CALIFORNIA ALBUM : ‘The Del’: From Marilyn to Bill : At Coronado’s landmark hotel, Clinton is just another visiting celebrity, President No. 14 in fact. The conservative city, with a heavy military presence, is built on sun and fun.
Collectors of presidential trivia take note: Bill Clinton became the 14th chief executive to stay at the Hotel del Coronado on Monday when he checked into the Summit Suite overlooking the wide Pacific.
By presidential request, the room had a humidifier (good for the voice), a bowl of bananas (chock-full of potassium) and a six-pack of Arkansas mineral water (non-carbonated, please).
On Tuesday morning, Clinton left the 691-room hotel to go jogging with Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) and some Navy SEALs on the same beach where Marilyn Monroe made the 1959 film “Some Like It Hot” and Peter O’Toole portrayed a director in the 1980 film “The Stunt Man.”
It is also the same beach where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had planned an elephant polo game a few summers back. Unfortunately, Caltrans rejected the idea of hauling the massive mammals over the powder-blue bridge that has connected Coronado and San Diego since 1969.
If the elephants had engaged in some sand sport, it’s doubtful that anyone would have been much surprised in Coronado.
This is a town built on sun, fun and fantasy, where the 105-year-old hotel known to locals simply as “The Del” provides the bulk of the tax revenue for city coffers and where hotel owner M. Larry Lawrence functions as the city’s ex-officio greeter and Most Famous Person.
Lawrence, who made his big money in land development, has owned the hotel since 1963, but presidents have been coming here since Benjamin Harrison arrived in 1890. He was followed by Hawaiian King Kalakaua, who enjoyed surfing.
Legend has it that L. Frank Baum was so inspired by “The Del” and the seaside village that grew up around it that he used the scene as the model for the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz,” written in 1900. There are other legends too.
One holds that the Prince of Wales met a sassy Navy wife named Wallis Simpson in a receiving line at the Hotel del Coronado in 1920. Some books say yes, but most serious (read spoilsport) historians say no.
There is also the ghost that supposedly has haunted Room 3502 since the mysterious death in 1892 of a 24-year-old Angeleno named Kate Morgan. You can scoff, but in 1983 a Secret Service agent guarding then-Vice President George Bush got assigned to Room 3502 and was spooked enough to call his superiors about something going bump in the night.
This time none of the presidential entourage stayed in 3502. No need to take any chances.
By all accounts, Clinton likes Coronado and will be seen here again.
He stayed at the hotel during his campaign. The Lawrences, M. Larry and Shelia, were big fund-raisers for the Democratic ticket; Bill and Hillary invited the Lawrences back to Arkansas for the post-election doings and then, of course, to the inaugural.
This led to a flurry of rumors and local newspaper speculation that Shelia would become chief of protocol for the White House. A sports store in Coronado was soon selling T-shirts showing Crown Manor (the Lawrences’ nearby home on Ocean Boulevard) and the logo “Western White House.”
That bubble burst when the television producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason seemed to best the Lawrences to become the First Couple’s First Friends in California. And just this week the protocol job went to someone else.
Undaunted, the Lawrences hosted a VIP dinner for Clinton on Monday night at Crown Manor and accompanied him to Air Force One on Tuesday morning.
Don’t be fooled though. For all their social prominence, the Lawrences are not in the mainstream of Coronado politics. The Hotel Del’s hospitality notwithstanding, Coronado is hardly Clinton country, politically speaking.
As befits a town with a heavy military presence and where the fastest-growing segment of the population is the over-75 set, politics in Coronado are decidedly conservative.
It’s an upscale place: 26,540 residents and median housing price of $452,000. The streets are tidy and tree-lined and some offer dandy views of the San Diego skyline; popcorn king Orville Redenbacher and a slug of retired admirals and generals live in Coronado. The median income of $41,826 would be much higher if you factored out 9,600 sailors and a large retirement community.
The hottest and most intractable civic problem is the choking traffic caused by tourism and 32,000 civilian employees who drive into Coronado every day to work at North Island Naval Air Station and the Naval Amphibious Base.
If any homeless people make it across the bridge--which does not allow pedestrians--or up the peninsula from Imperial Beach, they are pointed toward San Diego, told of the variety of services waiting for them there and given bus tickets.
The 1992 presidential election in Coronado went this way: Bush-Quayle 45.5%, Clinton-Gore 26.5% and Perot-Stockdale 25.9%. James Stockdale, a retired Navy admiral and Vietnam hero, keeps a home in Coronado although he teaches at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
If Clinton had looked out the tinted window of his limousine he might have seen some Bush-Quayle signs still peeping from residents’ windows. It might have prepared him for what happened later at his televised “town hall” session in San Diego.
Perhaps the toughest question came from Lorne Fleming, 48, a self-employed heavy-equipment maintenance manager who until recently was living aboard his boat in Glorietta Bay in the shadow of the Hotel del Coronado. Fleming is a true Coronado conservative, a writer of Clinton-bashing poetry and a litigant against local junket-taking politicians.
He asked Clinton to name a single country that had ever taxed itself into prosperity. He was only a little placated with the President’s promise not to forget his campaign pledge of a middle-class tax cut.
“I’m still a skeptic,” Fleming said Tuesday. “I don’t think he can get it done. When he comes back to Coronado, I’ll ask him about it again.”