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.

Chandler Agonistes

“Officer Jake Stirling parked his patrol car near the sharp curve on Camino de la Costa, glanced at the house across the street and wondered if the man inside had killed himself yet.”

The Esmeralda Goodbye

So goes the sentence that kicks off my next novel, The Esmeralda Goodbye. It’s a historical mystery set in La Jolla, CA, in the 1950s. As the reader, and Officer Jake, will soon learn the man inside the house is none other than the celebrated crime fiction author Raymond Chandler. The chapter is based on a very real suicide attempt Chandler made in February 1955.

Article from the Daily Independent Journal February 24, 1955

Raymond Chandler and his wife Cissy moved from Los Angeles to La Jolla, CA in 1946. They purchased a house Chandler described as “beside the sounding sea” and “A far better home than any out-of-work pulp writer has any right to expect.”

Raymond and Cissy Chandler’s house in La Jolla
View across the street ‘beside the sounding sea”

One of the chief reasons for the Chandlers’ move from Los Angeles was Cissy’s declining health. Eight years after the move she succumbed to fibrosis. Chandler was deeply affected by her death and began drinking more heavily. Three months after her death he sat in his tub with a pistol and called the police. By the time officers arrived Chandler had fired two bullets into the ceiling. He was detained and then committed to the psychopathic ward of Scripps Memorial Hospital for several weeks.

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a historical novel using Chandler as a character. Reading about this incident gave me the idea for where to start my book. In his biography of Chandler, Frank McShane wrote, “A very tender rookie cop entered the house and with considerable trepidation opened the bathroom door.”1

And so fictional police Officer Jake Stirling was born. I took a few artistic liberties with the chapter but it’s basically a true story.

Chandler fans and readers will recognize my title, The Esmeralda Goodbye, as an homage to Chandler’s last two novels, both of which were written in La Jolla. The Long Goodbye was published in 1953. Playback was published in 1958, shortly before Chandler’s death. Playback is set in the town of Esmeralda, Chandler’s fictional stand-in for La Jolla.

“In Esmeralda what was old was also clean and sometimes quaint. In other small towns what is old is just shabby.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

“Esmeralda had one Main Street…but unlike most California towns it had no false fronts or cheesy billboards, no drive-in hamburger joints.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

The title for The Esmeralda Goodbye came to me rather late in the process, but when it arrived, I knew it was perfect. In the next few months, I’ll be posting further information about the history, people and places that inspired the book (publication date March 1, 2024).

  1. Frank McShane. The Life of Raymond Chandler. 1976. Page 128 ↩︎

Awards for Gillespie Field Groove

It’s always nice to win an award. Gillespie Field Groove has recently picked up a few.

Finalist in the Thriller: Crime category at the American Fiction Awards.

Silver Medal in the Mystery – Detective category from the Global Book Awards

Maincrest Media Award Winner in Mystery/Suspense

“With both creativity and flair, Fayman weaves a tale that is both thrilling and unexpected.”

Shakespeare is my co-writer

Many years ago, I worked as a sound designer and sometime composer for professional theatres in San Diego, chiefly the Old Globe Theatre and the San Diego Repertory Theatre (and a couple of smaller ones I don’t remember). I also owned a very small recording studio in a warehouse I shared with several painters and visual artists (mine was third from the front door, hence the name below).

Inspired by Bob James compositional work on a recent production of The Tempest at The Globe, as well as my new Ensoniq Mirage Sampler, I decided I’d try putting my own stamp on one of the songs from the play. You can hear the results below.

Sometimes referred to as Ariel’s Song, it’s an incantation sung (invisibly) to the shipwrecked prince Ferdinand as he searches the island for his father, the king, and any fellow survivors. I’ve rarely, if ever, written a song where I didn’t also write the lyrics. I guess if you’re going to do it, you might as well start at the top.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong, bell.

New Music – Soul of a New Machine

Virtual Reality, Social Media, Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Mining, Artificial Intelligence, Sex Robots. I can’t keep up anymore. Here’s a bit of my personal paranoia in musical (and video) form. Available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify, as well as other streaming platforms.

Give us a song, we’ll digitize it
Measure its soul in megabytes
Deconstruction is what’s hip
Robert Johnson on microchip
This is the soul of a new machine
This is the soul of a new machine

Surface tension says it best
The mechanism never rests
It sound so smooth without the hiss
You won’t remember what you don’t miss
This is the soul of a new machine
This is the soul of a new machine

The algorithms get intense
As angry robots climb the fence
In virtual reality
They’re coming soon for you and me
This is the soul of a new machine
This is the soul of a new machine