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    Travel: The Rosarito Beach Hotel turns 100 years old this month
    • July 10, 2024

    As you walk through double doors into the Rosarito Beach Hotel, the first thing you see is a fan-shaped piece of stained glass over the door with a fetching senorita. Below the glass, an inscription reads in Spanish “Through these doors pass the most beautiful women in the world.”

    Those glamorous days of Hollywood beautiful people who swarmed down to Baja to imbibe legal cocktails during Prohibition may be over, but their legacy still lives on in this historic hacienda style landmark that continues to attract Southern Californians in droves.

    Before there was a town, there was a beautiful beach and a tiny hotel. Now celebrating its 100 anniversary, the Rosarito Beach Hotel first appeared in 1924, as a 10-room motel on a lonely road.

    The popular resort town soon grew up around it. Today, the hotel remains an iconic symbol of northern Baja California, with its neo-Spanish Colonial rancho decor, art collected from throughout Mexico, swimming pools, spa and beachfront.

    Handout from the Rosarito Beach Hotel

    Vintage postcard of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, which turns 100 years old in 2024. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG (July 2024)

    Entrance to the Rosarito Beach Hotel, Baja California, Mexico as it nears its 100th birthday. July 2024 (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel

    Vintage photo of the Salon Maya circa 1928 at the Rosarito Beach Hotel (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    Photo courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel

    Longtime owners Manuel Barbachano and Maria Luisa Chabert, who expanded the hotel from a 10-room motel into the first landmark beach resort in Baja California. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG, 2024

    Stained glass over the entrance to the Rosarito Beach Hotel, with the image of the late owner Maria Luisa Chabert. Photo taken iin July 2024. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG)

    (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG)

    Artwork at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, July 2024. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG)

    Entrance to the Rosarito Beach Hotel July 2024. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Photo courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel

    Maria Luisa Chabert, longtime owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    Fun in a beach bar at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, circa 1940. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

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    It’s been a turbulent ride, with plenty of ups and downs. Today, the hotel is doing better than ever, with plans to remodel all the rooms, fresh furnishings and paint that retain its rustic charm, and new restaurants to enjoy.

    The hotel is officially considering its anniversary as July 27 and hosting a special ticketed bash on July 20 that’s open to all.

    Originally built in 1924 by Daisy Moreno and Jay Danzinger as a 10-room lodging with shared baths, the hotel’s original main attraction was a beautiful beachfront with sunset views.

    In 1929, it was purchased by prominent Baja businessman Manuel Barbachano, who expanded and renamed it the El Rosarito Beach Resort and Country Club.

    During the Prohibition era, when alcohol was banned in the U.S. the resort became a popular refuge for fun-seeking Americans looking to enjoy tippling legally, only a short drive from the border.

    In 1937, owner Barbachano married actress Maria Luisa Chabert, and she moved to then-remote Rosarito Beach, her husband promising he would build her a mansion.

    Today, Chabert’s flirty image is the first  thing visitors see when they enter the hotel, immortalized in the stained glass atop the entrance doors.

    Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG, 2024

    Stained glass over the entrance to the Rosarito Beach Hotel, with the image of the late owner Maria Luisa Chabert. Photo taken iin July 2024.

    And her husband made good on his promise to build her a mansion, which today houses the elegant tiled spa and Chabert’s, the fine dining restaurant that recently reopened after a long closure.

    Barbacano traveled around Mexico, buying art for his hotel. Four trainloads of hand-painted tiles were brought in from the city of Puebla that can still be seen today.

    In 1937, Barbacano commissioned the famed Mexican muralist Matias Santoyo to paint murals around the hotel, most notably as scenic landscapes in the lobby that still greet visitors today.

    Hotel general manager Hugo Antonio Torres, who manages the hotel he owns with his four siblings, standing in the historic lobby with murals by Matias Santoyo. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The changes were a hit with vacationers, and the hotel prospered until Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. at war, officials demanded that the hotel institute blackout conditions to keep Japanese bombers from finding the coast. These restrictions virtually shut the hotel down until after the war.

    But it reopened with vigor after the war, with a new name in 1945: The Rosarito Beach Hotel.

    Maria Luisa Chabert, longtime owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    The resort bounced back during the 1950s, when it entered its most glamorous era, attracting celebrities such as Rita Hayworth, Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, Gene Tierney and more. During this Hollywood period, bandleader Glenn Miller played in the salon, Mexican presidents visited and life was good.

    Fun in a beach bar at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, circa 1940. (Courtesy of the Rosarito Beach Hotel)

    The era of Hollywood glamour ended with the advent of cheap air travel, when celebrities could jet off to posh resorts in Acapulco whenever they liked. And the British Invasion meant that the appeal of Mexican resorts declined.

    As the rich people flew elsewhere, the hotel’s clientele demographic shifted to middle-class people who enjoyed the historic atmosphere and amenities.

    Between 1960 and 1970, the hotel had 65 rooms. The resort passed into the hands of Hugo Eduardo Torres in 1983 after the death of his great-uncle and aunt.

    Then-owner Torres  took out a bank loan to build 80 new rooms in the three-story Playas Tower, with small kitchenettes. Times were good, and in 1991, Torres added the eight-story 147-room Coronado Tower with ocean views, increasing the capacity to 280 rooms.

    But then on Sept. 11, 2001, the terrorist attack in the U.S. ground tourism to a halt.

    “People were very afraid at the border,” son Hugo Antonio Torres recalled. “Instead of 100% occupancy in the summer, we had 30%.”

    That period lasted for around 1.5 years, he said. Then, in 2007, the hotel opened its upscale condo wing, the Pacifico Towers. This new upgraded tower offers rooms with ocean-view balconies from studios to penthouse suites and two private swimming pools.

    Originally, the plan had been to sell half the condos and keep the others as rentals, but ultimately 80% were sold to raise additional capital. Many are still rented out by their owners.

    But that wasn’t the end of hard times for the hotel.

    The real estate crash that began in 2008 in the U.S. had dire repercussions for the resort, with occupancy falling as low as 5%. Then, there was the swine flu epidemic in 2011, and increasing fears about drug cartel violence.

    In December 2007, Narco terrorists took over the Rosarito Beach police station. tried to assassinate the police chief and killed one officer in an incident that made headlines iaround the world.

    Hotel owner Hugo Eduardo Torres was mayor of Rosarito Beach at the time, and cooperated in the disarmaming of the entire city’s police force, which was judged to be corrupt. According to his son, a government investigation later revealed that more than half of the police officers in Rosarito were corrupt and involved with the cartels.

    According to the mayor’s son — Hugo Antonio Torres — a new police force was hired, the people involved were convicted and the town is now cleaned up.

    The elder Torres retired in 2021 and handed the hotel over to his five children, with oldest son Hugo Antonio as the managing partner.

    Hugo Antonio Torres, who continues to manage the hotel today, said he’s worked there on and off since he was a child, including in the warehouse and the kitchen. After studying accounting, he returned to continue the tradition of the family-owned resort.

    According to the younger Torres, the hotel business picked up again from 2015 to 2020, but then briefly crashed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Occupancy fell to as low as 10%, he recalls.

    However, subsequently, Torres said that the number of visitors skyrocketed, thanks to the pent-up demand to travel. People didn’t feel safe flying, but they would get in their cars and drive to Baja, he said.

    The years 2020 and 2021 ended up being the best the hotel has ever had, Torres said. Even today, he’s continuing to pour the profits from that period back into the hotel, with new paint, furniture and even a small museum.

    Today, 95% of guests come from Southern California, but it still feels like a Mexican hotel, owned by a Mexican family. It’s not for everyone — people who are looking for five-star luxury and can’t handle the quirks of a historic property should look elsewhere. No one turns down your bed here, and there aren’t any slippers in the closet.

    But people who love old-world Mexican style and don’t mind a few hiccups would be happy.

    A pier that was built to serve cruise ships but never worked out was destroyed years ago by a storm. The hotel has recently rebuilt parts of it and opened a new restaurant there.

    Most guests eat breakfast or other meals at the Azteca Restaurant-Bar, just off the resort lobby that looks out onto one of the resort’s swimming pools. Below, green lawns stretch out to the beach.

    In addition to overnight lodging and restaurants, the hotel is now also offering a day pass to use the resort facilities for 500 pesos per day, which at this writing was around $28 U.S.

    The hotel also offers a FastLane program, which allows ovenight guests to purchase a “fast pass” enabling them to take a special lane to shorten their time crossing the border back into the U.S. At this writing, the pass cost $12.

    Meanwhile, changes continue along the border.

    Torres said that a flyover bridge is under construction that will allow people to drive easily to the beaches, avoiding the heavy traffic through Tijuana that has always plagued drivers. A third border crossing is also under construction in Tijuana, he said, that will divert truck traffic away from San Ysidro and Otay Mesa.

    As the first major beachfront resort built in Baja, the Rosarito Beach has seen many changes in its first hundred years, and the family hopes it will see 100 more.

    Rosarito Beach Hotel

    Event: The hotel plans an anniversary celebration on Saturday, July 20 in its gardens. Tiko’s Big Band is scheduled to play memorable music from throughout the resort’s 100 years. A photo and video booth, vintage car show, plus food and beverage vendors will be part of the event, which is for those aged 18 and older. Grounds open at 6 p.m. Semiformal attire is recommended. Presale cost is 500 pesos ($27.83 U.S.) in advance or 700 pesos ($38.96) at the event. VIP admission is $800-1000 pesos ($44.53-$55.66). Advance tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-343-8582 or 1-866-767-2648.

    Address: Boulevard Benito Juarez 31 Centro, Playas Rosarito, Baja California, 22710 Mexico

    Information: 800-343-8582 or rosaritobeachhotel.com

    Related links

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    Baja’s Espiritu Santo island is a magical place where the life is in the water, not the land
    Copper Canyon grandeur in remote Mexico
    A tour guide for Baja’s missions
    Whale-watching in Baja California

    ​ Orange County Register 

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