San Diego Historical Landmarks—#6: New San Diego (Dunnell’s Hotel) Site

San Diego Historical Landmarks

The first European to visit San Diego was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese-born explorer sailing under the flag of Spain and arriving in 1542. He claimed San Diego bay for the Spanish Empire and named it San Miguel.

In November 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno, also from the Spanish Empire, arrived on his flagship San Diego. He renamed the area after Catholic Saint Didacus, more commonly known as San Diego de Alcalá.

It wasn’t until May 1769 that San Diego became an area of major interest. First, in May, Gaspar de Portola established the Presidio of San Diego on what is now called Presidio Hill. It was the first settlement by Europeans in what is now the State of California. Then, in July, Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá. San Diego history was born.

Old Town San Diego State Historic ParkThe original town of San Diego was located at the foot of Presidio Hill, in the area which is now Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, California’s most visited state park. Old Town, however, was several miles away from navigable water, i.e. the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until 1850, though, that someone decided to do something about that: William Heath Davis promoted a new development by the Bay shore called “New San Diego.” It was several miles south of the original settlement, so for several decades New San Diego consisted of just a few houses, a pier, and an Army depot.

According to one source, the one which I’m going to use, the first house was built at the northeast corner of State and F Streets. According to most sources, the first house in New San Diego was one sold to a Captain Knowles and moved to 227 Eleventh Street.

The source I prefer is Seventy-five Years In California, 1831-1906, by none other than William Heath Davis. Page 334: “The first building in New San Diego was put up by myself, as a private residence. The building is still standing, being known as the San Diego Hotel. I also put up a number of other buildings.”

The San Diego Hotel in 1867 was “an old building standing in New San Diego about State and F. It had been braced up to keep it from falling down, it belonged to a man named Wm. H. Davis, “Kanaka Davis.”

captain s s dunnellAlonzo Horton bought the building from Davis for $100 and renovated it. Horton states that after reconstructing the building, “A man named Dunnells (Capt. S. S. Dunnells, picture at right) came to me to ask about the chance of starting a hotel in San Diego … and I wanted to get a hotel started … so I sold it to him, with the lot, for $1,000.”

The San Diego Union of October 17, 1868, published an advertisement for the New San Diego Hotel, calling it a “splendid, new and first-class Hotel … with new furniture throughout…. It is a two-story frame building with a piazza extending partly around and it is one of San Diego’s Palatial structures.”

The hotel was a pre-fabricated house that had been shipped from New England around the Horn of Africa. It was demolished in September 1969, which doesn’t make sense to me because it was designated a San Diego Historical Landmark on January 23, 1969. How can you designate something as historical and then allow it to be destroyed eight months later? Sad, sad, sad. Here is an old picture, ca. 1900 I think, and a drawing of the hotel:

dunnell's hotel picture

dunnell's hotel

The location is listed as 348 West F Street, or the northwest corner of State Street and F Street:


I went down to 348 West F Street to see what is there now. Here’s what I found:

Metropolitan Correctional Center, San Diego

That’s the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal administrative detention facility operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It was opened in December 1974, is 23 stories tall, and can hold 1,300 inmates, both male and female, of all security levels. Current population is about 1,000.

MCC San Diego, along with MCC New York and MCC Chicago, represented the Bureau of Prisons’ shift to high-rise prison buildings.

Imagine you’re in jail and you’re reading my blog post on one of the prison’s computers.

“Wow!” you say, “I’m living where downtown San Diego had its beginnings, the site of the very first building. Wow! Wow! Wow!”

Actually, let’s imagine that none of my readers are in prison….

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

For the introductory blog post
to San Diego’s historical landmarks,
click on San Diego’s Historical Landmarks.

For previous posts in the
San Diego Historical Landmarks series,
go here.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

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15 thoughts on “San Diego Historical Landmarks—#6: New San Diego (Dunnell’s Hotel) Site

  1. Pingback: San Diego Historical Landmarks—#7: Plaza de Pantoja y Arriaga site | Russel Ray Photos

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