Wednesday, October 14, 2015

San Diego's Colorful Past

One of the things I enjoy most about writing historical romances is intertwining real history with the story that I am creating. I am often inspired by true happenings of the past--some well-known and some not so well-known. I believe this lends authenticity to the setting and it also adds depth to the plot.

My newest release, The Gunslinger and the Heiress, takes place in 1888 San Diego when the Hotel Del Coronado was first opened. I've posted about that in a previous post so I won't go into it here.  I did, however, want to give a little bit of history about San Diego at that time.

During the time of The Gunslinger and the Heiress, the influx of emigrants and land speculators changed the town from a sleepy border town with distinctly Mexican flavor to more of a "wild west" town.
During the 1880s, the town's real estate book and the plans for the Santa Fe Railroad attracted many colorful characters. Wyatt Earp was one such character, arriving with his third wife, Josie, five years after his famous gunfight with the Clanton gang at the OK corral in Tucson, Arizona. Thirty-seven year old Wyatt ran and/or leased four gambling halls in the city, speculated on land, and officiated at boxing matches during the seven years he lived in San Diego. When he won a trotter in a card game, he took interest in horse racing at the nearby track just north of town.

At his saloons, men played faro, blackjack, poker and keno. It is said, Wyatt could count on profits of as much as $1,000 per night during the years just before San Diego's real estate bust. A few of his saloons were located in the red light district known to locals as the Stingaree. Here bars, bordellos and opium dens saturated the landscape. It was said a man could get stung as badly in the Stingaree as he could in the waters of the nearby bay by the stingray fish.
Above ~ one of Wyatt Earp's restored saloons as it looks today. 

photo credit: Bernard Gagnon
The renovated Horton Grand Hotel, actually a combination of two historic buildings, rests on the very plot of ground where Ida Bailey's "cat house" once stood in the heart of the Stingaree "red light" district during the boom days of early San Diego.

It wasn't long before street cars and electric wires bisected the streets. San Diego was growing and changing from a booming cowboy town to a fledgling city in the blink of an eye...

Kathryn Albright writes stories that celebrate courage and hope and love against all odds. She writes American-set historical romance with a dash of grit thrown in and of course…a happily, ever, after. 


  1. History, both human and architectural are such delights. Thank you for sharing even more great stories. Best on this new book. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

  2. Fascinating post, Kathryn. I'm always surprised by how many of the old west towns, cities, and settlements Wyatt Earp lived in, even for a time. Thanks for sharing your insights, learnings, and observations. Most enjoyable.