The year was 1924. Paris hosted the Olympics. The United States was in its fourth year of Prohibition, and J. Edgar Hoover was named the first director of that nation’s FBI.
The population of San Diego, California was less than 150,000, compared to almost, 1.5 million today. That year, just across the border from San Diego, things were happening in Baja California.
Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar Salad at his Tijuana restaurant. And just about 12 miles south, what was to become Baja’s largest and best known beachfront resort announced its ongoing expansion on July 27, 1924.
On that particular Sunday, several advertisements were published on Page 23 of the San Diego Union. One promoted what was to become Rene’s and the other what was to become the Rosarito Beach Hotel, the first owned by Juan Ortiz and the second by Jay Danzinger and Daisy Moreno.
The ad for the grand opening of the hotel, then called the El Rosarito Beach Resort and Country Club House, proclaimed it the “sensation of the season.”
There, the ad proclaimed, people could “enjoy a real day at a Mexican beach resort, only 16 miles south of Tijuana Mexico.” The ad promised amusements galore: fishing, bathing, hunting and horseback riding; and, of course, unlike in the U.S., where Prohibition was in its fourth year, guests could get alcoholic drinks legally, surely an attraction to many.
HISTORY OF THE REGION
Although its owners hoped it would become the “sensation of the season,” the El Rosarito Beach Resort & Country Club House was far removed from the iconic 500-room-and-suite self-
While the Rosarito region had a name when then-owners began promoting the “hotel” in 1924, it did not have much else. The road house later named Rene’s had opened nearby about a year before, but there were few people and even fewer structures in the area
That would not start to change dramatically until Manuel Barbachano bought the Rosarito Beach Hotel in 1929. He was a visionary who also brought electricity and phone service to northern Baja.
Mr. Barbachano had the goal of bringing to Baja a world-class resort, in part to please his future wife, actress Maria Luisa Chabert, who was accustomed to the more glamorous life of Mexico City.
After the 1929 purchase, Mr. Barbachano began adding rooms and a beautiful casino. The alluring seaside resort soon became a favorite of the rich and famous, including the Hollywood crowd, some looking for a break from U.S. Prohibition.
Today, such guests would be called jet setters, although jet planes had yet to be invented back then. The resort had a landing strip between buildings and beach, and sometimes more private planes than cars in its guest parking lots.
In 1932, fifty more rooms were added along with the hotel’s grand foyer, with 20-foot ceilings, murals by Matias Santoyo, plus replicas of Mayan and Aztec art. The lobby murals remain today, some refreshed and re-done. It is Maria Luisa’s elegant image in stained glass that still graces the entrance to the Rosarito Beach Hotel, along with the words: Though This Door Pass the Most Beautiful Women in the World where thousands of visitors take their memory pictures.
Construction began on the luxurious family mansion, parts of which today comprise Chabert’s Restaurant and the Casa Playa Spa. Furnishings and fine materials were imported from throughout the world.
Casinos were outlawed by the Mexican government in the 1930s and U.S. prohibition ended in 1933. Still, during this period a galaxy of stars appearing at the resort just south of the border and so near Hollywood.
They included Kirk Douglas, Orson Welles, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Vincent Price, Frank Sinatra, Burgess Meredith, Ali Khan, plus glamorous leading ladies including Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Joan Bennett and Lana Turner.
There were scores more, including many Mexican presidents.