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News 8 Throwback: Memories of San Diego's iconic landmarks from The Giant Dipper to El Cortez Hotel

This week’s News 8 Throwback takes you on a tour of some historic landmarks across San Diego County with spectacular views.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — These iconic places in America's Finest City have stood the test of time. Each has a rich past and has played a big part in entertaining generations of San Diegans and visitors. 

This week’s News 8 Throwback takes you on a tour of some historic landmarks across San Diego County that we hope will conjure up happy memories of the good ol' days, attending sporting events, renting roller skates, riding the coaster, and taking in spectacular views atop what was once the tallest building in San Diego.

Belmont Park Roller Coaster 1979

San Diego's poet laureate, Chicago native Larry Himmel, expressed his feelings often through poetry. So, in July 1979 when the Belmont Park roller coaster was in danger of becoming a memory, Larry wrote this poem. We may never know if it helped save it, but we would like to think it did. It re-opened 11 years later in 1990. Forty-one years later the iconic landmark stands mighty on the Mission Beach skyline. The Giant Dipper is 95 years old and millions have enjoyed the ride.

"When they built San Diego, they made just a little mistake. 
They built condos on the hillside and put the shopping center in a lake.

The Navy brought some of our fathers, the others wandered from Eastern turf. 
Attracted like a magnet to the sunshine and the surf.

And we grew good natured people as it would come to pass, with a laid-back lifestyle worried about our chicken and our gas.

But now there’s another issue for which I rally your support, it’s time to hear from the people before it’s settled in some court.

Don’t let ‘em tear down this coaster as some developer has planned. It’s our link with old San Diego, and therefore sacred land, cause people are moving to San Diego at all too quick a pace. San Diego’s constantly changing as we take on a big city face.

You see, The Belmont Roller Coaster is a symbol of the San Diego of before, that sleepy little resort town which just doesn’t exist anymore.

So as a tribute to the past, let’s let the coaster stay right here -- and let’s tell all those developers to take their developments and shove them elsewhere."

Balboa Stadium History 1979

Balboa Stadium was built in 1914 as part of the 1915 Pan American Exposition. It was San Diego’s first full-fledged stadium and cost 135,000 and real horsepower was used in construction. It was to be the site of many landmark events, including President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 visit. Fifty thousand people packed the stadium to hear him urge approval of a peace treaty to end World War I. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh returned to a hero’s welcome two years after his historic New York to Paris flight in The Spirit of St. Louis. The 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles, but the equestrian events were here. Fifty thousand people were on hand when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to town to dedicate the City County Administration Center. In 1961, it was enlarged from 22,000 seat capacity to 33,000 to accommodate the arrival of professional football. It was the home of The Chargers until 1966 when they moved to the brand new San Diego Stadium. Many concerts were held there including The Beatles in 1965. News 8’s Dave Cohen reported in August 1979 that the stadium was going to be demolished because it didn’t meet earthquake standards. A new, much smaller stadium was built and stands today as a football and soccer venue.

Hamel’s Mission Beach 1995

Brothers Ray and Dan Hamel opened shop in 1967. For years it has been the go-to place for souvenirs, beachwear, and rentals. In 1994 they came up with a rather unusual design—designed to get attention—and it sure worked. The castle on the corner is an iconic landmark on the famed boardwalk. You just can’t miss it. They tell News 8’s Hal Clement they even won an “award” for it. The San Diego Architectural Foundation gave them the "Stinky Onion" award for the worst designed building in all of San Diego. They seemed to take it in stride. For 34 years, life was a beach for the Hamel Brothers until 2001 when they sold the shop. In a future edition of News 8 Throwback, we’ll show you their last day on the job with Larry Himmel. To steal a line from that story—Tomorrow the sun will shine, the surf will swell, and the boardwalk will boogie, but the Mission Beaches’ best known beach boys are heading to the hills.

El Cortez Hotel 1977 and 1978

In June 1978 Carol Kendrick reported on the imminent sale of the El Cortez Hotel. It had graced the San Diego skyline for 50 years. At 310 feet, it was the tallest building when it opened in 1927. The red neon sign was added in 1937 (seen lit up in our 1977 clip). In the 1950s, the world’s first outside glass elevator was installed. Generations of San Diegans took the trip up to The Sky Room and The Starlight Lounge to dine and gaze out at magnificent views of the harbor and the ever-growing skyline.

Evangelist Morris Cerullo purchased the hotel in 1978 and converted it into a school of evangelism. In early 1981, he put the hotel back on the market for $20.8 million. The building was resold again several times to various owners in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, it is a condominium complex.


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