Haunted History of Hotel Del Coronado

Situated in the city of San Diego, just across San Diego Bay, Hotel del Coronado (also known as The Del or Hotel Del) was then one of the most luxurious resort in the state when it first opened in 1888.

The hotel is well known not only for its stunning Victorian architecture and famous guests but also for its haunted history, particularly associated with the ghost of Kate Morgan.

The wooden Victorian resort was the brainchild of five business moguls:

  • Elisha Spurr Babcock, a railroad executive from Evansville, Indiana.
  • Hampton L. Story, of the Story & Clark Piano Company of Chicago
  • Jacob Gruendike, president of the First National Bank of San Diego
  • Heber Ingle
  • Joseph Collett

In early 1886, the five men had built numerous enterprises such as the Coronado Ferry Company, the Coronado Water Company and the Coronado Railroad Company to spur the growth of Coronado. They had envisioned their work to culminate with the building of a world-class luxurious resort on the then-undeveloped Coronado peninsula.

Work on the Hotel Del Coronado began in March 1887. To construct the hotel, the five men hired architectural firm Reid & Reid— run by architect James W. Reid, Merritt J. Reid, and Watson Elkinah Reid—to design the massive resort and oversee the 2,000 laborers hired for the project.

Hotel del coronado construction 1888
Construction of Hotel Del Coronado in 1888 | Image credits: S. G. Courtright

In under a year, most of the main buildings were completed and the hotel was ready for business. Hotel Del Coronado officially opened its doors to the public in February 1888.

The massive resort boast 339 luxurious guest rooms and an array of amenities including an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, a Japanese tea garden, an ostrich farm, and bowling alleys.

Activities such as rabbit hunt, sailing, and deep sea fishing were also offered to VIP guests of the Hotel Del Coronado.

The crown room hotel del coronado
The crown room at Hotel Del Coronado in 1915 | Image credits: San Diego Magazine

Hotel Del Coronado was reportedly one of the world’s first to have electric lighting in a hotel; electricity was introduced to the city of San Diego barely two years ago in 1886. The hotel also boast one of the largest electrical power plant in the world, supplying electricity to not only its buildings but also the city.

In December of 1904, the hotel lit up the world’s first electrically lighted, outdoor Christmas tree.

“The tree selected for the honor is one of the three splendid Norfolk Island pines on the plaza [grassy area in front of the hotel]. It has attained a height of fifty feet and its branches stand proudly forth. All day yesterday electricians were busy fitting it up and by night 250 lights of many colors gave beauty to the fine old pine. Lanterns, great and small, hung from its boughs. And now that an open-air Christmas tree had been introduced, it is likely that another Christmas Eve will find many California gardens aglow with light scattered from living foliage.”

– San Diego Union, December 25, 1904
hotel del coronado christmas tree light
Christmas tree light at Hotel Coronado | Image credits: San Diego History Center

However, the collapse of southern California’s real estate boom in the late 1880s led to a severe decline in room occupancy as people deserted San Diego.To finance the completion of the hotel, Babcock raised funds from various business leaders and was able to get a loan of $100,000 from John Diedrich Spreckels, a sugar magnate and real estate tycoon. In 1893, Babcock and Story sold all their shares of Hotel Del Coronado to Spreckels.

During World War II, Hotel Del Coronado housed pilots who trained at nearby North Island Naval Air Station and their families. While many of the hotels in San Diego were expropriated by the U.S. government to serve as military barracks and hospital, Hotel Del Coronado was one of the few that continued operating as a business.

Over the next few decades, the hotel changed hands several times to ensure business continuity. In 1960, the hotel was sold to John Alessio, a local millionaire. It was later sold to M. Larry Lawrence in 1963, the Travelers Group in 1996, CNL Hospitality Properties Inc in 2003, and Blackstone Group LP in 2006.

In 2016, Blackstone brokered a $6.5 billion deal involving 16 resorts with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese insurance company. However, all but Hotel Del Coronado was transferred to Anbang Insurance Group. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal agency that oversees acquisition of U.S. business by foreign entities, has deemed the transaction to be of high national security risk due to the hotel’s proximity to several Navy bases in the area.

The last change of hands happened in August 2017 when Hilton Hotel and Resorts took over the management of the hotel.

Hotel del Coronado aerial view
Aerial view of Hotel Del Coronado | Image credits: K.C. Alfred, The San Diego Union Tribune

Over the years, Hotel Del Coronado underwent several renovations to increase its room capacity as well as to modernise its furnishings. During the 1970s and 80s, then-owner Lawrence doubled its room capacity to over 700 rooms and added Grande Hall Convention Center as well as the Ocean Towers.

Another massive redevelopment took place in 2019 when Hilton Hotel and Resorts expanded Hotel Del Coronado to include more guest rooms, parking garages and a new entrance.

Today, Hotel Del Coronado is the second largest wooden structure in the United States and undoubtedly one of the most iconic buildings in San Diego. Its historical significance and outstanding architecture has led to its designation as a California Historical Landmark in 1977. Separately in 1977, the resort was listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Famous Guests

The popularity of the Hotel Del Coronado in the early 19th century have made it a ‘must stay’ spot for politicians and celebrities visiting the West Coast. President Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all stayed at the resort during their presidency.

Other notable luminaries who have stayed at the resort include Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Mae West, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and more recently, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Oprah Windfrey.

Reported Hauntings

Guests and employees have reported supernatural occurrences that date back to the hotel’s opening. These experiences are often attributed to Kate Morgan, a guest who stayed in Room 3327 and supposedly committed suicide in the hotel.

Sightings of a woman in a long black dress, unusual noises, spirited breezes, strange faces, and the ghostly figure of a young lady dressed in black lace are common reports.

The haunted history of the Hotel Del Coronado extends beyond just Room 3327. Guests have shared stories of apparitions and strange occurrences on the third floor, in the gift shop, and in other areas of the hotel. The gift shop, in particular, has seen much activity, with items inexplicably flying off shelves and books being rearranged.

These occurrences contribute to the hotel’s reputation as one of the most haunted hotels in the United States.

You may be interested in: Haunted Room 3327 at Hotel Del Coronado

Directions to Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado itself is a prominent landmark, situated right on the beachfront, offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

The iconic hotel is can be found at the eastern end of Coronado Beach and can be reached from San Diego International Airport via a 15 minute drive. Guests arriving by car are advised to park at the parking garage on the left of the hotel, just off R.H. Dana Place.

The exact address of Hotel del Coronado is 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118.

Hotel del Coronado is also conveniently located to several local attractions including Coronado Star Park (0.5 mile), Coronado Ferry Center (1.5 miles), Maritime Museum of San Diego (3.9 miles), and Balboa Park (4.1 miles).

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