By Christine Lampert
San Clemente and Capistrano Beach have only two vintage beachfront hotels, and one has been shut down for years. Now, they are about to have two authentic vintage beachfront hotels again.
The Beachcomber Inn and the Capistrano Seaside Inn have been the only historic oceanfront hotels available to tourists, but the Capistrano Seaside Inn has been in ruins for years. It’s being renovated now and soon will open as the second historic seaside experience available to visitors.
The Beachcomber Inn sits right next to the beach above the pier in San Clemente. The Beachcomber has maintained its charm since it was built in 1947. It is one of the very few beachside hotels built in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style in South Orange County.
The building is designated as a historic property by the city and is protected from any major changes.
The Capistrano Seaside Inn was built around 1930 and for years was considered one of the best places to stay affordably at the beach, even though one must cross Pacific Coast Highway to get to the beach. It fell into disrepair but soon will reopen again as a historic seaside hotel.
The Capistrano Inn was doing well until the late 1980s. Tourists could catch a ride to the hotel from the train station, and there was even a gourmet French restaurant on its premises. Often, in its earlier days, the inn hosted many famous guests.
Dana Point has newer hotels, but nothing as charming and as close to the beach as these two historic hotels.
When San Clemente was first established in the 1920s, the San Clemente Hotel on Avenida Del Mar was built for the tourists. There was also a motel right across the pier where the parking lot is today, but it was demolished years ago.
When Ole Hanson, one of the founding fathers of San Clemente, master-planned the community in the 1920s, he built the San Clemente Hotel on Avenida Del Mar and was in the process of building a huge resort across the street from T-Street Beach when The Great Depression happened.
He had to stop the design of the project. Today, there are houses above T-Street instead of a resort.
San Clemente was designed as the ultimate resort town with a fishing pier, an Olympic-size swimming pool, horseback riding and many other amenities. It’s amazing that there were so few beachfront hotels.
Years ago, many visitors, including movie stars, passed through San Clemente on their way to San Diego, which would have been a natural stopping-off point. In the 1920s the only way to San Diego was along the narrow two-lane Highway 1, also known as El Camino Real.
The journey probably would have taken at least six hours by car. The train tracks along the beach had already been built in the 1880s between Los Angeles and San Diego. The freeway, Interstate 5, which cut through the middle of town, wasn’t built until 1960.
This would have been the ideal location for more beachfront hotels.
Christine Lampert is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and has designed many projects in San Clemente and in California. She has been a professor of architecture at USC, OCC and SCAD Hong Kong. She and her family have lived in San Clemente for more than 46 years.
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