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Paul Dean

Registering 100 Years of Hotel History

October 31, 1987|Paul Dean

It has been 100 years since the Hotel del Coronado opened, and in that century most of it has been stolen. Not outright thievery of hardware, mind you, not the wholesale for resale pinching of brass beds, bathtubs and bar stools.

But a noticeable loss, nevertheless, a subtle siphoning of the hotel's emotional history, personality and feel. Such as yesteryear's ambiance caught by a guest's 1932 box camera. Or a honeymoon bill held by ribbons in soft keeping since 1952 as the very first written notice of a new Mr. and Mrs.

Now, a few months away from its February centennial, the Hotel Del, red-shingled grande dame of West Coast resorts, would like its memories back.

Nothing hefty. All items not donated will be returned. Owners of attics and scrapbooks that yield the oldest, the most unusual and most valuable relics will be given a luxury weekend on the house.

"This is not a search to find the great thieves of yesterday," confirmed Pat Hennessey, a hotel vice president. "It's not like we're looking for a photograph of Ben Harrison in a gilt frame that hung in our lobby in 1925.

"This is a fun thing, an attempt to find anecdotal material for centennial display to fill some of the recognized gaps in our history.

"Example: In 1920, there was a state dinner in the Crown Room for the Prince of Wales. We don't have the guest book for that dinner but it's got to be out there somewhere."

Since the Del announced its scavenger hunt, the booty, as collated by centennial coordinator Gloria Cote, has begun to build.

The former Patricia Angilly, now Mrs. Robert Doornbos of Los Angeles, has donated a 16mm home movie that her parents made during a 1932 conference of water engineers at the hotel.

Phyllis and Seymour Prell of Studio City, a sense of history overriding sentiment, have returned souvenirs of their 1952 honeymoon. Everything from the wrapper that came with their complimentary box of See's candies to the Do Not Disturb sign that hung on their door. Also the bill for their five-day stay. It was $118. American Plan.

A grungy spittoon has surfaced. Photographs taken by hotel guests in 1899. Poker chips from a gambling ship that once moored offshore. A menu from 1894 and its specials: larded filet of beef and boiled chicken with salt pork.

But the trove, reports Hennessey, remains buried.

It is widely believed--and let's not wreck romantic gossip with the ugly truth--that the Prince of Wales met Wallis Simpson, then a Navy wife and Coronado socialite, at the Del during his state dinner.

"I'd love to have a photograph of the Prince of Wales greeting her in the reception line, maybe shaking her hand," Hennessey said. "If there's one legend of the hotel we'd like to prove, it's that one."

There's more on his wish list:

Stills of Marilyn Monroe show her writing on Del stationery during 1959 filming of "Some Like It Hot." Where are those notes?

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh attended a hotel banquet honoring his solo transatlantic flight. Where is the model of his "Spirit of Louis" that circled the room on a tether during the dinner?

If L. Frank Baum did use the hotel as a model for the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, where are his notes or sketches?

If Thomas Edison did supervise installation of the Del's lighting system and did throw the switch on its first Christmas tree, where is the hotel register with his signature?

"Frankly, if we get any of these prizes I'll be very surprised," Hennessey said. "But we're hoping."

Once collected, the memorabilia will form a permanent portion of a 12-month celebration that will flow with charity balls, theme parties and re-created moments in the history of the Hotel del Coronado.

Chefs are planning menus to duplicate dinners of those earlier moments.

They've promised not to resurrect the larded beef and boiled chicken with salt pork.

Hotel del Coronado, Orange Ave., Coronado. Centennial information: (619) 522-8040.

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