Monday, July 27, 2009

Vintage Beach Photos - Tent City 1900–1939

If you were going to vacation at the Hotel del Coronado in California today, this is what you would find:

"Since it was first built more than 120 years ago, the Hotel del Coronado has been a beacon of grandeur and refinement among vacation destinations in Southern California and the world. With its iconic red-shingled roof adding a dash of majestic color to the dazzling azure Pacific coastline, The Del stands as the definitive example of what a luxury resort should be." –Hotel del Coronado

History of Tent City in Coronado, California

After paying $110,000 for all of Coronado and North Island, Elisha S. Babcock began construction of his dream hotel "on a sandspit populated by jack rabbits and coyotes" in March, 1887. The hotel opened in February 1888, but because of financial difficulties, Babcock was forced to sell out to sugar magnate John D. Spreckels in 1890. For more on the history of The Del read the article on wikipedia.

The San Diego History website provided a wealth of information on Tent City, but surprisingly few pictures. The photos today come from numerous sources, all of which are available on multiple websites.
Remember, you can click on any images to enlarge them.

Spreckels owned the hotel until 1948 and spent his life developing enterprises in San Diego County that eventually led to the area becoming what it is today. One of his early ventures was the construction of Tent City, located just south of the hotel, it quickly became an immensely popular vacation spot for those who could not afford to stay at the hotel.

"Each tent consisted of wooden floors and furnishings. They each had one bedstand or more, a three legged "spider" for a wash bowl and pitcher, a dresser and a chair. If a visitor needed cooking facilities a kerosene stove was set up in a "cook tent" in the back of the tent for an extra $5.00 a month, it came with a few pots, some crockery, and flatware. Most of the tents rented for $4.50 per week at that time.

America's Greatest Resort - Tent City Vintage Postcard

Tent City by Moonlight

Actual photograph of vacationers

"Every year Tent City opened with new attractions and improvements. Eventually electricity from the hotel generators provided power for the lights that hung from the ceiling in each tent."

1919 Advertisement for Tent City
(front and back)
Reachable by Train, Auto or Steamship

The trolley was an easy way to get around

Water - Melon Feast on the Beach at Tent City

The Coronado Tent City News served as a type of newspaper carrying programs about the band concerts, water sports events, hours of Sunday church services, news of visitors, and some advertisements.

Panoramic of Tent City and the Hotel 1908
from the Library of Congress
Click to enlarge this great image!

"By 1921, Tent City had its own police force (watch the video to learn more about the one-man police force) and fire department. In 1923, the thatch roofs were stripped off and the cottages were given permanent roofs. Wooden sides on the houses were built three quarters of the way up with canvas drops that could be rolled up or down. These improvements made it possible for a permanent winter population in Tent City.

From 1923-1933 Tent City had become a year round resort. To everyone's surprise, in June 1936, the Spreckels Company announced the abandonment of the Tent City as a resort and in its place the State Highway would be straightened. Tent City was dismantled in 1939 and in its place now is a parking lot.

Tent City Fees and Information 1919

Children Wanted

The little fellows will ever be honored guests at Coronado Tent City. They are our best friends because they never forget the good times that have at the beach. Seldom do they go far from tents without grownups accompanying them to their pleasure on the sand, the playground, the concerts, or the alluring Merry-Go-Round. And how study, tanned and healthy are those youngsters, who spend the Summer barefooted orin bathing suits during the day and in dreamless sleep between the blankets in cool, cozy tents at night.

Apparel for the Beach

The bathing suit is the essential part of one's wardrobe. Tent City is the most democratic resort in the universe. One wears just what he or she is most comfortable in, regardless of style. Simple sport clothes are desirable, with a sweater or warm wrap for evening wear, especially when boating. Furs are only needed as an adornment.


The balmy climate of Coronado Beach is among its chief assets. Bright, sunshiny days, tempered by soft, ocean breezes prevail throughout the year, with the Spring, Summer and early Autumn days especially delightful for enjoying out-of-door recreation features. Nights are invariably cool, bringing restful, refreshing sleep after the day's pleasures.


Palm Tents One Person:

Per Day $1.00, Per Week $5.50, Per Month $15.00

Cooking Same Tent: Per Day $1.75, Per Week $6.75, Per Month $18.00

With Kitchen and Cooking: Per Day $2.50, Per Week $8.25, Per Month $23.00

Palm Cottages

With sanitary arrangements, kitchen and cooking rent for $23.25 per week and $69.50 per month and up depending on number of persons in party and accommodations.
Without Kitchen—two or three people—$18.00 per week; $57.00 per month.

The Pavilion at Tent City
Note tents in background

Postcard sent from Tent City in 1908

The Great White Fleet Arrives in San Diego
April 10–April 16, 1908 - San Diego, CA

"Twenty thousand people lined the shores to witness the arrival. Never before had San Diego been the scene of such a gathering of cheer and enthusiasm. Early in the morning crowds had started heading for Coronado, the street cars and ferries were jammed. Thousands ignored the street cars and choose to walk. The fleet approached in a squadron formation. When they had gotten to within clear sight of the spectators, the lead ship Connecticut could be seen turning slightly before dropping her anchor. The other ships followed in turn."

Postcard of the Alabama off Coronado
during Fleet Celebration

Postmarked San Diego, Cal. Apr 22, 1908 and addressed to a Mr. Jas. Smothers, West Frankfort, Illinois.

"Received your letter. Been having a great time here during the fleet celebration. Did you read about it there? M.P."

About San Diego, a news story documenting the historic 1910-1930s Tent City south of the famed Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California. Tent City was created for families on a budget who couldn't afford the luxurious hotel.

Today you can still find Tent City in Coronado, but now it is only a restaurant. I wonder if they cook the food in tents?

Before I go, I want to tell you about a blog I ran across while searching for information on Tent City. She blogs about the beach from California, along with vintage photos and travel posters, gardening, surfing, squirrels, seagulls, and more. Look like we have a lot in common. Check out her blog at Daughter of the Golden West and read her second post on Tent City here.

UPDATE: As soon as I finally got my post up today, I stopped in at Completely Coastal to see what Maya had posted today and I was so excited to see Beach Parasols from France. You have to check these out, I just fell in love with them!

I hope you enjoyed this vacation into the past and will come back next week to see what I'll be posting then.

Another Update: I was so honored to find out that this post was featured on A Festival of Postcards on August 23rd. Evelyn's delightful blog share's two things with her readers, her love of vintage postcards and her love of genealogy. Since both of these are passions of mine, I couldn't be more pleased. Thanks Evelyn!

19 Thoughtful Comments:

Golden West said...

Hi Rhonda,

Thanks for stopping by my blog - looks like we're on the same "wavelength" with our love of the beach, gardening and the great outdoors. I'll stop back often!

Signing Out said...

What a fun post! I enjoyed the vintage photos and post cards. It's making me long to be at the beach, so I'm headed out to the pool to sit in my floating lounge chair. It's the next best thing to the beach.


Maya@Completely Coastal said...

Such a cool post (again)..., and I added a link to this post too (by the vintage shot)... the tent city is similar enough to the parasols, in looks and feel anyway. They're more substantial though..., but don't you just love those stripes! I have to come back (after cleaning the house...) and read it all.

Shellbelle said...

Hi Golden West, thanks for stopping by The Hut. We are definitely on the same wavelength with our blogs, I was very pleasantly surprised when I "found" you!

Jane, a floating lounge chair is a wonderful thing! I love the ones with the cup holder to hold my sweet tea (or margarita).

Maya, you and I just love all these contraptions to enjoy the beach in — cabanas, huts, tents, parasols, etc. Wouldn't you just love to have a beach cottage with some of these set up on the beach to rent out? I could just hire a cabana boy or two and retire. ;-)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

We stayed at the Hotel del Coronado about 14 years ago when our girls were young. Someone else just posted a story about San Diego today and I made a reference to Hotel Del. What a great place. I found the history fascinating, especially the fact that it was built so quickly.

Great memories :)


Maya said...

Rhonda, not a bad idea!!!

Anonymous said...

I love those tents. I have seen those in older movies and in pictures - I think they are a pretty good idea for a quick change. Have a great week at the hut!

The Fajdich Times said...

It was a fun trip...........Thanks:)

Sierra said...

I always love your history and modern day posts...I live near this location and have never heard of this lovely place! I must go when I save up some $!!

Shellbelle said...

Thanks Maya, I thought so! I would rent one of these in a Miami Beach Minute! lol

Hi Meg, I remember these on the beach in the late 50s-early 60s, but they were not widespread. I think they may have been set-up by people like my folks camping there.

Glad you enjoyed the trip Judy!

Ocean Dreams, I wish they still had Tent City for folks who still can't afford to stay at the hotel! I love tenting anyway!

Shellbelle said...

Susan, I know what you mean, I couldn't believe they built it that fast either,amazing.

That is cool that you actually stayed there! I've been to Coronado, but stayed with friends in San Diego.

Magdalena said...

Hi, I just found your delightful blog via torquoise diaries. It is so much fun over here. We love the hotel del.
I'll definately be back. I love to travel and teach travel and entertaining workshops so I just love your blog!!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post Rhonda! I can't get over how blue the ocean is in the second photo...

Btw, would you like to join me on A Walk In The Woods?

Kat said...

I love this post! So interesting, and such a neat look back at a simpler time. Can you imagine the excitement of staying here if you were a child? Thanks for such a fun and informative trip! Kathy

Unknown said...

Rhonda...thank you for directing me to this great post. I LOVE Coronado (both my father and my husband are former Navy and were both at Naval Air Station, North Island at some point in their careers) and I especially LOVE the Hotel Del. Great, great post!

Unknown said...

Great post. Do you mind if I repost on you can post it there. I saw your post on another website but I wanted to get permission to post it on mine.


Shellbelle said...

Mrs. P, I'm so a happy you stopped by, when I read that you were raised in San Diego I thought you might enjoy this and it's nice to know you did. My father and brother were both in the Navy and my brother was stationed in San Diego before shipping off to Viet Nam. My niece's husband is in the Navy on submarines. We are a proud Naval Family. Daddy joined the Sea Bees during Viet Nam and stayed in until he retired.

Steve, I am honored that you would like to post this on eCoronado. You have my permission to do so, but would you mind giving me credit and posting a link to my blog and letting me know when it is up? I'd love to see it and hope your readers will enjoy it as well. I spent a lot of time researching and writing it, but when the subject is fascinating, it's a lot of fun!

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Bonjour Rhonda!
This post was such a visual treat - AND full of great information. It's been featured in the August issue of A FESTIVAL OF POSTCARDS in the section called "Postcards in the Past Tense"
Evelyn Yvonne Theriault

Norkio said...

Take a look over at Forgotten Old Photos for another photograph of Tent City. It was identified by someone who found your site.

Very interesting!!

I love the beach and everything that goes with it! I love the waves lapping at my feet. I love the feel of the sand between my toes. I love the roar of the Pacific and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Let's talk about beaches around the world, bonfires, building sandcastles, swaying palm trees, flamingos, clambakes, sunrises and sunsets. If it's tropical, it fits this blog!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Go to the Beach in Style!