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San Clemente Journal

Hotel San Clemente... Such a Lovely Place

Dec 03, 2019 03:35PM ● By Nina Welch

Eyewitness to San Clemente’s History. Originally built in 1927, the above photo circa 1930s.

by Nina Welch

Hotel San Clemente is where I live. This historic hotel has kept its strength and integrity after standing at the top of Del Mar, in the salty sea air, for 92 years. The photograph hanging in the hotel lobby, circa 1939, depicts only two differences--the vintage cars parked in front, and now there’s no hotel sign on top. 

This magnificent structure, in the Ole Hanson Village by the Sea style, is painted regularly inside and out. The original fountain is pictured in the photograph. Memories bubble, fall, and drip like rain over the white, ornate courtyard centerpiece. 

The lobby, courtyard, hallways, and staircases are kept pristine by the heart-felt commitment of the manager and owners. Pride of the building is evident in everyone who lives and works here. There’s a full basement, bell tower, and four ways to reach the second and third floors: the main stairway, two secret stairways and the elevator.  

I was mesmerized by the history of my unique home. It was hard for me to believe that back when there was only mud streets, Ole Hanson had a vision of a Spanish Village by the Sea between Hollywood and San Diego. Hotel San Clemente and Casa Romantica are standing examples of that vision-the roots of everything that is San Clemente. 

The hotel was originally created to house the construction workers who built the town. At that time, there were no bathrooms in the units. Instead a bath facility at both ends of each hallway on the three levels made do. I’m so glad that got changed. 

The hotel eventually became a well-known and high-class destination for celebrities of the era. Today, Hotel San Clemente is considered the pulse of downtown.

Like something out of The Grand Budapest Hotel movie, characters (or rather residents), current and past, include a Victorian cowgirl, old surfers, young surfers, summer residents, artists, writers, school teachers, Harley riders, a retired psychologist, and a former stand-up comedian who grows oyster mushrooms on his balcony. And there’s the proverbial bachelor, who can be seen in the lobby at night reading in his bathrobe. These are the steadfast hotel dwellers; some have lived here five, ten, up to twenty years. We have become a family community.

I’ve only lived here three years and I’m happy to say, I fit in as one of the characters-a writer with sometimes blue hair, who rides her scooter around town. Everyone looks out for each other, a kind of loving support system. Tenants only move when their lives expand-babies, travel, or marriage. In fact, a young couple, who live upstairs, recently exchanged their vows in the courtyard with a wedding toast with full glasses held aloft, spilling to the moon.  Then there’s the renters who embrace the moment and move on. Here today, gone tomorrow so to speak. 
It takes a special mindset to appreciate the historical value of living in an iconic connection to the history of this town. We have a responsibility of representing a loveable anchor in the community. Living at the hotel connects us to everyone on the street. There’s energy outside the hotel as well as inside …. the fountain, the birds, the palm trees, the moon. No matter if the moon is waxing or waning, it always seems to shine silver on my balcony. And then there are the bells; they chime at 9am with nine bells and end at 7pm with seven bells and all the bells in between.  

Being in the hub is what I have always craved. I love all the shops, restaurants, and bars nearby and, of course, the brick sidewalk leading to the beach. Café Calypso opens early so I get to start my day to the smell of coffee and bacon. There’s never negativity coming out of the courtyard, all laughter and sunshine even on a cloudy day. There’s the Uke Club playing “Has Anyone Seen My Gal,” the French Club speaking French, the German Club speaking German, and the Spanish Club doing their thing. There are also the habitual walkers who enjoy a bite at the cafe after their daily trek to the pier and back. 

I often get asked if the hotel is haunted. I haven’t had a ghostly sighting or heard of one.
However, my Bohemian artist friend told me about her beloved neighbor, who died in the apartment above her. She was a former mystic dancer, who believed in the afterlife.  The woman bequeathed to my friend her exotic jewelry. If she forgets to wear her favorite ornate ring, she hears the dancer’s voice clearly. “Don’t leave without me.” The mystic dancer’s spirit lives on, at the hotel built in 1927, through a Bohemian artist who sells houses.

Hotel San Clemente, such a lovely place. I can check out anytime I want, but I would never leave.