Gaslamp Quarter San Diego History
The story of one the most legendary hotels in San Diego’s Gaslamp District is just as fascinating as that of the city itself. History abounds at the Horton Grand Hotel, which is a restoration of two separate historic hotels: The Grand Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel.
The two hotels were built in the mid-1880s and were originally located where Horton Plaza mall now stands.
The savvy business traveler will always keep an eye on the bottom line. And accommodation can do more to open the eye than most any expense of travel. But rates for the major hotels vary only a little. And where does it say the traveling business-person has to watch the bottom line from an antiseptic single room in one of the interchangeable chain hotels that dominate in most major cities? Nowhere.
In San Diego, these days, the better downtown hotel is the unique new independent Horton grand that harks back to the good old San Diego hostelries of yore.
The newest, The Horton Grand – on the edge of San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter – is actually the oldest hotel in San Diego. And maybe the best.
1886 – the Elegant Grand Horton Hotel is born
Opened in 1886, the Grand Horton Hotel was an elegant, ornate Italianate Victorian structure built by German immigrant Peter Mayerhofer in his desire to replicate the Innsbruck Hotel in Austria.
It was constructed by prominent San Diego architects Comstock and Trotsche.
The Hotel was one of 300 structures built during the Boom of the 1880s to accommodate the influx of people to the little seacoast town of 5,000. Over, 26,000 visitors flocked to the town after the arrival of San Diego’s first transcontinental railroad in 1885.
Wyatt Earp at the Horton Grand
In 1886, AT THE AGE of 38, famed lawman Wyatt Earp arrived in San Diego, at the urging of his brother Virgil, to investigate reports of a real-estate boom in what was dubbed the “land of the sundown sea.”
Although he has been both glorified and vilified for his role in taming the West, due mainly to his participation in the infamous gunfight at the O.K Corral, Earp was in fact an itinerant adventurer and opportunist who spent much of his life roaming from boom to boom town.
Wyatt Earp spent seven years as a guest of the hotel.
The “Cowboy-Victorian-Styled ”Brooklyn-Khale Saddlery Hotel is Born
The Brooklyn Hotel, a less formal building styled in a what’s been informally called a Cowboy-Victorian motif, opened in 1887. Originally named the Brooklyn Hotel, it was later dubbed the Brooklyn-Khale Saddlery after the prominent saddle and harness shop that occupied the ground floor of the hotel in 1912 and for the ensuing 66 years.
The Khale Saddlery made hand-carved saddles and tack for such notables as Tom Mix and Roy Rogers and a host of other film and rodeo stars. Stop by in the lobby and say "hello" to Sunshine.
1891 – Presidents and Kings choose the Grand Horton Hotel
In 1891, the Chamber of Commerce rented the ground floor space of the Grand Horton, and it became a focal point of civic activity. The Natural History Society used the Grand Horton to display its collections, and prominent figures stopped by the hotel when they visited during those years, including President Benjamin Harrison and King Kalakaua of Hawaii.
Prominent San Diegan, Colonel Ed Fletcher, lived in a room at the Hotel during the 1890s. Fletcher later developed areas in the East County region of San Diego, including Mount Helix, and was responsible for designing the layout of the City of Del Mar. Fletcher hills and Fletcher Parkway bear his name.
December 1912 - Dust Settles – Chinatown emerges
After the dust from the Great Raid settled, less than a month later, on December 6, 1912, the wrecking ball razed much of the Stingaree District, and the area gradually became known as Chinatown where immigrants from China comprised roughly three percent of the local population gaining employment as cooks, laborers, launderers, fisherman, housekeepers, merchants, clerks and physicians.
A Chinese boarding house stood at the corner of 3rd and Island and Ah Quin, the unofficial mayor of Chinatown, lived in the neighboring building just south of the Horton Grand Hotel on 3rd Street.
1912 - Its Ida Bailey and The Great Raid
The Great Raid was finally planned for November 11, 1912. At 6 a.m. on Sunday morning the police struck and 138 ladies were arrested and all men caught in the raid were set free. The Mayor offered the ladies their choice of leaving the profession by accepting a job with the City or accepting a one-way train ticket to Los Angeles.
Only two ladies reportedly took him up on his offer – one operated the City’s switchboard. A vignette paying homage to this lady is found in the Horton Grand’s north elevator.
After the dust from the Great Raid settled, less than a month later, on December 6, 1912, the wrecking ball razed much of the Stingaree District, and the area gradually became known as Chinatown.
1970s – Our two hotels fighting for their lives
In the late 1970s, two of the few remaining historical buildings standing, the Grand Horton and Khale Saddlery Hotels, were scheduled for demolition to make room for the Horton Plaza mall development project.
But following the vision of a local developer named Dan Pearson and after a complex a valiant effort to save these two buildings by local historical preservation activists and the San-Diego-based Save Our Heritage Organization, the structures were spared from the wrecking ball.
Pearson joined a strenuous campaign to save the building, which by that time had become a flophouse. But the City Council voted to demolish it.
Pearson and an architect called Wayne Donaldson started by consulting two octogenarian carpenters who understood how these old buildings were put together (with beach sand between the bricks, for example, instead of mortar). In time Pearson bought the doomed hotel for $1 and swapped the redwood infrastructure for the labor needed to tear the place down. He found a prime location for its resurrection, at the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter, only two blocks from Horton Plaza. After five months of efforts, the proud old Horton Grand lay in 10,000 pieces in a warehouse, each item numbered and catalogued.
Since the brick buildings were not reinforced and had no internal support, they could not be picked up and moved. Over 40 tons of materials and artifacts were able to be salvaged. The original bay windows, banisters, iron railings, doors and doorframes, exterior Victorian ornamentation, and 82,000 bricks were saved.
At the end of ‘82, Pearson got word that the Salvation Army, which owned the Khale Saddlery Hotel, was going to tear it down too to make way for a parking lot. The idea of taking the second building and putting them side by side came up, to then be connected by a courtyard and atrium.
The Sixteen Penny Construction Company painstakingly dismantled the pieces to ensure an accurate restoration. The most-time consuming restorative task was the Horton Grand’s split oak staircase, which at $200,000 was also the single most expensive artifact to restore.
It was more a job of fanciful re-creation than restoration. Strict preservationists outside of San Diego frowned, and the project was denied the tax benefits of inclusion on the Federal Register of historic Places. But $12 million later – in 1986, on the, on the hundredth anniversary of both of its progenitors – the Horton Grand was reopened, in finer style than it had ever known.
Dan Pearson – The Man Who Built the Horton Grand
In his previous life he had been a Go-Go financier in San Diego, hooked on hundred-hour workweeks. He had made and then lost millions of dollars in cattle feeding. But in 1978 Dan Pearson was sitting in a Hindu monastery. He had been there for eighteen months, meditating alone in a room, resting up for the next round of his life.
He was meditating one day, and suddenly he started going down a street and around a corner, and there was a house. Next day, he was going down another street and around a corner – same house. That happened every day for about a week. Pearson thought that was someplace in San Diego and had the compulsion to go there. Within two weeks he left the monastery, and came back to San Diego
He got back in a car, not knowing quite where he was heading, and ended up in a shabby warehouse district at the edge of downtown, standing in front of the doddering Grand Pacific Hotel. A stranger said to him, “Neat old hotel, isn’t it?” Pearson agreed. The stranger told him about the preservation movement revitalizing downtown, about the plans to turn skid row into the historic Gaslamp Quarter of shops and restaurants and galleries near Horton Plaza, the Esther-cum-Disney shopping mall that had started the downtown revival. Pearson was intrigued. He went back to a friend’s house, flipped on the TV for the first time in a year and a half; on the news was a story about the same hotel, the Grand Pacific.
If Dan Pearson had learned anything in the monastery, it was to follow his instincts, to heed those signs that sometimes seem to whisper: step this way, please. And so he did.
- He bought that little house on the corner and made it his home
- He put together a partnership, which purchased the Grand Pacific Hotel.
- He became finance officer for the Gaslamp Quarter and began developing his own restoration projects
- He crossed paths in the Gaslamp with an engaging lady named Kit Goldman who wanted to start a theatre there. He found her an abandoned Chinese dance hall, financed its reconversion and then married her
- His company proceeded to buy up, after the Grand Pacific, the only two other downtown hotels remaining from the city’s original 1880s land boom. Pearson had them dismantled a brick at a time and, well, reincarnated a few blocks away, side by side.
The result is a striking elegant and classy confection that stands as San Diego’s showplace of romantic revivalism, the Horton Grand Hotel.
The Hotel’s new Location – The Stingaree District - Ida Bailey’s Canary Cottage
The Horton grand Hotel now stands with elegant distinction in what was once the heart of San Diego’s notorious version of the Barbary Coast’s Stingaree District.
The Stingaree was the wide open section of the young, raw city, an amalgamation of saloons, gambling halls, opium dens and brothels, with a few legitimate businesses mixed in.
Despite Occasional clean-up campaigns, the Stingaree remained the center of disreputable activity in San Diego for decades.
Ida Bailey was the district’s most flamboyant and famous madam. Her house of ill-repute, the Canary Cottage, stood or on near where the Horton Grand’s restaurant is today. In addition to its more scarlet attributes, the Canary Cottage was famed for serving some of the best food and drink in the city. While Bailey’s occupation left much to be desired, there was no faulting her culinary tastes.
In 1983, police raided and closed the Silver Moon, at the corner of Third and Island referring to it as “probably the worst corner of the Stingaree.” But by 1909, due to public outcry spurred by the women of the San Diego Purity League to clean up the area, the Stingaree was nearing the point of no return.
Details of the Historic Horton Grand Hotel
Whenever possible, authentic period materials were used, including much of the original nineteenth-century window glass. The overall effect evokes little slices of time, like set pieces. And yet the modern amenities are never far away.
Some of the antique pieces are quite large. Like the Hotel’s smaller pieces, they were brought in from a variety of places. The rick oak registration desk and the bar in the Palace Bar were found dusty but intact in a New York church.
Ida Bailey’s Restaurant (now Salt & Whiskey)
Ida Bailey was the Stingaree’s district’s most flamboyant and famous madam. Her house of ill-repute, the Canary Cottage, stood or on near where the Horton Grand’s restaurant is today. In addition to its more scarlet attributes, the Canary Cottage was famed for serving some of the best food and drink in the city. While Bailey’s occupation left much to be desired, there was no faulting her culinary tastes.
So it just seemed natural for the Horton Grand to name their restaurant after her.
Guests arriving at the Ida Bailey Restaurant enter an airy atrium lit and warmed by the sun pouring through skylights and long windows facing the brick courtyard. Opening in June at the Horton Grand Hotel.
Ida Bailey's recently underwent a renovation and rebranding and is now called Salt & Whiskey.
Palace Bar and the Staircase (now Salt & Whiskey)
The Palace bar, with its oak-lined walls has an air of quiet refinement about it. It is the sort of place where people meet over a glass of sherry for good conversation. When the occasional evening, damp from the nearby waterfront, threatens to a slip through the door, it is soon banished by a cheerful fire in the bar’s marble fireplace. Rising above the fireplace, an eight-and-a-half-foot gilt-edged mirror reflects the bar. And around the mirror: a mural replete with lush Greek goddesses that would warm the cockles of any gentleman’s heart.
Entering the bar from the lobby, guests pass the hotel’s magnificent central staircase. Removed from the original hotel, it was brought to the new site for reassembly. Large sections were missing and had to be painstakingly recreated. Countless coats of paint and varnish were stripped away. It took months of patient craftsmanship and over a quarter of a million dollars before the beauty of the staircase’s hand-carved 200-year-ol oak was restored to its former elegance.
Palace Bar recently underwent a renovation and rebranding and is now called Salt & Whiskey.
Palace Bar (now Salt & Whiskey)
The magnificent Palace Bar has such appointments as rich oak paneled walls, an eight-and-a-half-foot gilt-edged mirror, an elaborate hand-painted mural of Greek goddesses, intricate wood carving throughout the bar, a striking central staircase, part of the original structure.
Palace Bar recently underwent a renovation and rebranding and is now called Salt & Whiskey.
Famous Guests of the Horton Grand Hotel
Memories of guests like Kalakua, King of Hawaii; and Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States. Hollywood royalty like George Raft and Lou Costello; Wyatt Earp, his eyes cold as the glint of gunmetal; sports heroes like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and the beloved Babe Ruth who raised the home run to an art form.
Horton Grand Hotel Beckons You
The first time you lay eyes on the Horton Grand Hotel, you realize that this architectural gem begs for further investigation.
San Diego’s hotel scene is hopping these days with all kinds of restaurants, hotels, and clubs. But the real seductress – and in fact one of the most unusual new hotels in the United States – is the Horton Grand.
One reason the hotel looks so unique is that it is actually two hotels in one. They are no less than the two oldest hotels in San Diego, and they were moved to this location, brick by brick, through the vision of a local developer named Dan Pearson.
Nestled comfortably amid the burnished steel-and-glass towers of downtown and just a few hundred yards from the convention center, is a refuge of elegance, grace, and civility. The Horton Grand, empress of Gaslamp District San Diego hotels, has recently began a renovation process.
The Horton Grand experience begins at her doors as a valet whisks your car to one of the three private parking areas. Inside, away from the bustling city, your senses become attuned to the subtle sights, sounds, and scents of a memorable past mixed with the prospects of a brighter future.a