El Cortez Apartment Hotel is a landmark hotel in San Diego, California. Built from 1926 to 1927, the El Cortez was the tallest building in San Diego when it opened. It sits atop a hill at the north end of Downtown San Diego, where it dominated the city skyline for many years. From its opening in 1927 through the 1950s, it was the most glamorous apartment-hotel in San Diego. The large “El Cortez” sign, which is illuminated at night, was added in 1937 and could be seen for miles. In the 1950s, the world’s first outside glass elevator and the first motorized moving sidewalk were built at the El Cortez. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the El Cortez fell on harder times. The El Cortez closed as a hotel in 1978 when it was purchased by evangelist Morris Cerullo to serve as an evangelism school. Cerullo sold the property in 1981, and the El Cortez was threatened by demolition until the San Diego Historic Site Board designated it as a historic site in 1990. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Many of the original elements remain in place, though substantial interior modifications have been made. The building is the 28th tallest building in San Diego, based on its height of 310 ft (94 m). When it opened in 1927, the El Cortez Apartment Hotel was San Diego’s tallest and most elegant building.
Constructed on the former site of Ulysses S. Grant Jr.’s home at Ash Street and Seventh Avenue, the $2.5 million Spanish Colonial Revival hotel boasted jaw dropping views of a San Diego Bay that, at the time, included neither the Coronado Bridge nor Harbor and Shelter islands.
During the next three decades, a series of additions and innovations made El Cortez the destination of choice for visiting celebrities and dignitaries, from President Dwight Eisenhower to Bing Crosby and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
In 1959, owner Harry Handlrey added another first—a moving walkway called the Travolator, which arched over 7th Avenue, connecting El Cortez with an annex hotel and garage today a Holiday Inn Express.
El Cortez was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 for its architecture and engineering. Today, its iconic neon sign, installed in 1937, continues to illuminate the skyline, welcoming passengers landing at Lindbergh Field and serving as a beacon of history above the downtown neighborhood now officially named Cortez Hill.
Celebrities who’ve visited El Cortez:
Ginger Rogers, Ethel Barrymore, Bo Derek, Leeza Gibbons, John Stamos, Leslie Nielson, John Ritter, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Burgess Meredith, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix
El Cortez in TV & Film:
Almost Famous (2000), A Ticklish Affair (1963), How to Marry a Billionaire, Extreme Makeover