Mystery Casino

Photo by Scalif, Intersofia

If you’ve ever visited or lived in San Diego, you’ve seen the Coronado Islands, which lie about twenty miles southwest of downtown, eight miles due west of Tijuana. I mention the islands in my second Rolly Waters novel, Border Field Blues, but the islands play a bigger role in Ballast Point Breakdown, specifically the ruins of a casino that was built on South Coronado Island in the 1930s.

The casino was a joint venture between American businessman Frederick W. Hamilton and Tijuana businessman Mariano Escobedo. It was named the Coronado Islands Yacht Club and provided both liquor and gambling facilities for guests.

Image from San Diego History Center

Prohibition was repealed soon after the casino was built, and gambling was made illegal in Mexico. The casino shut down eighteen months after it opened. It re-opened the next year as a weekend getaway hotel, with an emphasis on fishing and hiking as attractions, and remained in business until 1944.

There’s less of the building remaining than I described in the novel (artistic license!), but you can still see the foundations of the old hotel on Google Maps.

Celebrity guests are said to have included Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and Al Capone. As an interesting side note L Ron Hubbard, while serving as captain of the sub-chaser USS PC-815, gave orders to shell the Coronado Islands for target practice one day in June 1943. Mexican soldiers and officials stationed on the island lodged a complaint with the US Navy and Hubbard was relieved of his command as an “officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation.”

Image from History of the Coronado Islands by That Baja Guy-Gary Graham