Saturday, July 13, 2024

Preserving History, Hotel del Coronado Discovers Fresco-Secco During Renovation

A photo of the Fresco-Secco as as it nears completion of its restoration.

The Hotel del Coronado discovered an original ceiling fresco-secco from 1888 in the ballroom located within the Victorian Building during its renovation and restoration this spring. Gina Petrone, Heritage Manager at The Del, provided a bit of history she discovered while researching the fresco-secco. Gina shared that the hotel had several fresco murals painted on their plaster ceilings while the hotel was being built. Photos documented the presence of murals in the Music Room and the Ladies Parlor, but the fresco-secco in the ballroom entryway was unknown until the renovation opened a low ceiling, revealing a corner of the mural.

A newspaper clipping from 1888 with a photo of the fresco-secco in the music room. Photo courtesy of Bill Sandke

Gina shared her discoveries saying, “They were the work of William Busch and Jacob Gumpertz and were painted between September 1887 and April 1888.” Gina also said, “According to the March 29, 1888 San Diego Union and Daily Bee: ‘The decorations were designed and executed by William Bush [sp], a graduate from European art schools. The beauty of the designs, as well as the artistic finish, are much admired and form one of the principal attractions of the hotel.'”

The Hotel del Coronado, standing proud since 1888.

Sanjiv Hulugalle, General Manager at Hotel del Coronado, welcomed a small group that got a sneak peak of the fresco-secco. He shared that, “One of the greatest things I’ve heard from our stakeholders, our ownership, and the Hilton team, is how important The Del and its history is to them. They don’t see it as just an investment, but rather a stewardship of bringing back what the old Del was.” Hulugalle then asked Gina to discuss how they found the fresco-secco and the process behind preserving it. Gina gave a little background into the historical preservation efforts at The Del and then introduced David Marshall, a preservation expert for Heritage Architecture & Planning, and the first person she calls when she has a big restoration project to be done. 

David Marshall of Heritage Architecture & Planning describes the restoration process.

David took lead on the project and provided some discoveries he made, saying, “We think this was covered up in the 1930s or ’40s, that is when people were tired of looking at fancy art and they were covering art and making the walls and ceilings look nice and clean and monochrome.” David said that this was the only fresco-secco that survived all these years and that it is a beautiful representation of what The Del once looked like with many of the rooms having similar fresco-secco painted on them. David shared that when the construction team was installing the fire sprinklers they saw a bit of paint and they immediately called in Gina to determine what it was. Gina thought it might be wallpaper of some sort and asked the team to uncover more of the ceiling. She was thrilled to discover it was a fresco-secco and she spearheaded the restoration effort. Gina found references to the fresco-secco in articles from the paper suggesting that the painting was started in August of 1887 and completed in 1888; a significant amount of time went into the intricate hand-painting.

In January, a small section of the fresco-secco was discovered. A fabric had been pasted to the fresco that helped keep most of it intact. Photo credit to Bill Sandke

After The Del ownership approved funding of the restoration project, David, who has done a number of restoration projects for the hotel since 2017, called in the team from Evergreene Architectural Arts to restore the fresco-secco to its original glory. Evergreene sent a team consisting of a project manager, project engineer, and muralist and historical restoration decorative painter. The center motif was pretty much intact but there were holes in the wall that needed to be repaired and repainted. Marc Sova, the muralist, flew in from St. Louis, Missouri and said, “It is amazing how well preserved this was.” He also shared the process of creating stencils from the original work to help with filling in areas that were damaged and need to be touched up or repainted.

A photo of some of the stencils they made from the original to match the painting to restore parts that were damaged.

When looking at the fresco-secco you can see both electrical and gas lines coming through the center of the mural that would have been used to light the chandelier. David shared that during the design and build of the hotel they piped in both gas and electric because at the time electricity was a novelty and they didn’t know if it was just a trend, so they kept a gas back up.

The restoration team believes this might be the oldest fresco-secco in Southern California. The restoration of the ballroom to include the fresco-secco will be completed in June. The entire Hotel del Coronado renovation project is scheduled to be complete in January 2025. David said there have been other discoveries during the renovation, much of which will be on display in the museum, or on display in its original space. For more information about the history of the Hotel del Coronado visit their website or look through our coverage of the master plan renovations over the past few years.


Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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