Hotel California

by Joelle


‘ So I called up the captain, Please bring me my wine- He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’ And still those voices are calling from far away, Wake you up in the middle of the night Just to hear them say… Welcome to the Hotel California .


Todos Santos is a small and quiet town in the heart of Baja California Sur. As I walk along the sidewalk I notice an old building with arches and a few tourists holding cameras and posing for each other with the building behind them. It says “Hotel California” on top. ”Is this the Eagles’ Hotel California?” I ask a very fat tourist beside me. Did the Eagles ever come to Todos Santos? Did Don Henley write the song while staying at the Hotel California in Todos Santos, during the hippie heyday of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s? Sometime in the mid to late 1980?s, the word got out that Todos Santos was home to “the” Hotel California made famous by the Eagles’ song in the 1970?s. In the 1990?s, the rumor had reached “hipper” journalists in the US and the first articles started appearing in major newspapers, like the Detroit Free Press article in 1996.   As other journalists heard the rumor, momentum increased and the story soon became a full fledged urban legend. New writers used the original articles to justify and support their conclusions.   Journalists would come to Todos Santos and do “research”, but they already knew what they wanted to write and so they sought out people who would verify what they had already accepted as fact. No real investigative reporting ever occurred.   The souvenir shirts from across the street say “Hotel California, since 1928.” That claim remains unverified. Gene Kira in “The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez” writes that in 1952, “Hotel California was opened in Todos Santos by Antonio ‘El Chino‘ Wong Tobasco.” Was that when the hotel was built? Or did the building become a hotel in 1952?   Well, Gene and the souvenir shirts are wrong. In an October 25, 2002 “public opinion” piece, local La Paz newspaper Sudcaliforniano published a note from one of Antonio ‘El Chino‘ Wong Tobascos daughters  to the effect that he, Don Antonio Wong Tobasco and his wife, Sra. Trinidad Castillo de Tabasco, began construction on the hotel in 1947 and the work was completed with the inauguration of the hotel on February 5, 1950.   Sra. Maria included two dated photos. She also directly addressed the 1928 claim and unequivocally states that the hotel was founded in 1950, not 1928. She should know as she states, “In (this hotel) I was born, grew and it was my home during many years…”   The hotel has had different names, that much is certain. Some say it was the Hotel California for a long time and then, in the late 70’s early 80’s, the Hotel Mission Todos Santos and then the Hotel California once again. Professor Nestor, of the Centro Cultural, used to have on display an apparently very old black and white photo of the hotel when it was called the Mission. Unfortunately the photo wasn’t dated and it is no longer on display.   A man in town claims to have started the rumor that became legend in the early 80’s – and for purely selfish reasons. He says the town was so unknown, so lacking in tourists or business that he felt compelled to do something to stir things up. He was in the real estate business and there weren’t any buyers around to sell to. So he says he dreamed the “Eagles” thing up right out of thin air.   There weren’t many takers for an urban legend either, but by the time the hotel reopened as Hotel California in the late 80’s, the legend had begun to grow. The story was told to anyone who would listen that this indeed was the HOTEL CALIFORNIA and that the Eagles had stayed there; that Don Henley had written the song right here, while renting a room for $2/night, sleeping in a hammock. And to further the effect, the song played over the barroom stereo into the streets. Why it had to be true, didn’t it?   Todos Santos grew. A fine Italian restaurant opened and attracted attention and visitors from Cabo San Lucas. A steady stream of tourists found Todos Santos, and the urban legend found new currency. Finally, that Detroit Free Press story in 1996 and legitimacy! Then more reporters were scurrying about looking for the “truth” or so they said. Momentum was building. In 1997, travel writer Joe Cummings became intrigued with the legend. He talked to everyone he could and decided that the stories just didn’t seem right. He sent a fax to Don Henley and asked about the hotel in Todos Santos and the rumors that he and/or the band had been here and possibly even written the song here. To Joe’s surprise, Don Henley immediately returned his fax and stated, “I can tell you unequivocally that neither myself nor any of the other band members have had any sort of association – business or pleasure – with that establishment.” Based on his own research and this fax, Joe wrote “Hotel Where” which was later published in the March 2000 issue of El Calendario de Todos Santos, the local English language magazine. In the late 1990’s, the hotel closed. Eventually even the Wall Street Journal took the bait and came-a-calling. Their story set the town back 5 years in dispelling the urban legend. Meanwhile the hotel was put up for sale in 2000.   The Hotel California is under new management. In late spring 2002, the Todos Santos Message Center moved its office to the Hotel and offered tours of the building for 50 pesos. The building has been repainted and a new restaurant (La Coronela) and bar opened in late December 2002. A gala New Year’s Eve party was held at the restaurant/bar and over 300 people attended. An enormous amount of work is being done on the hotel itself. John Stewart, the manager and owner who unfortunately passed away in August of 2006 personally remodeled with love and creative devotion the hotel’s 11 rooms. He painted their walls, choosing vibrant color palettes, exotic Mexican vintage furniture he gathered secretly around the region, metal and glass sculptures, exotic plants and art. Truly a celebration of the senses, the Hotel California explodes with purples, reds, hot pinks, oranges, periwinkles, and pulsating shades of green and golden yellows. The old blends gracefully with the new, as original tile floors and 100-year-old beams merge with the best modern Mexico can offer. With the help of his wife Debbie, the owner of the successful establishment transformed it into an architectural, artistic and culinary masterpiece. For John Stewart, whose previous career was designing restaurants and office buildings, this project was the dream of a lifetime. A lot of money and effort from the couple had been directed toward making the Hotel California a grander place than it has ever been before and an integral part of life here in Todos Santos. If you walk by, you won’t hear the bar stereo blaring the Eagles singing the flagship song. Those days are truly gone. The urban legend, true or not, lives on. Tourists make day trips from Cabo San Lucas. They believe what they want to believe. They buy t-shirts and postcards of the hotel and sit in the restaurant across the street, zoning out on the facade of the remodeled building, reminiscing on their lost youth. They cross the street to stand under the newly repainted arches and have their photo taken at “the” Hotel California, in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Joelle’s Picks: The Hotel/ Restaurant/ Shop: Hotel California The hotel, under the guiding eye of John Stewart, has been completely transformed. Eleven colorful rooms are available for rental. La Coronela restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining and a unique bar. The Emporio gift shop has some of the most eclectic items available in southern Baja. The Hotel California has become the hub of tourist activity in Todos Santos. or by phone from the US, 011-52-612-145-0525 The Source / References: Todos Santos Guide/Los Cabos Guides The song: Hotel California

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