The Hotel del Coronado (619-435-6611; www.hoteldel.com) has all the gloryexpected of a national historic landmark: folklore that has enticed the romantics,style that has attracted 10 presidents, and a proximity to Hollywood that hasbrought a "who's who of celebrities" to its doors. It even has its own ghost. OnThanksgiving Day 1892, 24-year-old Kate Morgan committed suicide inside the Hotel.She was found on the stairs with a .44 caliber American Bulldog pistol lying besideher. Now Kate is a regular guest at the Hotel del Coronado, the "Del."
THE PERFECT BACKDROP
Bid Time Return
But it wasn't Kate's ghost prowling the corridorsin 1975 and returning again and again to thebasement's Hall of History. It was author RichardMatheson seeking the muse for his romantic novel,. Why did Matheson think he wouldfind his muse on the grounds of the Hotel? The Delhad, and still has, everything a writer could needfor inspiration: Victorian gingerbread architecture,a perfect location on perhaps the most beautifulbeach on the West Coast, and 31 acres ofexotic flowering plants all thriving in SanDiego's mild climate.
But no institution can survive living justin the past. The hotel, which cost $1 millionincluding furnishings in 1888, has now spent$55 million to upgrade its rooms, shops, andrestaurants. The results? The CaliforniaRestaurant Association just gave the Del itsBest Dining Award of 2002 and has named it 1 of the top 10 resorts in theworld. The renovations are the first part ofthe Del's master plan "to preserve andrestore its historic elements and enhance itsrelationship with the Pacific Ocean."
Some Like It Hot
It's a timely wakeup call to the community. In1958, the hotel had been ideal for everyone'sfavorite comedy movie, . Butwhen Hollywood icon Jeannot Szwarc, who was todirect the movie based on Matheson's book , checked the Del's boundaries for thefilm, he was dismayed. "The hotel," he said, "wasnow surrounded by a forest of television antennaeand contemporary horrors."
AMERICA'S SUMMER HOTEL
After the Hotel del Coronado had been ruledout as the setting for Szwarc's picture, someonesuggested the Grand Hotel (906-847-3331;www.grandhotel.com) on Mackinac Island.Szwarc and his crew members came to scoutAmerica's summer place in the midst of one ofMichigan's worst winters. "What's beneath thissnow?" they asked. The answer, "Flowers." "Andhere?" "Flowers."
Somewhere in Time
Szwarc stamped hisfeet on the cold ground,sniffed the air, and said,"Perfect. At this site onJune 27, 1912, RichardCollier found Elise McKenna." And Americafound more, including one of the greatest lovestories ever screened and, arguably, the mostpopular cult film in Hollywood history. Universal's1980 movie , with thebackdrop of the Grand Hotel and John Barry'shaunting music, has become one of the mostsuccessful video releases of all time.
The Grand Hotel's lovely, idyllic, and almostlanguid location was ideal for a movie based inthe early 1900s. But the surprise for movie buffs(who come in homage) is how much better thisgrand old dame is in person. Built in 1887,impeccably maintained, and owned essentiallyby the same family for 3 generations, it sparklestoday as if it had just been constructed. Guestsstill arrive at the hotel by ferry as they have sinceit first opened, since there is no bridge to theisland and no cars. Horses pull wagons andcabsâ€”and the clip clop of their hooves does asmuch to make the days serene as the charm of"the world's largest summer hotel."
At the turn of the century there were about1000 large, wood frame hotels, says Bob Tagatz,the Grand Hotel concierge and historian. "Theywere killed off by the Depression and the threatof fire. Only 2 remain in private hands, MohonkMountain House and our Grand Hotel. Elsewhere,there's just a handful left, such as theMount Washington and the Balsams in NewHampshire and the National Park Lodges. And,of course, the historic Hotel del Coronado."
Christine Donovan, director of Heritage Programsfor the Hotel del Coronado, points out thathotels' histories are particularly important whenthey tie into the history of the nation. The CaliforniaGold Rush, for example, created the demandfor railroad westward expansion, the developmentthat brought people to California and success toone of its most beautiful hotels, the Del.