Horton Grand Hotel : haunted?

Back in the 1880's, San Diego's "New Town" located near the waterfront attracted seamen & prospectors looking for "action". New Town was experiencing a boom - but in a bad way: the city had turned raunchy with gambling halls, brothels, opium dens, and saloons. With such a mix of characters, it's not surprising to find a few haunts who are still roaming the halls with debts unpaid.

The History

In 1886, a German immigrant saw the potential wealth in San Diego, he wanted to build a grand hotel, on par with the ones found in Europe. He made one of the most distinctive buildings of the time: artisans were instructed to create a sense of elegance and opulence. Noteworthy was a split staircase made from 100-year-old oak wood. At that time, the hotel was graced by prominent members of society such as President Benjamin Harrison, the Secretary of War Redfield, and David Kalakan (president of Hawaii).

The famous oak wood stairs.

In 1907, the hotel was named Horton Grand in honor of Alonzo Horton who was instrumental in bringing residents and commerce into New Town (currently Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego). By the 1930's, the Horton Grand was in full swing. A theater was opened beside the hotel and tasteful shows attracted members in the entertainment industry and guests who wanted a slice of the pie. The sports bar within the hotel attracted professional sportsmen and their accompanying fans. It was just the place to be.

But time takes its toll. By the 1960's the district was beginning to show its age: the place had become run down with dirty streets and old buildings in disrepair. The Horton Grand was no exception.

In the late 1970's, City officials decided to completely re-haul and renovate the entire district. The Horton Grand was scheduled for demolition but members of society would not allow it. They raised funds to preserve the Horton Grand along with another hotel of the same era called Kale Saddlery Hotel.

The Horton Grand Hotel: renovated and relocated

Both buildings were taken apart brick by brick, and when a suitable spot was chosen, both were reconstructed side by side. European craftsmen were imported to repair the split oak-staircase, the Victorian facade was preserved, and original artifacts were installed to give an authentic feel. The renovated Horton Grand was ready for business in 1986: almost a hundred years after the original hotel opened its doors for business.

Today, the Horton Grand Hotel offers a room for about $150 to $250 per night. The in house restaurant serves up "High Tea" on par of those in England. No two rooms are the same and they are furnished with antique period-pieces such as armoires. Each room has a diary where guests can record their experiences in America's Finest city. That's very interesting - especially the diary in room 309...

The Hauntings

Mid 1800's: Roger Whittaker was a typical man of the time: a ruffian, a heavy drinker, and a cheating gambler. He had acquired many debts from gambling, but his gambling days are over. Creditors wanted their money and if they couldn't get it, they were happy enough taking Whittaker's life. Roger had been shot, but managed to run into a hotel to find refuge. He hid in an armoire but he was eventually tracked down and shot to death.

Fast forward to 1986: The Horton Grand had been relocated, renovated, and was ready for business! But something was amiss in room 309: the bed shook, lights flickered on & off, and soaps & amenities were regularly misplaced after the room was serviced. Sometimes, the room was dead bolted from the inside even though it was unoccupied.

Hotel managers wanted an explanation to these unexplained activities - they hired two psychics to investigate. That is when they found that the spirit in room 309 was that of Roger Whittaker, the gambler from over 100 years ago! According to Roger, he died in another hotel, but he chose to stay in room 309 of the Horton Grand because it reminded him of the hotel he was in prior to the fatal shot. Indeed, guests of room 309 often complain about the armoire doors opening and closing at all hours of the night.

In addition to the typical paranormal complaints such as cold chills, sightings of "misty glows" (orbs), and footsteps in the night, this ghost has a special twist: he's playful. The spirit of Roger Whittaker is not particularly malicious or menacing. Guess who are playful themselves will leave things for Roger: one couple left a glass of champagne in the armoire, and yes, by the next morning, the glass was empty. One couple, left a deck of cards in a stack and then went for dinner. Upon return, the deck had been dealt and ready to go. Another guest left their deck of cards on the counter, upon return, the deck was gone and only the King of Hearts was left. Hoax? Staff members playing tricks? Go for a visit, ask for room 309, and tell me about it.


Horton Grand Hotel
311 Island Avenue (corner of 4th St).
San Diego, CA

horton grand hotel
Ida Bailey's restaurant in the Horton Grand Hotel.

It is interesting to note, that the Horton Grand was relocated to the site where Ida Bailey ran her brothel. Of all the brothels of the time, Madame Ida's "Canary Cottage" was considered the most reputable. She insisted that her girls carried themselves in a dignified manner, not drink or smoke, wore minimal makeup, and dressed tastefully.

Madame Ida catered to "gentlemen" and managed to avoid arrest due to her acquaintance with councilmen and other politicians. Of course, the Canary Cottage was eventually shut down and Ida faded into history. But, to this day, San Diegans tip their hats to Madame Ida by calling the in-house restaurant at the Horton Grand "Ida Bailey's".