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IN ITS VARIOUS INCARNATIONS over the years, the iconic U.S. Grant hotel has held up a mirror to our city, reflecting the evolution from dusty tribal homeland to dynamic urban landscape. A glimpse into the history of the local landmark reveals the story of downtown’s genesis and development into the modern era.
The narrative begins with San Diego’s original settlers, the ancestors of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, who lived on the future site of downtown in 10,000 B.C. It introduces one of the founders of modern San Diego, Alonzo Horton, who built the city’s first luxury hotel, and Ulysses S. Grant Jr., who opened a new hotel on the site in 1910 to honor his father, the Civil War hero and 18th president of the United States.
We gain a historical perspective on our city through stories of clandes tine Prohibition-era parties held in the hotel’s underground corridors, World War II troops sleeping in the lobby, and women staging a Sixties sit-in at the Grant Grill in protest of the men-only policy.
The U.S. Grant’s storied past came full circle when the Sycuan Band purchased the hotel for $45 million in 2003, restoring the land to its ancestral owners. After a $52 million renovation, begun in early 2005, the Grant reopened in October as a member of the exclusive Starwood Hotels Luxury Collection. An international team of designers, architects and craftsmen was assembled for the renovation, which, it’s boasted, “melds the Grant’s legendary past as the ultimate definition of 20th-century Southern California grandeur with exciting contemporary cosmopolitan designs and services.”