Chapter 2: Building a Dream
Steaming in from San Francisco in the 1860's, Horton was one of many sea-weary passengers who disembarked at the old Fifth Avenue wharf, in the very spot where San Diego's momentous convention center now stands.
He bought the land for less than $1,000. His success was almost immediate: newcomers and locals alike flocked to him to purchase the cheap land, and within twenty years "New Town San Diego" had replaced "Old Town" as the city center.
His keen eye for profit led him to lay out the streets of this new city in their distinctive grid pattern, making them one-fourth the size of standard city blocks with no alleys, and hence, giving him more corner lots to sell.
One of Horton's greatest contributions to the city was Horton House, the city's first major hotel. The 100-room mansion was the city's crown centerpiece. It became a stopping point for tourists, businessmen, and anyone else weary for a bed.
Later, Fannie Chaffee Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant Jr. and daughter of Jerome B. Chaffee, Colorado's first Senator, saw a great deal of opportunity in the Horton House. Shortly after her husband suffered a financial blow on Wall Street, she made the wise and fateful decision to purchase the property for a price of $56,000. She deeded it to her husband, the son of President Ulysses S. Grant. What would happen next was nothing short of history.
At the turn of the 20th century, Ulysses S. Grant Jr. moved his family to San Diego. Almost immediately, Grant found himself up to his ears with investments - and their complications. He made money, lost money, and occasionally did better than break even. Adventurous and resourceful, he saw a future in San Diego that most of its citizens couldn't even imagine. What the city needed, Grant Jr. believed, was a truly great hotel. THE US GRANT was born the day that Horton House went down.
Dark winds seemed to hover on the plans, however: Fannie Chaffee Grant was in extremely poor health, and continuous financial problems cast a cloud over the project.
With a short stash of funds in hand, the initial beams of the structure were raised above Broadway. In 1906, however, San Francisco was shaken by a massive earthquake. The effects were felt as far south as San Diego; the transfer of lumber and other materials was completely paralyzed and the skeletal construction site of the hotel was silent and still.
Upon rebuilding San Francisco, the original lobby plans for THE US GRANT were provided to the developers of the splendid Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Visitors to that famous hotel can enjoy its lovely "Garden Court" and marvel at the fact that the room was originally intended for THE US GRANT.
When construction resumed in 1907, Grant Jr. embedded a time capsule in the arch above the grand entry door on Broadway complete with family photos, memories and newspaper clippings of his dream. A story in itself, the capsule was embellished in 1910 with mementos of the hotel's opening day and a San Diego Tribune headline story. Lost for decades, the remaining capsule contents were recovered in 2005 by local resident Veva Haache and are now part of the hotel's permanent collection. A new treasure of history was sealed into the hotel in 2006 beneath a stone medallion on the lobby elevator foyer.
On November 10, 1909, one year before the hotel's opening, the Grant family experienced a personal tragedy: Fannie Chaffee Grant passed away.
In 1910, the daunting project was completed. A palace of luxury, the 437 room hotel featured architecture that is both classic and timeless, with top floor arcadia windows, balcony balustrades and imposing dentil cornices. Inside, a white marble staircase capped by a carved alabaster railing led visitors away from the lobby and off to the luxury of their rented rooms.