My only visit to the Grand Old Dame by the Sea came in May of 1984 as a result of my husband having qualified to attend The Leaders Conference being held at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. The conference was a once-a-year celebration for highest sales achievers within the financial services industry.
We were not quite twenty-six years old and had been married for four years.
When I told a well-traveled friend that I was headed to the Hotel del Coronado, she said, “Juls, you’re going to love it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous old Victorian hotel. It’s an all-wooden structure, old-fashioned, and is so charming with all of its red roofs. You know,” she added, “the Prince of Wales visited there.”
Well, that’s all I needed to hear. I love the sea, love California, and at the time, was obsessed with Princess Diana.
Not only was Diana the Princess of Wales, but she was also the Duchess of Cornwall, the land from which I descended and who held my descendants’ name, Spencer, on my father’s side. I would walk in the same place as perhaps she had.
To folk nowadays, people are fascinated by HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Everything from her hairstyle to her choice in clothing is modeled and copied. Much like stores that carry outfits she wears sell out the same day, so too did they in Princess Diana’s day in the ‘80s.
From the day HRH Prince Charles introduced Lady Diana Spencer to the world as a shy kindergarten teacher whom he would make his wife, we followed her every move. We got up at 4 a.m. on July 29, 1981, to watch and record the royal wedding and see Lady Di’s rumored wedding dress with its 10,000 pearls and waited to see the Prince and Princess kiss on Buckingham Palace’s balcony.
Women cut their hair as “the people’s princess” did. We wore tied bows on our blouses, wore flats, capris, and carried clutch purses. Her youthful presence brought new life to the monarchy, even to us Americans. We were enthralled.
So on that May day thirty-two years ago, I, along with Rick, disembarked from the plane and out of San Diego’s airport, with high hopes. Palm trees, my favorite kind of “ever” green, sashayed us toward the beach. We drove over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. To me it seemed like one long smiley-faced grin, welcoming us to Coronado.
We arrived at the “Crown City,” where, according to Forbes, the median home price in 2010 for zip code 92118 was $1,840,665.
And before long, we saw the longed-for red roofs my friend had told me about. We arrived at the entrance of “The Del” and I could smell the salty air. I was at my favorite place in the world: near the ocean.
While Rick checked us in, I looked around. Someday, I thought, I would write a story about this place, with its white-gloved attendants and bird cage elevator.
The bellman carried my yellow American Tourister suitcase, walked us to our room and seemed to hesitate before he opened the door. He smiled briefly, turned the key, and opened the door to a room that smelled as if no one had been inside of it since the hotel opened in 1888. Two single beds with metal headboards stared at me. To my right stood a sink circa 1950, complete with a backsplash of rust stains and a dangling chain with a rubber stop at the end of it. One lone window, the size of one of the several swimsuits I’d brought, was to the sink’s left. I walked over to it and tried to see out but all I could see was red — as in many-angled and shingled versions of it.
Rick saw my crestfallen face, an inch from tears. This room was where we were going to spend the next four days?
He simply said, “Let me see what I can do.”
Ten minutes later, the bellman was back, carrying our luggage down one hallway, down another, and still another, until we arrived at a white door. This time, the bellman did not hesitate.
He swung the door wide and smiled.
It was a room meant for a princess. I briefly took in the room’s décor — a blend of English Rose chintz meets Lily Pulitzer’s palm trees and ferns — as I rushed to the three enormous windows.
Speechless is a word. A very very beautiful word. Meant for moments when one encounters diamonds glistening on liquid blue velvet as they make their way to the most beautiful strand of sand one has ever seen. Meant for having been given the best room (I’d call it a suite, but I wouldn’t want to brag) at the hotel.
I took in the people walking along the promenade below, looked at the stretch of umbrellas where bistro tables called me to visit.
“Would you like to see the rest of the suite, ma’am?”
I sat down in the covered chair of pink, green and yellow. And yes, wallowed in reverie as to what I’d been given. I heard Rick say, “I think we’re good.”
Eventually, I did move from that chair and toured the hotel. I learned that many famous people had visited this hotel such as L. Frank Baum, Charlie Chaplin, and Charles Lindbergh. Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe had filmed “Some Like it Hot,” in 1958 here. Other dignitaries had stayed here as had U.S. presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and both the Bushes.
I also learned that my assumption that Prince Charles had visited, was not true.
Wrong prince. Oops.
In actuality, the prince who visited and was received in the hotel’s stunning Crown Room where a dinner dance was held in his honor on April 7, 1920, was Edward, the prince of Wales. Yes, the scandalous one who gave up the crown for a Mrs. resident of Coronado, Wallis Spencer Simpson.
Learning this did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for the place. It just piled up all the glowing sensation coming from inside me and gave me fodder to cook up a story.
Which is what I did and which you can now read, starting on page 69, in a new book just published by Broadstreet Publishing entitled, 21 Days of Joy: Stories that Celebrate Mom.
This book, number 4 in a series, is entitled “A Fiction Lover’s Devotional,” and focuses on many kinds of mothering forms. Here’s what its back cover says:
“Whether you are a mother, have one, or know one, these heartwarming fictional stories will touch your soul…”
I’m honored that Kathy Ide, the book’s compiler, invited me to be a part of this fourth book in the series and count myself blessed to be in the company of such esteemed writers as Deborah Raney, Cindy Woodsmall, Lynette Sowell, Mary DeMuth and others. My story, “The Invitation,” takes place at Hotel del Coronado. I’ll be curious to hear what you think about it.
This pint-sized book is the perfect gift for Mother’s Day. Right now you can buy it online, but you can also buy an autographed copy on my website, with shipping included in the price, for $12.00. To get your copy, click here, or go to the shop on my website.