Saved buildings
save our heritage organisation logo

Yahoo  MSN  Google

We Called it Caliente

By Kathleen Kelley-Markham

Agua Caliente has always been more to me than a complex of lovely buildings designed by a very talented young architect named Wayne McAllister. To me, it is simply Caliente, a place full of memories and stories told to me by my family. My mother's family owned a number of well-known Southern California landmarks including the U.S. Grant Hotel, Viejas Ranch (now Viejas Casino), the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and the final link on the road to romance, Agua Caliente. Caliente stories were always the best.

The family trips to Caliente were rather glorious especially since they occurred during the dark days of the Depression. My mother and her older brother viewed the resort as their personal playground, everyone knew who they were and with free run of all the facilities except the casino, their time was spent swimming in that fabulous pool, trying to retrieve coins from the wishing well and riding horses. Their older brother and sister were teenagers during this time and the lure of seeing celebrities and sports legends (including the famous racehorses Seabiscuit and Phar Lap) and attending soirees filled their memory books. The sight of Jean Harlow in a white satin dress at an adjacent table on the patio remained unblemished and fresh in my uncle's teenage memories.

Right The author's mother, uncle, and grandparents.

My grandfather served as the general manager and the person who happened to audition and hire Eduardo and Margarita Cansino as dancers. A few years later she would be known to the world as Rita Hayworth. If you believe my family's version, the Margarita cocktail was invented at Caliente and named after her. My Grandpa tried to look out for her. Years after she attained stardom she would always call or visit Pops (as she called him) whenever she was in town.

The shutdown and confiscation by the Cardenas government produced its share of sad memories. Grandpa had been in charge of taking the profits from the casino and making deposits at the Border Bank that was built in San Ysidro. This clever tactic would serve to be invaluable as the change in government policies about gambling began to emerge. He would make the drive alone from Caliente up the Strand to Coronado every morning at about 4:00am. My mother waited up for him on the very last night. He was heartbroken.

But even the sad moments had a bit of humor, especially the story of my Aunt Martha and her driver loading the trunk of her Cadillac with gold coins and barely making it across the border due to the immense weight of the casino's gold coins.

As discussions take place about the preservation of Caliente's vestiges, I hope this reminds all of us that preservation is more than what meets the eye.

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 3


VIEW digital online version

Baton Passes to SOHO for Neon Majorette

Old San Diego Police Headquarters

President's Message

Executive Director Report

Hotel Del Coronado Continuing Saga

Historic Hotel San Diego Awaits the Wrecking Ball

Threat to Agua Caliente

We Called it Caliente

County Historic Site Board Reinstated

Mills Act Notice

Volunteer Appreciation Party

Aztec Brewery Art & Artifact Ensemble

Heritage Park Gets a Facelift

The Ranch House

The Whaley House

Help Furnish the Whaley House

Volunteers Make the Difference

Whaley House Garden Update

SOHO Museum Shop at the Whaley House Grand Opening

Heritage Tourism

Welcome Ranger Berry

Letter to the Editors

In Memorium

Contributors to Success

VIEW digital online version

DOWNLOAD full magazine as pdf (6.4mb)


2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
Home | Contact