Coronado Island and the Del go together like...well, like the name of Hotel del Coronado. You can't have one without the other. The largest Fourth of July parade in San Diego County, featuring more than 150 entries, unfolds along Coronado's Orange Avenue. The day ends with fireworks sent aloft to mirror in Glorietta Bay across from the Del.
Just how do you go about modernizing a legendary grande dame whose electrical system was personally installed by Thomas A. Edison? Its three Otis elevators, including the caged antique in the lobby, bear serial numbers 61, 62 and 63 (the company has installed more than 7 million since then).
The Del has been described as the most magnificent example of the hotel genus "American Seaside" that flourished in the late 1800s. Designed by an architect whose specialty was railroad trestles, the Del soars above the sand and bougainvillea with its conical, red-roofed Flag Tower. In the early days, guests would pile their fishing catch on the marble floor of the lobby. After all, railroad tycoons Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story conceived the Del Coronado in 1885 as a hunting and fishing lodge. These railroad resorts were the watering holes of the rich; the hotel's earliest patrons often traveled by private rail coach.
Flanked by the historic Windsor Cottage, the lawn has become an instant success for weddings. The cottage was the home of Wallis Simpson, the Coronado socialite whose marriage to the Duke of Windsor caused him to renounce the throne of England.
The Babcock and Story bar evokes memories of the Long Bar at the old Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
In the last analysis, however, one cannot overlook the lodging itself. In the 1960s, 30,000 discreet sprinkler heads replaced the 50 hand-hauled fire wagons that once dotted the grounds. The comfort of air conditioning has come. Take it from me, however, the rooms at the Del are seldom devoid of a sea breeze.
The most painstaking challenge of the restoration came within the imperial setting of the Crown Room, a traditional favorite of presidents and vice presidents since Benjamin Harrison came to town in 1889.
During restoration, the vaulted pine ceiling was disassembled plank by plank, coded for proper positioning, and then, reinstalled. After that, the four diadem chandeliers, reportedly designed by the author of "The Wizard of Oz" -- L. Frank Baum -- were cleaned and rehung. Baum wrote many of his later works at the Del. Legend has it that Trestletown inspired his vision of the Emerald City of Oz.