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Through These Doors: An Ongoing History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel and Resort, from 1925 Until Today

The Rosarito Beach Hotel, now Baja’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, one backed by American investors.

History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

The lobby of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort as it looks today.

Back then the resort consisted of 10 rooms and one bathroom. Basically, it was a small hunting lodge on the beach.

It made 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 U.S. state of California was in the midst of the roaring ‘20s. But Baja California, in Mexico, was a lot quieter. Much has changed since then.

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, 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. 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.

History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

92 years after its opening, the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort remains a landmark regional lodging.

Mr. Barbachano also was determined to bring to Baja a world-class resort, 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. had enacted a prohibition against 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.

History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

Marilyn Monroe, the epitome of the blonde bombshell, was one of many Hollywood leading ladies to visit the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort.

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 descendents work at the hotel today.

Casinos were outlawed by the Mexican government in the 1930s and U.S. prohibition ended 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 like 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 became the “it” place for celebrity rendezvous.  Aly 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.

History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

Rita Hayworth

Mr. Barbachano died in1954, with the hotel’s Hollywood glamour at a peak, and Maria Luisa later remarried. For about 10 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 visionary.

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

Mr. Torres twice served as city mayor and also in coming decades 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 be either 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.

History of the Rosarito Beach Hotel & Resort

Lana Turner

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 after-work destination. The Hollywood tradition continues today.

 “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 from which to enjoy nearby Baja attractions, including the Puerto Nuevo Lobster Village and the wine country of Valle de Guadalupe.

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 adventures.

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

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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