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Feature 041017 RBH

Monday, April 10, 2017

A History of Baja California's Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

   ● 1925 until Today

The Rosarito Beach Hotel, now Baja California’s largest and most famous oceanfront resort, had a modest birth back on May 25, 1925.

That’s the day an advertisement was published in the San Diego Union newspaper for the opening of a beachfront property 20 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border that was owned by American investors.

Back then the resort consisted of 10 rooms and one bathroom. They were what looked like a very basic hunting lodge on the beach.

It makes sense that it looked that way.  At the time, many people in the United States knew the area now called Rosarito, if they knew it at all, as a good place to go hunting.

In 1925, the California in the United States was in the midst of the Roaring '20s. But this portion of Baja (lower) California, in Mexico, was a lot quieter. Much has changed since.

Today, almost a century after its birth, the Rosarito Beach Hotel is a nearly 500 room-and-suites, full-service, self-contained resort. It includes three towers, a luxurious spa, restaurant, lounges, pools, outdoor gardens and dinner theater.

The hotel has attracted millions of visitors as perhaps the leading landmark in what has become a vibrant tourist region and popular spot for coastal living. And it was the first large business in what was to become the city of Rosarito.

The resort’s – as well as the region’s – transformation largely began in 1929, four years after its birth, when it was purchased by Manual Barbachano, a visionary who also brought electricity and phone service to northern "Baja."

Mr. Barbachano also was determined to bring a world-class resort to Baja California, in part to please his soon-to-be wife, actress Maria Luisa Chabert, who was accustomed to the more glamorous life of Mexico City.

Mr. Barbachano began adding rooms and a beautiful casino. The alluring seaside resort became a favorite of the rich and famous, including the Hollywood crowd, in part because the U.S. then had prohibition of alcohol.

Today those guests would be called jet setters, although jet planes had yet to be invented back then. But 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 Salon Mexicano dinner theater and the Azteca Restaurant, which had a bar running its length, also opened.

Many of the people who worked on the early expansion of the hotel settled nearby, and Rosarito grew up around the hotel.  Mr. Barbachano traveled south in Mexico to recruit workers for both hotel construction and operations. Many of their descendants work there today.

Casinos were outlawed by the Mexican government in the 1930s, and U.S. prohibition ended in that decade. Still, during this period a galaxy of stars began 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, plus glamorous leading ladies including Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Joan Bennett and Lana Turner.

In honor of those lovely ladies and so many others, a message on the stained-glass doorways leading to the hotel lobby reads: “Through these doors pass the most beautiful women in the world.”  The message is accompanied by the colorful image of a lovely senorita.

The Rosarito Beach Hotel was the place for celebrity rendezvous.  Ali Khan, prince of Persia, wooed both actresses Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney at the resort.

The playboy prince and Ms. Hayworth took long strolls on the resort’s beach, with part of his large entourage trailing behind. The playboy prince once paid for a 50-cent drink with a $100 bill, leaving the rest as tip for the stunned Azteca bartender.

Mr. Barbachano died in1954, with the hotel’s Hollywood glamour at a peak, and Maria Luisa later remarried. For about ten years, beginning in 1964, the hotel was leased to a U.S. group.

In 1974, the Barbachanos’ nephew, Hugo Torres, who first came to the hotel in 1943, assumed ownership and operations of the resort, and the next major period of expansion began. Much like his uncle, Mr. Torres is a Baja California visionary.

Beginning in 1983, Mr. Torres led the effort that ultimately, in 1995, made Rosarito Beach an independent municipality from Tijuana (of which it had been a suburb). This enabled the seaside tourist region to keep its own revenues while improving and expanding itself.

Mr. Torres twice served as the city's mayor, plus over the decades he greatly expanded the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort, of which he is now director general.

The 84-room Playas Tower was added in 1984, and the eight-story Coronado Tower in 1993. An 1,800-foot sports fishing pier was completed in 2000. In 2007, the Pacifico Tower, a grand 17-story structure of luxurious suites, opened. It was the region’s first condo-hotel, where people can either be guests or owners.

Rosarito has grown greatly in popularity over the decades. A major boost came in 1996, during Mr. Torres’ first tenure as mayor, when Fox Studios constructed a facility just south of the resort for the filming of James Cameron’s blockbuster movie “Titanic,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Bill Paxton.

A full-sized replica of the famed ocean liner awed those who drove by on the adjacent scenic highway, and the movie’s cast made the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort a favorite off-work destination. The Hollywood tradition continues today.

The film “Master & Commander,” and many others, were produced at nearby Baja Studios. Robert Redford stayed at the resort in 2012 while filming “All Is Lost,” and recent seasons of the “Fear the Walking Dead” TV series have been based here.

But the resort didn’t become a legend by glamour and stars alone.

For nearly a century, millions upon millions of guests have been hosted by the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort, attracted by its beauty, great location, easy access, affordability, wealth of activities and lodging options.

Many enjoy their visit totally within the extensive facilities of the self-contained resort. Others use it as a beautiful base to enjoy nearby Baja California attractions, including the Puerto Nuevo Lobster Village and the wine country of Guadalupe Valley.

The Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort is the heart of a region rich in art, culture, fine food, entertainment and recreation. U.S. News & World Report magazine named it one of eight top spots for outdoor activities.

And, as always since 1925, through these doors pass the most beautiful women in the world.

   Ron Raposa


Rosarito Beach Hotel and Spa

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