage was acting coach Paula Strasberg, along with Monroe’s secretary and press agent; Coronado policemen were assigned to guard Monroe throughout her stay.

Tony Curtis’ wife, Janet Leigh – pregnant with their second child, Jamie Lee Curtis – accompanied him. Jack Lemmon’s wife, Felicia Farr, also joined the troupe.

By almost everyone’s account, Monroe was very difficult to work with throughout the film’s production – her tardiness and inability to remember lines have become legendary. Interestingly, however, quite a few reports confirm that Monroe was “on her mettle” during the entire Coronado portion of filming.

In fact, in his book Conversations with Wilder (1999), writer/director Cameron Crowe addressed this aspect of the film with the director, saying: “I grew up in San Diego [and] the legend is that the hotel was the most magical part of the filming … that Marilyn felt relaxed there.” To which, Wilder replied, “… that was fun. We had a good time there. Marilyn remembered her lines … everything was going according to schedule.” According to another source, Wilder speculated that Monroe was inspired at The Del – where adoring spectators were plentiful – because she preferred a live audience.

Although the production attracted many onlookers, security in Coronado was relaxed by today’s standards, and many fans were able to come in close contact with the stars, including one small boy who remembers declining Monroe’s request for a kiss.

A last bit of Del trivia: During her stay, a hotel chef reported that Marilyn fancied his cold soufflé vanilla pudding with egg-white decoration, which she requested daily.

Through the Years

Hotel del Coronado has continued to host Some Like It Hot events, including the film’s 25th anniversary in 1984 (with Wilder, Curtis, and Lemmon in attendance); the Marilyn Monroe U.S. postal stamp dedication in 1995; and the film’s 50th anniversary in 2009, when Tony Curtis, the last-surviving cast member, was joined by some of the original “girls in the band.”


Ghostly Goings-On at the Hotel del Coronado

Kate Morgan – a young woman who checked into Hotel del Coronado in 1892 – never checked out. Instead, it’s thought her lovely likeness and gentle spirit remain as the resort’s resident ghost.

About Kate Morgan

Kate MorganKate Morgan, age 24, arrived on Thanksgiving Day, alone and unhappy. According to hotel employees, she said she was waiting for a gentleman to join her. After five lonely days, Kate took her own life.

At the time of her death, police could find nothing to positively identify her, so a description of Kate was telegraphed to police agencies around the country. As a result, newspapers began to refer to Kate as the “beautiful stranger.” After Kate Morgan’s identity was confirmed – she was married but estranged from her husband – it was surmised that she had arrived at The Del hoping to rendezvous with a lover.

Kate had been employed as a domestic in a wealthy Los Angeles household. From there, she traveled by train to the hotel, where fellow passengers reported that a woman matching Kate’s description had argued with a male companion, who then deserted her en route. During her stay, Kate was described as sickly and sorrowful, venturing into San Diego to buy a handgun, and the San Diego coroner later confirmed that Kate had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Ghost of Kate Morgan

According to the hotel’s book, Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado, since that time, guests and employees have attested to ghostly goings-on. Most have to do with Kate’s original third-floor guestroom, where visitors have experienced flickering lights, a television that turns itself on and off, breezes coming from nowhere, inexplicable scents and sounds, items moving of their own accord, doors that randomly open and close, abrupt changes in room temperature, and unexplained footsteps and voices. The story of Kate Morgan continues to intrigue hotel visitors, and the room in which she stayed is the most requested guestroom at the hotel.

Independent paranormal researchers, in turn, have documented supernatural activity in Kate’s room using high-tech gadgetry, including infrared cameras, night vision goggles, radiation sensors, toxic-chemical indicators, microwave imaging systems, and high-frequency sound detectors.

There have also been Kate sightings in hotel hallways and along the seashore. Another very “active” area is the resort’s gift shop, Est. 1888, where visitors and employees routinely witness giftware mysteriously flying off shelves, oftentimes falling upright and always unbroken.

More About Kate Morgan

The book, Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado is the official account of Kate Morgan’s 1892 visit and contains a chronology of Kate’s hotel activities; a transcription of the coroner’s inquest; dozens of newspaper reports about Kate’s stay; vintage photos of the hotel; as well as detailed descriptions of paranormal sightings. Beautiful Stranger can be purchased through the hotel’s website at www.hoteldel.com.

Hotel del Coronado’s Crowning Glory

Have you ever wondered what’s beneath Hotel del Coronado’s soaring, red-roofed signature turret?

For over 125 years – ever since the hotel opened in 1888 – the resort’s 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, San Diego, and points beyond.

Through the Years: A Turret Resume

• An incredibly strong superstructure supports the top of the turret from within, and in the early days, gravity flow water tanks were installed here.

• Originally called the “theatre,” the commodious Ballroom 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 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.