Almost Heaven, San Diego
- Blog Post by: Tony Capecchi
- March 23, 2014 - 10:33 PM
“I have found heaven on earth.” Developer Alonzo Horton made his proclamation about San Diego, though he could have just as easily been referring specifically to The U.S. Grant Hotel. The National Landmark, which opened as The U.S. Grant in 1910, has been a San Diego centerpiece and silent witness to the city’s development for over a hundred years.
It was built by Horton as The Horton House in the last 1800s, after Horton told his wife, “I am going to sell my goods and go to San Diego and build a city.” Several years later, the daughter-in-law of former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant bought the property, adjacent to well-known Horton Park Plaza, for the tidy sum of $56,000. She granted it to her husband, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., who knocked down the Horton House and, in 1905, began constructing The U.S. Grant Hotel as a tribute to his father.
Construction was delayed by the massive earthquake of 1906, which required all resources be sent north to San Francisco, but eventually The U.S. Grant opened her doors on October 15, 1910 to great pomp and circumstance. Thousands of guests flocked from all across the region to partake in the opening ceremony for this hotel that cost a staggering $1.9 million to build and was rumored to have the luxury of private baths in 350 of its 437 guestrooms. It was an evening for sparkling champagne, the best silver and the ladies' finest silk. The best and brightest of California society were on hand to toast the success of the hotel and to honor the memory of Ulysses S. Grant.
The day-long opening ceremony and celebration included the unveiling of a new fountain in the adjacent Horton Park Plaza. A personal gift from the city of San Diego, it was the world's first electrically lit fountain. In the decades since, the hotel witnessed a kaleidoscope of historical events––including a massive party on its doorsteps the day prohibition was repealed.
In 2003, the 11-story icon was purchased for $45 million by the area’s original ancestors, the Kumeyaay Nation, who always considered Grant a noble president for his setting aside 640 acres of land for the Native American tribe back in 1875. In the following 21 months, the tribe invested $56 million in a spectacular renovation that has the hotel continuing its tradition of winning elite awards.
Over the decades, nearly every U.S. president has stayed at The U.S. Grant Hotel. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson attended a banquet at the hotel after addressing a crowd of over 50,000 at Balboa Stadium––the first time in history a U.S. president used a loudspeaker in a public venue.
Some 15 years later, FDR addressed the nation from the top floor of The U.S. Grant in one of his first Fireside Chats to occur outside of Washington D.C. In fact, the hotel added its 11th floor specifically to create room for radio station KFVW to broadcast FDR’s speech. During the process, they created massive twin towers on the roof of the hotel which were the largest on the west coast.
Roughly 25 years later, JFK campaigned to a crowd of San Diegans at The U.S. Grant just days before being elected president in 1960. And, continuing the tradition of famous American figures staying at the hotel, my wife and I stayed at The U.S. Grant last month.
OK, so maybe there’s a bit of a drop-off there, but that’s the great thing about The U.S. Grant: it enables regular folks an opportunity to experience this beautiful historical landmark, in the heart of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter.
"It's the combination of our beautiful surroundings and rich history, as well as the pride of our ownership and the service excellence demonstrated by our staff every day that makes The U.S. Grant such a special place," said General Manager Douglas Douglas Korn.
At The U.S. Grant, Jodie and I were minutes away from Balboa Park, city trolley tours, fishing in the bay, scenic hikes and, yes, those picture-perfect San Diego beaches. We quickly saw why the hotel attracts guests from exotic places such as Bora Bora, New Zealand, Iceland, China and Rwanda. It’s within walking distance of all these fantastic attractions, yet the hotel itself is so terrific you almost hate to leave. The Grand Lobby Is adorned with sparkling crystal chandeliers, hand-loomed silk carpets (worth up to $250,000), and art pieces that provide guests a glimpse of the hotel’s $6.5 million art collection.
Each of the 270 rooms contains a drip-painting headboard created by renowned artist Yves Clement, valued at $10,000 a piece. We slept extra well knowing that.
Of course, exhaustion from our days’ activities coupled with incredible food and drinks from the hotel’s award-winning Grant Grill also contributed to our sound sleep. The photos below represent just a few highlights from our stay at The U.S. Grant Hotel.
Jodie and I walked from The U.S. Grant Hotel to Balboa Park, which was built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Expo. Today the 1,200-acre city park is home to 14 museums, a pipe organ pavilion, botanical gardens, a Tony award winning theater, an antique carousel, a miniature-scale train and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo.
San Diego's popular trolley tours pick-up a few blocks from The U.S. Grant Hotel. We rode it for a day and hopped of at various stops, including San Diego Bayfront, pictured above.
The U.S. Grant Hotel is close to excellent ocean fishing. I went for a morning with local guide Captain James Nelson, and caught about 30 spotted bass, several sting rays (including a 50-pounder), an elusive bonefish and this beautiful leopard shark.
With full days of fishing, hiking and sight-seeing, we worked up our appetites to enjoy fantastic dinners at the hotel's award-winning restaurant, The Grant Grill.
Our waitress at the Grant Grill, Natalie, was the best waiter/waitress we've had anywhere along the West Coast. She knew the menu inside and out, and regaled us with stories of the restaurant's history dating back to 1951. Natalie also works closely with The U.S. Grant's certified Sommelier and award-winning mixologist, Jeff Josenhans. At her recommendation, we enjoyed several adult beverages, including a signature U.S. Grant Manhattan consisting of High West Utah Rye, Dolin Alpine Vermouth and Old Fashioned Bitters blended and aged in American Oaks for 100 days.
Vanessa Randazzo, a 6-year U.S. Grant vet, gave me a tour of the lovely hotel. She is pictured above in an 11th floor penthouse suite, in which celebrities including Steven Spielberg and Michelle Obama have stayed. Below is the view from the suite.
The website for The U.S. Grant Hotel is www.usgrant.net. To contact the hotel, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (619) 232-3121.
© 2014 Star Tribune