Todos Santos Pages
Hotel California, Baja, Mexico

 

todos santos pueblo magico

Condolences from all of Todos Santos to the family and friends of John Stewart, the mover behind the resurgence of the Hotel California. With the help of his wife Debbie and manager Alejandro Blanco, they made the Hotel California the number one tourist attraction in Todos Santos. John passed away on August 31, 2006.

Did the Eagles ever come to Todos Santos? Did Don Henley write the song while staying at the Hotel California in Todos Santos, during the hippie heyday of the late 1960's and early 1970's?

hotel california
"Hotel California" by Chris MacClure
Golden Cactus Gallery, Cabo San Lucas

Hotel California Contact Info
email: info@hotelcaliforniabaja.com
phone: 011-52-612-145-0525

Sometime in the mid to late 1980's, the word got out that Todos Santos was home to "the" Hotel California made famous by the Eagles' song in the 1970's. In the 1990's, the rumor had reached "hipper" journalists in the US and the first articles started appearing in major newspapers, like the Detroit Free Press article in 1996. As other journalists heard of the rumor, momentum increased and the story soon became a full fledged urban legend. New writers used the original articles to justify and support their conclusions. Journalists would come to Todos Santos and do "research", but they already knew what they wanted to write and so they sought out people who would verify what they had already accepted as fact. No real investigative reporting ever occurred.

The souvenir shirts from across the street say "Hotel California, since 1928." That claim remains unverified. Gene Kira in "The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez" writes that in 1952, "Hotel California opened in Todos Santos by Antonio 'El Chino' Wong Tobasco." Was that when the hotel was built? Or did the building become a hotel in 1952?

<Webmaster note: In a Feb 2002 email, Gene states that although his notes are in storage, he remembers that the building did exist before it became the hotel and that "El Chino" used to serve Chinese food in his restaurant at this location and would publicize the meals by way of loud tinny speakers mounted on the roof. Gene promises more details when he finally unpacks his reference material in the future.>

Well, Gene and the souvenir shirts are wrong. In an October 25, 2002 "public opinion" piece, local La Paz newspaper Sudcaliforniano published a note from one of Antonio 'El Chino' Wong Tobasco's daugthers ( Sra. Maria Belen Tabasco Castillo) to the effect that he, Don Antonio Wong Tobasco and his wife, Sra. Trinidad Castillo de Tabasco, began construction on the hotel in 1947 and the work was completed with the inauguration of the hotel on February 5, 1950. Sra. Maria included two dated photos. She also directly addressed the 1928 claim and unequivocally states that the hotel was founded in 1950, not 1928. She should know as she states, "In (this hotel) I was born, grew and it was my home during many years..."

Hotel California Sudcaliforniano Article
Newspaper clipping courtesy of Debbie Stewart (click for larger version)

hotel california 1950
Hotel California not quite finished, circa 1950- photo courtesy Tobasco family

hotel mision todos santos
Hotel Mision 1985
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Hotel California 1998

The hotel has had different names, that much is certain. Some say it was the Hotel California for a long time and then, in the late 70's early 80's, the Hotel Mission Todos Santos and then the Hotel California once again. Professor Nestor, of the Centro Cultural, used to have on display an apparently very old black and white photo of the hotel when it was called the Mission. Unfortunately the photo wasn't dated and it is no longer on display.

<In the summer of 2010, I received an email from Martin Schell who states: "In January 1984, en route from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas, I stopped at a restaurant across from Hotel California for lunch. After my vacation in BCS, I told lots of friends in the US that 'the one in the song really exists, and does look a bit spooky'... It may indeed have been renamed and remodeled in 1985, but in Jan 1984, it was clearly Hotel California (why else would I remember it from mere passing?) and looked a lot like the "late 1940s" photo (right before it opened in 1950)." - thanks Martin - I wish you had some photos!>

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A man in town claims to have started the rumor that became legend, in the early 80's - and for purely selfish reasons. He says the town was so unknown, so lacking in tourists or business that he felt compelled to do something to stir things up. He was in the real estate business and there weren't any buyers around to sell to. So he says he dreamed the "Eagles" thing up right out of thin air. There weren't many takers for an urban legend either, but by the time the hotel was open again as Hotel California in the late 80's, the legend had begun to grow. The story was told to anyone who would listen that this indeed was the HOTEL CALIFORNIA. That the Eagles had stayed there. That Don Henley had written the song right here, while renting a room for $2/night, sleeping in a hammock. And to further the effect, the song played over the barroom stereo into the streets. Why it had to be true, didn't it?



senora del pilar church
The church bordering the Hotel California

Todos Santos grew. A fine Italian restaurant opened and attracted attention and visitors from Cabo San Lucas. A steady stream of tourists found Todos Santos. And the urban legend found new currency. Finally that Detroit Free Press story in 1996 and legitimacy! Then more reporters were scurrying about looking for the "truth" or so they said. Momentum was building.

In 1997, travel writer Joe Cummings became intrigued with the legend. He talked to everyone he could and decided that the stories just didn't seem right. He sent a fax to Don Henley and asked about the hotel in Todos Santos and the rumors that he and/or the band had been here and possibly even written the song here. To Joe's surprise, Don Henley immediately returned his fax and stated that "I can tell you unequivocally that neither myself nor any of the other band members have had any sort of association - business or pleasure - with that establishment." Based on his own research and this fax, Joe wrote "Hotel Where" which was later published in the March 2000 issue of El Calendario de Todos Santos, the local English language magazine.

don henley fax
el calendario de todos santos
Fax from Don Henley
Click image to enlarge (81k)
 
Click image for
"Hotel Where" article

In the late 1990's, the hotel closed. Eventually even the Wall Street Journal took the bait and came-a-calling. Their story set the town back 5 years in dispelling the urban legend. Meanwhile the hotel was put up for sale in 2000.

The Hotel California is under new management. In late spring 2002, the Todos Santos Message Center moved its office to the Hotel and offered tours of the building for 50 pesos. The building has been repainted and a new restaurant (La Coronela) and bar opened in late December 2002. A gala New Year's Eve party was held at the restaurant/bar and over 300 people attended. An enormous amount of work is being done on the hotel itself. According to John Stewart, the manager, 11 remodeled rooms should be available by mid-March 2003. A lot of money and effort is being directed toward making the Hotel California a grander place than it has ever been before and an integral part of life here in Todos Santos. If you walk by, you won't hear the bar stereo blaring the Eagles singing the flagship song. Those days are truly gone.

hotel for sale
Hotel California 2000 - Vacant and For Sale

hotel california todos santos
Hotel California 2003
todossantos hotel CA
Hotel California 2003

The urban legend, true or not, lives on. Tourists make day trips from Cabo San Lucas. They believe what they want to believe. They buy t-shirts and postcards of the hotel and sit in the restaurant across the street, zoning out on the facade of the remodeled building, reminiscing on their lost youth. They cross the street to stand under the newly repainted arches and have their photo taken at "the" Hotel California, in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

<webmaster note: June 2004 - The hotel, under the guiding eye of John Stewart, has completely transformed. Eleven colorful rooms are available for rental. La Coronela restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining and a unique bar. The Emporio gift shop has some of the most eclectic items available in southern Baja. The Hotel California has become the hub of tourist activity in Todos Santos. You can contact the Hotel California by email at info@hotelcaliforniabaja.com or by phone from the US, 011-52-612-145-0525.>


Hotel California Links:
(all links open a new browser window)

Timesonline (UK) November 15, 2003 (talk about getting your facts wrong!)
Detroit Free Press article, March 1996 (no longer available online- if you know a link to it, please email)
Wall Street Journal article, January 2001(from a Don Henley fan site with no credits)
Texas Realtor article, March 2001
BBC News Online article, February 2001
USA Today article by Laura Bly, February 2003
"The Real Hotel California?" by Laura Bly, March 2003

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Todos Santos is located on the Tropic of Cancer in the southern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico just one hour
north of Cabo San Lucas and one hour south of La Paz. Long known as a cultural, artistic and agricultural center, the
town is a desert oasis, 1 kilometer from the Pacific Ocean at the foothills of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains. Since
the mid 1980's, the area has become a tourist / retirement destination and home to numerous art galleries, artists,
fine restaurants, elegant hotels, unique vacation rentals and local festivals.

copyright ©2003-2011, Howard B. Ekman, todos los derechos reservados, all rights reserved
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last update: August 25, 2010