One hundred years ago this week a public land auction marked the beginning of one of the Southland's most alluring cities. On Nov. 13, 1886, lots went on sale in Coronado, then a forlorn ocean-front peninsula across the bay from San Diego.
Next weekend you can join the city's centennial celebration that includes nostalgic ferryboat rides around the bay. Ferries provided the main access to Coronado until the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge opened in 1969.
Decades earlier two vacationing entrepreneurs from the Midwest boated there to hunt jackrabbits. While tramping over the sandy expanse they envisioned an enormous luxury resort that would attract wealthy visitors from around the globe.
Soon after that arose the Hotel del Coronado, a 686-room Victorian beauty that's still welcoming guests and will celebrate its 100th birthday in 1988. Affectionately known as The Del, the historic hostelry remains Coronado's major attraction.
You'll discover more of the city's fascinating past by joining one of the guided walking tours offered Saturday and next Sunday during the centennial celebration.
Even if you can't time a trip for next weekend, walking tours of old Coronado are available three times a week throughout the year. Or explore on your own with a guide map to 80 sites published in the Coronado Historical Assn. centennial booklet.
Another choice is to join the association's annual Candlelight Christmas Tree and Home Tour next month when you can visit a dozen of the city's Victorian bungalows. Included is the residence of Wallis Warfield Spencer, whose marriage to the Duke of Windsor made world headlines in 1936.
The Baum Home
Also on the holiday tour is the 1895 home of Frank Baum, author of the "Wizard of Oz" books. Another is Coronado's largest residence, the Mansion, with 17 bedrooms and 13 baths.
Regardless of the time of your visit, you can spend the night in the former bedroom of Coronado's most noted citizen, John D. Spreckels. The handsome mansion he built in 1908 across from The Del is now the impressive Glorietta Bay Inn.
The son of "Sugar King" Claus Spreckels, John D. Spreckels was a multimillionaire in his own right and loaned money to the early developers of Coronado. They were selling home lots to finance The Del's construction, but land values plunged when it was learned that the Santa Fe railway's western terminus would be Los Angeles instead of San Diego.
By 1891 Spreckels bought out the original investors and became the majority owner of Coronado, including its grand hotel, ferryboats and trolley line. He moved there after his hometown of San Francisco was devastated by the 1906 earthquake.
Get to Coronado from Los Angeles by driving south on Interstate 5 to San Diego and joining California 75 across the bay.
After paying the bridge toll ($1.20 per car round trip), continue on 4th Street to Coronado's main thoroughfare, Orange Avenue. Turn right and go to the boulevard's end at 1st Street where you'll see a vintage ferryboat ticket booth.
A walkway leads past it to panoramic views of San Diego's skyline from the old boat landing area, now the bayside Centennial Park. That's where a passenger ferry will depart next weekend on 30-minute harbor tours at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. ($2).
The Trolley Service
Also in operation will be $1 cross-peninsula trolley service to The Del. You'll ride rubber-wheeled vehicles instead of the streetcars that once ran on tracks along Orange Avenue.
Stop midway on that boulevard between 6th and 7th streets for the centennial festivities and music next weekend in Spreckels Park. The rest of the year there are arts and crafts shows in the park on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Coming round the curve on Orange Avenue you'll see the red roof, turrets, cupolas and Victorian gingerbread of the Hotel del Coronado. Although modern buildings have been added, guests are still surrounded by the charming elegance of a bygone era.
Now a city, state and national landmark, The Del has been regally renovated to maintain its stature as the grande dame of West Coast resorts.
Go through the garden courtyard to the basement-level Hall of History to view artifacts, photos and news clippings from the hotel's early days. In the lobby shop visitors can rent an audiocassette machine for a self-guiding tour ($3 per person).
Popular on Sundays is brunch in the vast Crown Room, followed by afternoon tea dancing in the Ocean View Lounge.
Rooms in the original hotel building vary in size and view and range from $105 to $145, lanais and suites $185 to $425; two-night minimum stay required on weekends. Room rates in the new complex begin at $135. Reservations: (619) 522-8000.
Across the street is another historic lodging, the Glorietta Bay Inn, where rooms in Spreckels' mansion are $100-$110.