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In Downtown San Diego : Hotels Returned to New Grandeur

March 01, 1987|BILL LYNDE | Lynde is a Cypress free-lance writer. and

Two restored hotels in downtown San Diego are just four blocks apart, yet are poles apart in how they were rebuilt. Total cost: $92 million.

The 76-year-old U. S. Grant was gutted and restored between August, 1982, and its formal reopening in January, 1986.

The Horton Grand is two hotels in one, and was moved piece by piece from the original sites into storage, then reassembled over a four-year period at a new location in the Gaslamp Quarter. It reopened last May on its 100th birthday.

The Grant project cost $80 million, the Horton Grand $12 million. The 283-room Grant is luxury personified; the 110-room Horton Grand, Victorian gingerbread.

Nielsen Construction Co., San Diego, performed the Grant restoration work. Architects were Tucker, Sadler & Associates.

Some of the original appointments were salvaged and reused at the request of the San Diego Historical Society, such as the green and gray tile flooring in the main lobby and adjacent corridors and the brass railing on the grand stairway.

The list of new material needed was formidable: 107 chandeliers costing about $100,000; 150 tons of marble came to $700,000; new guest room furnishings, $1,188,600. Then there were things added, such as a 300-space parking structure, $6 million; a French-made La Broche rotisserie for the Grant Grill, $120,000, and a wine cellar, $1 million.

An addition of a 96 rooms on top of the garage is scheduled to start this summer.

Nielsen project manager Mort Isaacson worked a crew averaging 180 people per day, including 33 subcontractors. Craftspersons were hired for leaded-glass, gold-leaf, marble and ornamental work.

What started out as a hostelry with 437 small guest rooms emerged as 283 larger rooms, including 64 suites featuring built-in bars, fireplaces and whirlpool bathtubs. There are 27,000 square feet of public space in 16 meeting rooms. And ground-floor retail space totals 24,000 square feet.

Isaacson said the biggest challenge was finding head room, ceiling space and routing for modern utilities in a structure built three-quarters of a century ago when mechanical equipment and wiring for air conditioning and heating were unnecessary.

The Horton Grand restoration posed a different challenge to its general contractor, M. H. Golden, in plans drawn by architect Wayne Donaldson.

They inherited pieces of two old hotels, the Horton and Kahle Saddlery.

Saved in Nick of Time

In the nick of time, literally, Gaslamp Quarter developer Dan Pearson offered to save the pieces. The old Horton had degenerated into a flophouse and was about to be demolished to make way for the $175-million Horton Plaza shopping center developed by Ernest W. Hahn.

The Saddlery was being used as a warehouse by the Salvation Army and was headed for demolition to accommodate a parking lot. The non-reinforced brick buildings had no internal support beams, and could not be moved.

Instead, Pearson opted for dismantling and storage until rebuilding could start at the new site at the lower end of Horton Plaza, 311 Island Ave.

Pearson, Donaldson (who specializes in historic preservation projects) and Centre City Development Corp. (San Diego's redevelopment office) had to hustle to beat the wrecking ball.

The Horton came apart in five months in the fall of 1981. Nearly 40 tons of building materials--in all, about 10,000 individually catalogued pieces--were dismantled and stored at a cost of $800,000. The Saddlery disassembly took four months at a similar cost.

The reconstruction utilized 85% of the original brick. Bay windows were salvaged and used. The sweeping oak staircase from the Horton was restored to its original elegance. So are the Saddlery's stained-glass windows.

The U. S. Grant got its financing from a syndicate package developed by the Sickels Group in conjunction with New York-based Sybedon Corp. It took 2 1/2-months to complete, with 300 limited partnerships sold at $100,000 each through Prudential-Bache Securities.

Tax incentives available to historic rehabilitations drew the investors. As a historical landmark, the hotel provided dollar-for-dollar reductions of an individual's tax liability--approximately $43,000 on each $100,000 investment.

Financing More Difficult

An additional $38 million in financing came from Home Federal Savings and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Financing for the Horton Grand was different and difficult. The final package included $2.1 million in private funds, $8.1 million in historic rehabilitation bonds backed by the Bank of America, $610,000 in city and redevelopment agency contributions and a $1-million Urban Development Action grant.

The restoration goes on in downtown San Diego. The 250-seat Charles Deane Theatre/Conference Genter has opened near the Horton Grand. (The San Diego Paper Box Factory had been built on the site in 1912.)

Scheduled for plan review in July is the re-creation of the 110-room Horton House Hotel behind the Horton Grand. The Horton House was torn down in July, 1905, to make way for the U. S. Grant. So, the architect and contractor are going to have fun. They have to copy, as best they can, from old photographs.

The Horton name application to properties come from one man, Alonzo Horton. He was the "father" of downtown San Diego after the original business district in Old Town was destroyed by fire in 1872.

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