When this resort opened in 1926 as a desert hideaway, it began to attract Hollywood stars like Katherine Hepburn; Joan Crawford, who brought her children; and that wonderful Robin Hood, Errol Flynn.
Eighty-seven years later, the expanded resort is known more for its world-famous golf courses. It has more than forty swimming pools. I’ve been slipping away to La Quinta for the last twenty-five years.
The La Quinta Resort is near Palm Springs, California, but is located in the city of La Quinta. The city is the only one in the U.S. named after a hotel.
The landscape was pretty bare in 1927 except for the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Now it is lush year round. While visiting, I found a plaque outdoors. I love discoveries on vacations.
The plaque states that director Frank Capra first came to La Quinta in 1934 to turn the story “Night Bus,” which he read in a Palm Springs barbershop, into a movie script called “It Happened One Night.” The film won the five most important Oscars, including one for director Capra, who then brought his wife regularly to his “lucky” resort, where he wrote other classic films, such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The Best Actor Oscar for “It Happened One Night” was awarded to Clark Gable, who often vacationed here with his wife, Carole Lombard.
Sometimes you just get lucky. The investors of the first theater in Hollywood selected an Egyptian theme. Five weeks after it opened its doors, King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and everything Egyptian became the cat’s pajamas. The year was 1922.
One of the men who built the Egyptian was Sid Grauman, who would later build Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where the handprints and footprints of the stars attract visitors today. Sid was a marketing genius, in my book. The movies shown at the Egyptian were world exclusives for six months, while the rest of the country eagerly waited for them to come to their local movie houses.
While the feature-length silents played in this glamorous venue, their titles shone in lights in front of the courtyard. Today the lights spell the name of the organization that took this decrepit building where homeless people slept, restored it, and presents a wide variety of movies there today. Picture the sign below with “Robin Hood” or “Thief of Baghdad,” brightly lit at night.
Sid Grauman also rolled out the red carpet for the stars at the movie’s premieres. Long, red carpets had been used similarly in ancient times, but Sid was the first to use them for movie stars. Now planters with palm trees take up much of the courtyard, but in the Twenties, there was room for fans to star-gaze.
The flappers and their fellas paid five dollars a head for the premiere, and between seventy-five cents and a dollar-fifty for an everyday showing. With prices that high, it must have been a special occasion calling for dressing up.
As the movie-goers entered the auditorium, singers standing in theater boxes serenaded them as they found their seats. Then live actors performed a prologue or short piece with the same theme as the movie.
If you visit Hollywood, or if you live nearby, relive the history of movies by watching the wonderful documentary,”Forever Hollywood,” at the Egyptian, Hollywood’s first movie theater.
On my first trip to the Del, I was browsing the Victorian Gift Shop, which, I might add, is right up my alley, when a man entered.
“So, have you seen the ghost of Kate Morgan?” He asked the clerk.
“Oh, yes.” The woman seemed dead serious.
Intrigued, I purchased Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado. On the cover, it says “The official account of Kate Morgan’s 1892 visit and why she haunts The Del today.”
Over the years, there have been so many “sightings” that the hotel figured it had nothing to lose by publishing what is known of this young woman’s visit and tragic death, and the paranormal phenomena guests and employees have reported.
Kate Morgan had lost contact with her husband. He was a professional gambler, and last she heard, he plied his trade on railway cars. Kate worked as a domestic in Los Angeles when she took the train south and checked into the Hotel del Coronado alone. That in itself was unusual, but her behavior was strange.
She seemed be ill and said it was terminal. She claimed that her brother, a doctor, would come. She was not interested in a local doctor, only in the man she inquired about at the front desk at least once a day for four or five days.
She took a train to San Diego, bought a gun, and a hotel employee found her body outside early in the morning. She was twenty-four.
A corner’s inquest was held almost immediately. Newspapers across the country speculated about the young woman, who had checked into the hotel using a false name. Although she had claimed to be expecting her physician brother, it turned out she had no brother. Who was the man she anxiously awaited, and did she end her life because he did not come to her? perhaps it was her no-good husband or a lover. Had he cast her aside? Had he left her in a family way?
The San Diego Union reported that a hotel guest saw Kate Morgan on the train from Los Angeles to San Diego, accompanied by a well-dressed gentleman, and the two of them had a bitter quarrel, right on the train, which ended with Kate asking for forgiveness and her companion getting off the train without her. This witness saw her again at the hotel, and he was sure it was her. Trouble was, this man said Kate was on his train from Denver to San Diego. Funny that he spoke to a newspaper but not to the authorities. He may have been entirely made up by the reporter.
The hotel’s heritage department compiled recent sightings in the book Beautiful Stranger, and some of them are in Kate Morgan’s room, and others seem to have no connection. Quite a few have occurred in a different room.
I regret I did not ask the gift shop clerk what she had seen to make her feel that the ghost of Kate Morgan was in her presence. The book describes incidents in the stores — the clerks witnessed books “jumping” or flying off of shelves, and the stories were corroborated by the store’s customers.
This is not Coronado Beach, on Coronado Island, off of San Diego, California, but this structure is similar to the cabinette my husband and I rented there. I could not write a series about this 120-year-old resort without telling you how wonderful it is in the present.
At the Del, a cabinette is two wooden lounge chairs joined together with a canopy that you pull up if you want shade. The young people lucky enough to get summer jobs at this wide, wonderful beach brought bottles of water to our cabinette, as well as a bowl of fruit. All included in the price.
Read a good book, doze, read, swim.
I don’t know how it can be legal, but just across the path, at the edge of the hotel, there is a walk-up bar where you can get wine, beer, or cocktails to go and bring them to your beach chair or cabinette. Some people had cardboard boxes that held four cocktails per box.
Read, sip, doze.
The Del is presently the largest wooden structure in the United States. Although it was built in 1888, it was powered by electricity from the beginning. Other Victorian hotels were lit by gaslight, and the open flames caused fires and destruction.
Although a few days at this beach resort is wonderful, some guests in the early twentieth century stayed for such long periods — they received a substantial discount off the nightly and weekly rates — that the Del opened a school for the children.
With the next post, I will begin the astonishing events of the past and present.
Pickford, Chaplin, Gable and Katharine Hepburn, as well as movie stars of the present, have been guests at the Hotel del Coronado. Eleven U.S. presidents have slept here. Charles Lindbergh was feted at a 1927 banquet for his solo crossing of the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and a replica of his plane circled above the guests in the dining room.
Clicking this link will open a new window with a website showing a lovely impressionist painting created by artist Louis Betts about 1907. It is of Coronado Beach, and Betts probably painted it while he was outside. The top of the page has a detail of the painting. Below that is a blank area above a row of small photos (called thumbnails). Click on the thumbnail of this painting, the one on the far lef,t to see the entire painting.
I can almost feel the warmth of the sand. The lady in the white dress carries a yellow umbrella, and the top of it is lit by the sun. The umbrella shades her upper body, and she herself casts a shadow on the sand.
With all the sunshine and bathers enjoying the ocean, I wondered why the painting is called “Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach.” I’ve been to Coronado Beach in summer, which I will write about in a few days, and this looks like summertime to me. This afternoon, it’s 75 degrees in Coronado and the water is 69 degrees. (Yes, the water is this cool off of San Diego, the southernmost city on the west coast of the continental U.S. That’s because the surface current along the Pacific coast comes from Alaska. Along the east coast of the U.S., the current comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so beach water is warmer on that coast.)
But mid-winter in Coronado? Isn’t the water chilly? The water then averages 59 degrees, but this painting was an advertisement for the Southern Pacific Railway.
This painting will be on display only until September 20, and then it will go into storage. The exhibit is called “Paradise Found.” I will try to see it. Art is worth the drive, and I could use a little paradise. I’ll bet you could, too. This is what art is for.
Hotel del Coronado — Part Three will describe the beach in the present, and then I will move on to the amazing events at the hotel, as I promised in Part One. If you haven’t read Part One, the previous post, take a look at it and view a scene from the #1 comedy of all time.