San Clemente’s Hotel History

By Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB

Avenida Del Mar is San Clemente’s historic downtown main street. The new town of San Clemente was designed in the early 1920s by Ole Hansen, and his intention was to provide everything that a small beach town would need, including an elegant hotel. The three-story Hotel San Clemente on Avenida de Mar was completed in 1926 as part of the plan to give visitors a place to stay, and it also became a major stopover for travelers between Los Angeles and San Diego

Since the new town was offering building sites for sale, the goal was to have visitors enjoy the beach town while staying at the hotel, and enticing them to purchase an empty lot to build their own Spanish Colonial Revival style house

While staying at the hotel, guests could enjoy fishing, the beach and horseback riding along the bridle paths that were built throughout town. The pier was completed in 1928, adding another beautiful spot for entertainment. The community pool building offered even more activities for visitors and new residents of San Clemente.

When the three-story Hotel San Clemente was completed, it included 60 rooms each with a separate bathroom. The bell tower can be seen from the street. The bells are still heard throughout the town announcing the hours of the day. Today, the hotel has been converted into apartments, called the Hotel San Clemente Apartments. The ground floor lobby space is now occupied by Fired Up, an art studio where people can paint ceramics in the courtyard and in the lobby space.

Ole Hanson had even greater plans for a beachside resort in San Clemente. He was in the process of designing a large seaside resort just above T-Street, but the Great Depression stopped him from finishing his dream. The resort would have sat on 12 acres with wide streets leading down to the hotel from El Camino Real. Today, homes occupy the space right above the stairs at T-Street beach where
the resort hotel would have stood had Ole Hanson been able to complete his vision.
A resort hotel by the beach would have been very successful. Many visitors passed through San Clemente on their way to the San Diego and this would have been a natural stopping off point. In the 1920s, the only way to San Diego was along the narrow two-lane highway 1, also known as El Camino Real. The journey from Los Angeles probably would have taken at least six hours by car. Although the train tracks between Los Angeles and San Diego along the beach were built in the 1880s, the freeway-Interstate 5-which cut through the middle of town, wasn’t built until 1960.

San Clemente might have been a different town if the resort had been built at the beach. It might have been similar to destination beach towns like La Jolla, Carlsbad and Laguna Beach, which all had hotels on the beach in the early 20thcentury. San Clemente’s oceanfront Beachcomber Inn was built much later in the 1953. It’s still in operation today.

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Architects and is certified with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. She has lived in San Clemente for more than 45 years, and also resides part time in Hong Kong

Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB

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