Horton Grand Hotel: Then and now

Posted: August 5th, 2016 | Columnists, Featured, Gaslamp Landmarks | No Comments

By Sandee Whilhoit | Gaslamp Landmarks

The beautiful Horton Grand Hotel, a Gaslamp landmark, was originally two Victorian hotels: the Grand Hotel and the Brooklyn Hotel. Both were built in the early 1880s and located on F Street.

In 1907, the Grand was renamed the Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn was later renamed the Brooks-Kahle Saddlery, as a popular saddlery was located on the bottom level.

The Horton Grand was two separate buildings at one time, as indicated in this early 1900s photo. (Courtesy Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation)

The Horton Grand was two separate buildings at one time, as indicated in this early 1900s photo. (Courtesy Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation)

The saddlery remained in operation until 1960, as it’s operators claimed as prominent clients both Roy Rogers and Tom Mix.

Both hotels were scheduled for demolition in the late 1970s but rescued by developer Dan Pearson, who had the structures painstakingly dismantled, catalogued piece-by-piece and stored in warehouses until they could be rebuilt in 1984 at the present location, 311 Island Ave.

The total cost for the deconstruction, storage and restoration was $12 million. San Diego Architect Wayne Donaldson, a historic preservation specialist, was responsible for the restoration, joining the two hotels with a common atrium.

As you face the hotel standing on Island Avenue, the building on the left, the original Grand Hotel, is an ornate Italian Baroque Revival structure, built by a German immigrant to replicate the Innsbrook Hotel in Vienna, Austria.

The two upper floors were always used as hotel accommodations and were built around an interior skylight and stairwell, forming a central court from which the rooms were reached. The lower floors were used for commercial purposes, a customary practice at the time. These businesses included a restaurant and a “beer parlor.”

The Horton Grand today (Courtesy GQHF)

The Horton Grand today (Courtesy GQHF)

The hotel on the right, the original Brooklyn Hotel, is a much less ornate structure along the lines of Victorian Americana. In the lobby is an antique paper machè horse named Sunshine, a fixture of the edifice when the saddlery occupied that space.

Sunshine’s mane and tail were created from the curried manes of police horses. This hotel was also the home of Wyatt and Josie Earp for seven years when they lived in San Diego. The structures are joined by an atrium with a center fountain and lavish wicker seating.

The Horton Grand opened its doors in 1986 and is now a world-class hotel, which boasts as guests movie stars, sports and political figures, and even a president; Benjamin Harrison.

On Aug. 18, it will be the venue for noted architect and preservationist for the Horton Grand Hotel, Wayne Donaldson. Donaldson will speak about the hotel and other historic landmarks in his talk, “From Skid Row to the Heart of San Diego: The Transformation of the Gaslamp.”

Formerly the State Historic Preservation Officer of California, Donaldson is currently serving as chairman of the advisory council on Historic Preservation, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 and reappointed in 2014.

Donaldson has been a practicing preservation architect for 35 years and is one of the founders of the NewSchool of Architecture & Design. Hosted by the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, admission for the event is $15 and museum members are admitted free. RSVP at 619-233-4692.

—Sandee Wilhoit is the historian of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at

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