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Rosarito Beach Hotel Turns 100
By Greg Niemann

Rosarito Beach Hotel Turns 100

By Greg Niemann

Rosarito Beach Hotel
Rosarito Beach Hotel from the Pier
Rosarito Beach Hotel

It’s a big birthday in Rosarito this year as the iconic Rosarito Beach Hotel and Spa celebrates its 100th Anniversary in July.

In early February hotel President and CEO Hugo Antonio Torres announced that several 100th anniversary celebrations are planned, beginning with beautification works in common areas and upgrading rooms, etc. to have the hotel ready for the July centennial celebrations.

He added that the pier had been completely illuminated so that people can enjoy it at night. However heavy storms later that month caused significant damage to the pier so much more work is necessary.

He said a full calendar of events will be released regarding the anniversary party that will, in part, feature a July concert by the renowned musical Big Band Tikos, a Tijuana group which is the largest jazz band in the region.

I’ve been familiar with the hotel a long time. Back in the 1940s my Dad drove past it on our annual camping trips to beaches in the south.

Rosarito Beach Hotel
Rosarito Beach Hotel in the 1930s
Rosarito Beach Hotel

Then, in the ‘50s, several of us teens camped below the bluffs just south of the hotel, whose gleaming lights attracted more heeled travelers. I partied there many times, dancing in the Salon Mexicano or dining in the Azteca restaurant.

In the 1980’s I became a writer/contributor to the hotel-owned Baja Times. I’d also included the hotel in one of my Baja books and got to know the owner Hugo Torres Chabert.

Recently my wife and I had occasion to spend the night there. That’s when I realized the hotel was gearing up for Centennial celebrations.

One hundred years ago, back on July 27, 1924 the owners of the fledgling enterprise, Jay Danzinger and Daisy Moreno, placed advertisements in the San Diego Union announcing the opening of the hotel, then called the Rosarito Beach Resort and Country Club, proclaimed it the “sensation of the season.”

An opening draw was that Prohibition had stymied stateside imbibers, and guests could get alcoholic drinks legally. Until the hotel opened, the Rosarito area did not have much else, just a few structures and a smattering of residents.

The early years

Spanish missionaries had established a mission at El Descanso (About 15 miles south of Rosarito) back in 1810. Then, following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the territorial governor granted the mission along with 407,000 acres to Don Jose Manuel Machado. Machado took over El Descanso and developed a large ranch there.

His son Don Joaquín Machado later took title to the land as Rancho Rosarito.

Rosarito Beach Hotel
Greg Niemann and Hugo Torres Chabert
Rosarito Beach Hotel

In 1920 a Los Angeles investment group acquired 14,000 of those acres and established a few tents on the beach to rent to American sportsmen. Then in 1924 Danzinger and Moreno began to develop and publicize that first Rosarito hotel which had only 10 rooms.

In 1929 an enterprising man named Manuel P. Barbachano bought the property and began construction of a larger hotel and beautiful casino. Mr. Barbachano wanted to create a world-class resort, in part to please his future wife, actress Maria Luisa Chabert. The alluring seaside resort soon became a favorite of the rich and famous, including the Hollywood crowd.

For 100 years now, the venerable Rosarito Beach Hotel has welcomed over 4,000,000 guests from celebrities, to newlyweds, to Americans on their first visit to Mexico.

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. 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.”

Casinos were outlawed by the Mexican government in the mid-1930s and U.S. prohibition ended in 1933 so Barbachano was forced to close the casino section.

The hotel itself has endured for decades. After the death of Barbachano, his widow Maria Luisa Chabert leased out the hotel operation to a Mexican/American partnership, Chavez and Greenburg, who ran the resort from 1964 to 1974.

Then Barbachano’s nephew, Hugo Torres Chabert, took over his uncle’s hotel in 1974 when there were only 51 rooms and he and his family have run it ever since.

Rosarito Beach Hotel
“Though This Door Pass the Most Beautiful Women in the World.”
Rosarito Beach Hotel

Hugo Torres was born in Mexico City in 1936 and was a young boy in 1943 when he came to his uncle’s hotel. While he was later educated in Mexico City, Monterrey, and San Diego, Torres has spent most of his life involved with the grand old hotel.

In speaking of Barbachano, Torres once told me, “My uncle was a real Baja pioneer. He was progressive and had a vision for Baja California. He was responsible for bringing in the electricity for the Tijuana and Rosarito area. He also established the first telephone company for all of northern Baja California.”

Much like his uncle, Mr. Torres has been a Baja visionary. He led the effort that in 1995 made Rosarito Beach a city independent from Tijuana, becoming its first mayor.

He later served another term beginning in 2007, and spent the next two years cleaning up the corruption that had invaded the new city. Tijuana-based weekly magazine Zeta named Torres “Man of the Year” for his efforts.

Hugo Torres greatly expanded the Rosarito Beach Hotel; the 84-room Playas Tower was added in 1984, and the eight-story Coronado Tower in 1993.

In 2007 the 17-story Pacifico Tower opened with 271 condos and a rooftop infinity pool. One of the region’s first such enterprises, the Rosarito Beach Condo Hotel was built as condominiums, but designed to operate as a hotel. The Pacifico Tower offers studios, 1/1 suites, and the 3 bedroom/3 bath Penthouse suite.

We stayed in a one-bedroom Pacifico suite which was comfortable, spacious, and included a kitchenette. We noticed that with the l-shaped design of the huge building all the condo-hotel rooms have ocean views and patios.

Rosarito Beach Hotel
View from a hotel room
Rosarito Beach Hotel

The sunsets were spectacular overlooking the glistening ocean framed by the 1,800-foot sports fishing pier that was completed in 2000.The pier was built ostensibly for cruise ships but that never transpired.

The self-contained resort includes restaurants, bars, swimming pools, and a world-class spa. The hotel is also a center for special events and community functions.

Even after the casino closed down, the Hollywood crowd had already made the Rosarito Beach Hotel the “in” place for romantic interludes. Many notable movie stars have been guests there through the years.

The Rosarito Beach Hotel has also been the setting for several movies. The movie Baja Run and an episode of the TV show Simon and Simon were filmed there.

Big times and visions of Hollywood returned to the hotel when the Fox Baja Studio opened in 1996 and began filming the blockbuster movie “Titanic.” Many of the people working on the studio about four miles south of town stayed at the Rosarito Beach Hotel.

The hotel never has a shortage of events. They are constantly hosting meetings, shows, and special events. The amenities are endless: tennis courts, swimming pools, and horse rentals, for example. The Hotel’s Casa Playa Spa is a full-service spa and salon and offers therapeutic massages, seaweed facials, herbal body wraps and more.

The five children of Hugo Torres and his wife Rosa Maria are now active in the management of the hotel, serving in various functions. Hugo Antonio Torres, Gustavo Torres Ramirez, Daniel Torres, and Laura Torres have all held key positions. Back in 1999 Laura invited me to give Baja slide presentations as part of their 2000 Centennial festivities. Laura has also been very involved in Rosarito area politics. I met with Daniel a couple of times when the hotel bought a few resale copies of my Baja Legends book.

The Rosarito Beach Hotel is now 100 years old and the graceful old dowager that put Rosarito Beach on the map is still a busy tourist destination.

And, since 1924, as noted at the entry, “Though This Door Pass the Most Beautiful Women in the World.”



About Greg

Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Greg can be reached at niemanngreg(at)aol.com.
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