Ghost Stories: San Diego’s Horton Grand Hotel

In the heart of San Diego, CA is the immensely popular Gaslamp District and the now seldom considered old Stingaree area. An outstanding example of urban re-development, the District is today jam-packed with fine restaurants, trendy shops and popular clubs, and is the evening destination of locals and tourists alike. But it was not always so. Back in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Gaslamp District was not famous, but rather infamous, for its broad array of brothers, drug dens and gambling hall, three of which were owned by legendary old west lawman Wyatt Earp who moved to San Diego in the 1880s.

In those early days of the city’s prosperity and infamy, San Diego saw a population boom thanks to the 1885 opening of the city's first transcontinental railroad connection and in 1886 the city saw the construction of two Victorian style hotels, the Grand Horton Hotel and The Brooklyn Hotel, later renamed the The Brooklyn Kahle Saddlery Hotel due to the fabulously successful Kahle Saddlery occupying a portion the first floor.

The Grand Horton was a luxury hotel featuring a design based on Vienna, Austria’s Innsbruck Inn, while the Brooklyn was less chichi, combining Western and Cowboy with Victorian styles, and they each enjoyed years of success. However, as the decades went by, both
Original Grand Horton Hotel
saw significant declines, and by the end of the 1960s, it appeared each building would soon be demolished, as they stood in the path of a proposed new major mall, the Horton Plaza.

Though originally built far from the Stingaree section and the Gaslamp District, the 1970s saw an enterprising developer by the name of Dan Pearson buy the structures of each hotel, disassemble them each and move them, literally brick-by-brick, to a new location, yes, the Stingaree, and re-assemble them as one. With 10,000-plus bricks, a redwood infrastructure, a grand staircase that was sent to Austria for restoration, and more, it was not until 1986 that the reconstructed building was completed.
The Horton Grand Hotel is now a 4 story, 110 room, 24 suite Victorian-era Hotel on San Diago’s 3rd Avenue and Island Avenue, featuring, in addition to the grand staircase, a life-size paper mache’ horse, the advertising mascot of the original saddle shop, a New Orleans style open courtyard which has tree-lined gardens and a bubbling lion fountain, and rooms decorated with antiques, including
antique queen beds, hand-carved armoires and period decor. The suites are actually located in a what had been a separate building, formerly called the Anita and Regal Hotels, that was connected to the Grand Horton during its moving-reconstruction period.

The colorful history of the Horton Grand combined with the infamous history of it’s new surroundings and the Gaslight and Stingaree years of brothels, drug dens, and the like. In fact, the old Anita and Regal Hotels building had itself previously been a brothel, and the site of the Grand Horton’s reconstruction had also seen uses fitting the customs of the late 1800s. While no scandalous or murderous event has ever occurred at the Horton Grand, stories
Brooklyn Kahle Saddlery Hotel Plaquey
abound of ghosts now frequenting the establishment, stories of ghosts that sat in wait for years and years, having met their humanly ends in now long gone buildings who found a new home in the resurrected hotel.

Probably the most well known ghost is the occupier of Horton Grand’s room 309, one Roger Whitaker. The Whitaker legend is so popular, that two different stories of his demise have been disseminated over the years. It is said in one that Whitaker died in 1843,
Horton Grand Hotel San Diego
shot to death by the father of his prospective bride, who apparently was not very supportive of the pending marriage. The legend has it that Whitaker’s body was then dumped in a swamp in the Stingaree area, where the new hotel now stands. After years of haunting the land, the ghost of Roger Whitaker eventually found a home in room 309 of the new hotel.

The second story has Whitaker being a gambler caught cheating in a card game at a Stinagaree gambling hall. Running from angry players, he made it back to his room, 309,
at a then existing hotel. He was followed, and, as he purportedly hid in an armoire, was shot to death through the door, dying in room 309. Whether his ghost stayed there after that hotel met its end, or whether he did spend some time in the swamp mentioned in the first story, at some point Whitaker moved himself to the new room 309 of the Horton Grand.

Numerous guest sightings of Whitaker’s ghost have been made over the years, in room 309 and in adjacent hallways. reports have been made of awakening during the night by the room 309 bed being shaken, by the armoire’s doors being opened, by lights being turned on
and off, by objects moving about on their own, by the room temperature rising to unbearable levels, unaffected by air conditioning, and when the room is vacant and locked up tight, by the sounds of a poker game emanating from the room.

A pair of ghosts who apparently team as a team, Harry and Gus, have been seen on occasion by both guests and hotel employees. Numerous employees have seen rows of hallway curtains appear as to be blowing in non-existent wind, and two little ethereal figures scampering away. Hotel guests have also reported pictures spinning and other such ghostly pranks.
Horton Grand Ida Bailey Restaurant

The ghost of one well-known San Diegan from the city’s early days of disrepute also appears to be in residence at the Horton Grand, one Ida Bailey, once the most successful madame in town. Bailey’s brothel had been the business that occupied the building that later became the Anita and Regal Hotels and in the 1970s connected to and becoming part of the reconstructed Horton Grand. From the 1880s until a 1912 raid put her out of business, Bailey carried on her business activities there, and sighting of her presence are uniformly of the lighthearted and friendly nature. In fact, the hotel’s owners think so highly of Ms. Bailey that they named their signature restaurant after her.

There are, however, no reported sightings of Ms. Bailey serving meals to any hotel guests, or to Harry, Gus or Roger Whitaker.

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