El Toreador

El Toreador631 East San Ysidro Blvd. — El Toreador Motel

The site of this Spanish Eclectic, 30-unit motel complex was originally part of a large tract of land owned in the late 1880s by the Tavan family, early settlers of Tia Juana and merchants on both sides of the border.

In 1920, the parcel was sold to a W. Christoferson. However, as of 1929, the lot remianed empty.

On January 28, 1948, the 1.66 acre lot was purchased by Mr. Tony M. Silva from O.K. Campbell. The motel was constructed the same year. Shortly after completion, fire destroyed the main building. It was subsequently rebuilt.

On June 6, 1949, Mr. Silva purchased a liquor vendor license from Milton and Ruth Hall for $125,000. Advertised in various issues of Hotels and Motels of San Diego brochures of the 1960s and 1970s, El Toreador offered daily, weekly and month rates for its rooms, suites and kitchenette units, TV, radio, a heated pool and a restuarnat/bar for its patrons.

It was built to cater to the tourist market. From the early 1950s, the border crossing had become the busiest between the U.S. and another country.

As early as the late 1800s, corresponding with California’s mythical creation of its quaint, romantic Hispanic roots, tourists made visits to the Mexican side of the border. Tijuana at this time and until 1933 with the naturalization of all foreign owned properties in Mexico, was dominated by American capitalists.

Tourism increased with the 1916 opening of the race track and was further stimulated by the 1928 opening of Aqua Caliente. Being located adjacent to the International Border, San Ysidro in the twenties and thirties had a few “auto camps” and “motor courts” and two small hotels that catered to the day visitor and thriving gambling industry in Tijuana, Mexico. Hollywood stars, for the most part unaffected by the Depression, comprised a good deal of the visiting public. Once casino gambling was outlawed and alcohol again legalized in the U.S., dog and horse racing, bull fights and shopping continued to attract tourists across the border.

From an economic point of view, Spanish stucco and frame as a style, became increasingly popular in Southern California after WWI. Because of the rising cost of lumber, it was simply cheaper to build. In Southern California thousands of small single family homes and commercial buildings were built in this style.

However, it was not purely economic reasons that perpetuated the popularity of this style for buildings associated with leisure activities. Architecturally, Spanish architecture was (and still is) a favored style for resorts because it creates a visual metaphor of an “easy going, relaxed, fun-loving style of a semi-tropical people.” Exteriors were intentially designed to reflect a “holiday or foreign atmosphere”.

From the early 1800s, when Americans¬†began trading and moving into Mexican occupied territory, “Mexican” was used derogatorily to connote laziness, corruption and frivolity. This is expressed time and again in early correspondences. However, for the past 100 years, even during the Spanish Civil War for purposes of promoting real estate, in Florida, California, New Mexico and Hawaii, Spanish Eclectic building styles became associated with the exotic, with “fun, sun and leisure.”

In California, the missions had been forgotten until the last decade of the 19th century, “when they were discovered as a native source for the Colonial Revival, which swept the nation following the Philadelphia Centelnnial exposition.” As early as the 1890s, Spanish Revival (Mission) became part of a romantically and falsely viewed past of a pastoral existence that was expressed in the arts and literature of the period. “The western romanticists had far greater freedom in their dedicating task of fabricating the legend of Southern California than was enjoyed by either the northeast or southern myth makers.”

The Spanish style received further impetus when the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads adopted this architectural genre for stations and railroad-owned resort hotels. The achieved effect created a contrast of the mythical, dreamy, romantic Latin and the hard working, stern Anglo. Spanish Eclectic became a perfect style to promote leisure activities.

The disparity between the realities of provincial architecture and the myth of a splendid Adalusian manorial building tradition has become more obvious in the past few decades as historical research and archaeological investigations as well as social sciences focus on separating fact from historical fantasy. However, by the 1920s, the Spanish Revivalists set about creaintg a past even more legendary than the one manufactured by the earlier Mission Revivalists.

Decorative elements were freely taken from Moorish, Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Spansih inspirations as well as board area labelled “Mediterranean” which even included North African styles. The resulting style was meant to symbolize California’s heritage.

Cited From: San Ysidro Historic Resources Survey, Conducted for: City of San Diego Planning Department, Conducted by: Roth and Associates, Linda Roth & Judy Berryman, 14 August 1989.

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