Monday, October 20, 2008

Ghosts of San Diego

Somehow we’ve managed to go two years without visiting San Diego, our neighbor to the south. This weekend, we took a whirlwind trip and hit a few of the highlights: Cabrillo National Park, Coronado Island and Balboa Park.

Cabrillo is a peninsula named for Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – the first European to set foot on the west coast of what is now the United States, in 1542. On the southern tip of the peninsula stands the old Point Loma Lighthouse, completed in 1854 and abandoned in 1891. (It seems that the cliff on which it was built was so high – 422 feet above sea level – that the light was often obscured by coastal fog. The new lighthouse is halfway down the hill, just above the western coastline.) The building has been a tourist attraction since the mid 20th century, offering a historic glimpse into a rather lonely lifestyle. Today, the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego are visible from the promontory, but in the late 1800s the city would have been a day’s journey away and, as one of the tourist placards says, the lighthouse didn’t get many visitors. Today, Point Loma is just a short drive from the city… through one of the largest military cemeteries in the nation. Naturally, the Loma Lighthouse has a few ghost stories. Some visitors say they have sensed the presence of Robert Israel, the final lighthouse keeper, who lived here with his wife and children.

Between Point Loma and downtown San Diego is the island of Coronado – home of the legendary Hotel del Coronado, which allegedly has many of its own ghosts. In fact, the hotel’s ghost stories inspired Stephen King to write 1408. The hotel was also L. Frank Baum’s inspiration for Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, some of which he wrote while staying at the Coronado. It also served as the setting of Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return, the basis for the film Somewhere in Time. Perhaps the hotel’s most famous star turn is in Billy Wilder’s movie Some Like It Hot, starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. During filming, Monroe stayed at the Del with her then-husband Arthur Miller.

Our next stop was Balboa Park – home to the spirit of Charles Foster Kane. Balboa is one of the oldest and largest public parks in the U.S., and much of its striking Spanish Colonial architecture was used in the newsreel at the beginning of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, to establish the titular character’s “pleasure dome” Xanadu. Somewhat recognizable are the San Diego Museum of Man, Casa del Prado and the Botanical Gardens.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo with downtown San Diego in the background

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Tidepools at Point Loma

Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado (beach side)

Balboa Park

San Diego Museum of Man...

... posing as Xanadu

Casa del Prado


  1. Anonymous10/24/2008

    You captured an historical perspective of San Diego that I did not know about.

    I also liked reading about which films were shot where in that city.

    And as always, concisely written.

    A true master of the trade.


  2. I played a couple gigs at the Hotel del Coronado, and I can say that the power went out in the middle of the music one time. Ghosts? Not sure.

    Sounds like a fun trip!

    Jamie D.