La Jolla’s Fancy Cowboy Hotel

Last month I talked about how writer Raymond Chandler’s time in La Jolla in the 1950s inspired my upcoming novel, The Esmeralda Goodbye. Another inspiration for the book was the Hotel Del Charro, which was located in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood. Chandler stayed at the hotel on several occasions and created a fictional version of it—Rancho Descansado—for his final novel Playback.

Main building of the Hotel Del Charro
Main building of the hotel, with pool in front.

The hotel was owned by Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, two Texas oil barons who were among the wealthiest men in the United States. They purchased the property in 1951 from Evelyn Marechal and her husband James, professional horse trainers who built the original hotel on land previously used for their horse stables (Mrs. Marechal makes a brief appearance in my book). Charros are the Mexican cowboys you’ll see at parades and rodeos, dressed in fancy outfits with silver decorations, ruffled shirts, short jackets, and sombreros. So a literal translation of Hotel Del Charro could be “the fancy cowboy’s hotel.” Guests who wanted to actually ride horses could rent them from Mrs. Marechal’s stable next door.

The kidney shaped swimming pool
No cowboys here. Living it up 1950s style at the hotel pool.

In the 1950s the La Jolla Shores area was rural and mostly uninhabited. Which made it a great hideaway for Hollywood actors on vacation. Regular guests included John Wayne, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Ward Bond, Mel Ferrer, Dorothy Maguire and Gregory Peck (the last three founded the summer stock La Jolla Playhouse in 1947). The Del Charro provided a high level of service and comfort as well an escape from the madding crowds. 1950s prices could be as much as $100 per day, over $1,000 per day in 2023 money.

Bird's eye view of Shore beach in the 1950s
Flat area to the right is Shores Beach in the 1950s. The Hotel del Charro was located just off screen to the right.

With the arrival of Murchison and Richardson, politicians and power brokers became a fixture at the hotel as well. John Connally, Joe McCarthy, and Richard Nixon were among those who came to consult with the two men. The most interesting guests, for the purposes of my story, were FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his partner Clyde Tolson. Both men appear as characters in The Esmeralda Goodbye.

Richard Nixon, Clint Murchison and J. Edgar Hoover at the hotel
Left to Right—Richard Nixon, Clint Murchison and J. Edgar Hoover on the hotel’s patio.

Hoover and Tolson were regular visitors at the hotel, spending two weeks there every summer. Bungalow A, set discreetly on the backside of the property, was always reserved for them. In the 1970s reporter Jack Anderson broke the story that Hoover and Tolson never paid a dime for their stays at the hotel.

The two men were also guests of Murchison at the Del Mar Racetrack’s Turf Club. It’s rumored that Hoover may have won more than his share of race bets. It’s also rumored that Hoover had a hand in convincing the previous owner to sell the racetrack to the Texas oilman.

Del Charro hotel diagram

Sid Richardson died in 1959 and Murchison sold the hotel in the 1970s. Developers tore it down and built a condominium complex, the Del Charro Woods, which still stands today.

Del Charro Woods condominium signe
Condominiums replaced the horse stables and the Hotel Del Charro in the 1970s.

So did Raymond Chandler and J. Edgar Hoover ever cross paths at the Hotel Del Charro? I’ve heard a couple of a stories that involve the two men, but I’ll save those for another post.

6 Comments on “La Jolla’s Fancy Cowboy Hotel

  1. Your new. book sounds good and of course I will buy it.
    I am already in your mailing list

  2. I enjoyed tremendously working their as a busboy and room service waiter in ’71-’72. Whether serving poolside or in the Jacaranda Room, the atmosphere was charming and sophisticated in a relaxed manner. The food was great!

  3. Nice to hear from someone who worked there. I wondered if the food was any good.

  4. My dad work both at the Del Charro and the Del Mar Turf club. Dad was a well known man to many in the entertainment and mob communities.

    At the end of his life in early 1971 he was the Publicity Director for Evens Hotels and was married to Eleanor Ray who st dad’s advice sold Belmont Parks lease to Bill Evens who wanted to build another resort on the property. We all know how that ended.

    He was know by all as Everloving Jimmy Littleton

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