Strolling down Orange Avenue today, it is hard to imagine a time when Coronado wasn’t a popular resort town. No matter what time of year you visit, the Crown City is always humming with life, its pristine beaches and island vibe making it one of San Diego’s can’t miss attractions.
But less than 150 years ago, the peninsula was an unoccupied Spanish hacienda, covered with nothing but coastal scrub. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Coronado Beach Resort became an important part of the resort community.
Indigenous Beginning in Coronado
We don’t know much about Coronado’s earliest inhabitants. Archaeological excavations around the peninsula uncovered mounds of seashells buried 15 feet under the sand and scattered residential sites. These findings suggest that the La Jolla tribe visited the peninsula seasonally in search of fish, game, berries, and other food approximately 7,000 years ago.
Spanish Settlement and Mexican Independence
In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed the port of San Miguel for the Spanish crown. Sixty years later, Sebastian Vizcaino renamed the site, San Diego. His crude map of the area included the Coronado peninsula, which means “Crowned One” in Spanish. Vizcaino was the last European to visit the area for 167 years.
In 1769, Russia began settling in western North America. Concerned about his rival’s encroaching presence, King Carlos III of Spain sent missionaries and soldiers to establish a presidio and mission at San Diego, the first official city in Alta California. (San Diego is often referred to as the “Plymouth Rock of the West.”)
In 1821, Mexica gained its independence from Spain and the newly- formed government began issuing land grants to prominent citizens and loyal Mexican military officers. In 1846, Governor Pip Pico gave Coronado to Don Pedro Carrillo, who began using the land to raise cattle. Five months later, Carrillo sold the land to an American captain for $1,000.
The Hotel del Coronado and Tent City
Over the next 39 years, Coronado changed hands several more times. No one saw much commercial potential in the peninsula until 1885 when a group of investors known as the Coronado Beach Company purchased the land for $110,000 and announced their plans to build a beachfront hotel.
News of the hotel sparked new interest in the peninsula. The Coronado Beach Company began selling land parcels at auction and created the San Diego and Coronado Ferry Company, which made its first run in 1886.
On February 19, 1888, the newly- built Hotel del Coronado opened its doors to the public and began attracting travelers from around the country, who flocked to the peninsula for its sunny climate, island feel, and picturesque beaches. Postcards from the era show dozens of guests wading in the waves in front of the Hotel del Coronado. Other daily activities at the hotel included hunting parties, archery, tennis, and fishing expeditions into the bay.
The Coronado Water Company also promoted the health benefits of the natural springs near the hotels, and many travelers came from back East after their doctors told them to move to San Diego’s temperate climate. The railroads went so far as to say in their advertisements that “People are so healthy in San Diego that no doctors will find employment there.”
In 1889, John Speckles (of Spreckles Sugar and Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ fame) purchased the then- bankrupt Coronado Beach Company holdings for $500,00, an incredibly low sum considering that in 2014, the Hotel del Coronado sold for more than $500 million! Eleven years later, he set up several hundred tents and thatched roof cottages south of Hotel del Coronado.
Tent City, as it became known, offered rustic lodging for tourists who could not afford the opulence of the Hotel del Coronado. For $4.50 a week, visitors could rent a canvas tent furnished with a bed, washbowl, dresser, and a chair. The accommodations may not have been glamorous, but you certainly couldn’t beat the location. Tent City remained an extremely popular summer destination for more than 40 years until it was closed to make room for the Silver Strand Highway.
Coronado Beach Resort
After Tent City closed, more hotels began popping up around the island, including a motel on the half-acre lot across the street from Hotel del Coronado. In the late 1980s, two local developers made plans to tear down the motel and build a 75-unit hotel there, to be operated as an annex to the Hotel del Coronado. The developers planned on obtaining financing from a Japanese bank, but when the Japanese bank, but when the Japanese banking crisis hit in 1989, they found themselves with approved permits and plans, but no construction funds.
At that point, Grand Pacific Resorts stepped in with alternative financing. Co-owners Tim Stripe and David Brown wanted to avoid the costly and time-consuming process of reapplying for permits, so they kept the exterior architecture plans intact and reconfigured the interior to include 53 timeshare units.
When the resort opened for the pre-sales in 1991, demand was overwhelming, even though the economy was in the depths of a recession. In fact intervals at Coronado Beach Resort were selling so quickly that David Brown personally typed contracts alongside the contract processors for the first couple of weeks.
Part of the draw of Coronado Beach Resort was that this was truly the public’s only opportunity to buy a fractional piece of real estate in Coronado. Shortly after construction began, the City of Coronado placed a focus on the new timeshare project, which is still in effect today. Even the most run-down homes on Coronado sold for upwards of one million dollars, so a timeshare week at $15,000 to $25,000 was a steal. In the end, the resort sold out one year sooner than predicted.
Today Coronado Beach Resort continues the Coronado tradition of hospitality. Every year, thousands of owners and guests visit Coronado Beach Resort to make memories with friends and family while enjoying the scenic environment.
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