The Hotel, Baths, Casino and grounds appear on this postcard, beneath an old silver airliner coming in for a landing.

TIJUANA  GRINGO               diaryablog
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-- Part FIVE --
Agua Caliente
& "the Boulevard"

Casino, Hotel, Hotspring Baths, Dog&Horse Racetracks, Golf Course, Airport...


In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree: where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea... It was a miracle of rare device, a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
[Coleridge]

Agua Caliente (and the Boulevard).


Agua Caliente Boulevard runs from downtown (at the head of Revolution by the old arched tower in its park) out past the Free Road Junction and the Bullring, beyond the Twin Towers Hotel & Office/Mall/Restaurant complex, the Country Club and Racetrack, and beyond, changing its name to Bulevar Diaz Ordaz, reaching toward La Mesa and "5 & 10" ("Cinco y Diez"). It keeps on going and going and going and eventually climbs up over the Rodriguez dam and becomes the older old road to Tecate. "The Boulevard" is LLLLoooonnnnnnnnggggggggggg... but it begins back at the bent head of Revolution, where the streets turn and twist seven ways up or down the canyon mountain. Fundadores, they call that park corner, and the old tower there is a rebuilt model like the Agua Caliente tower used to be, a mile away, at the other "end" of the boulevard.

No one remembers that "bullwark" means "boulevard" means baluarte.  A wall.

Agua Caliente Boulevard was built in the late 1920s to lead traffic from the old town of Tijuana (where downtown Centro is now) out toward the newly built touristic complex at the hot springs, roughly two miles up the river valley.

"Agua Caliente" itself -- literally, "Hot Water" -- is the site of the vanished casino and resort complex built at the hot springs in the late 1920s. There was an earlier hotel, baths, and camping area on the site, but nothing as grand and luxurious as the collection of buildings erected in 1928 and 1929. One of the premier attractions on the coast counted among its clients such high rollers as Laurel and Hardy and Charles Chaplin. They say Rita Hayworth was discovered here. Or not. It is now a very important campus of schools and academies in a very busy part of town. The rich river zone, zona rio, lies between downtown and Agua Caliente. Up on the higher ground, the boulevard carries its older traffic.

The casino was closed by the government in 1938, and the hotel buildings became a school. In the 1970s most of the structures were demolished and new school buildings constructed. The swimming pool, minarette chimney, and bungalows remain.

To get to the casino and hotel -- part of the adventure itself -- visitors could drive down the two-lane cement new coast highway from Los Angeles, or fly from Hollywood Burbank airport via Ford tri-motor to the private airstrip here in front of the hotel, where the boulevard still gets divided -- that neighborhood is called aviación).  Or you could take the train, the "impossible railroad" from San Diego to Tijuana and then over the mountains toward Arizona via the Mexico frontier.  Sounds utterly fantastic yet it was and Nostrendamus says will be, true. Now we only have the trolley to the border from downtown San Diego.

The 'impossible railroad' - the S.D.A.& E. - would eventually transpire on Jacumba gorge.

The ex-casino -- more properly, the Touristic Complex of Agua Caliente -- was all designed to impress and attract the visitor, who could dine in patio ambience amid strolling musicians and manicured gardens and then go lose all their money gambling amid sumptuous splendor of "romantic Spanish" architecture which some Spaniards like to point out is really more Mexican/Californian, but which nevertheless bears strong influences of medieval Spain, especially the "Moorish" use of tiles, etc. Architecture is one area where the words "Mexican colonial" and "Spanish" are often used interchangeably by people (like these writers) who don't or should know better; whatever, there it is. We imagine the so-called boom of "mission" architecture of the early 20th century is somewhat related to the popular "art deco" international movement, and strikes a definitely baroque counterpoint to the simpler, more ideal lines of "craftsman" design. (Begins to sound like we really know what the hell we're talking about, eh?)

The center of the Agua Caliente complex held a hotel, casino, bath-house as well as guest bungalows. Practically all of this has been destroyed. The only standing remains are: the bungalows (somewhat altered through the years), the minaret ("el minarete") which used to be the chimney for the power plant or trash incinerator or cremator for bankrupt gamblers or something like that (going on folklore here, folks), and the ruined swimming pool.

But that was only the center of the complex. Up on Agua Caliente Boulevard (still there but a HUGE business street) there was a private air field for people to fly down from Hollywood or out from New York or Mexico City. It was roughly located in the blocks between the divided one-way portions of the boulevard. That neighborhood is still called "Aviación," by the way... and by now we are repeating ourselves again.

And across the boulevard was the golf course -- that is now the Tijuana Country Club (Club Campestre). A famous kidnapping will take place there in 2005.

Further along the slope to the left was the hipodromo -- or as it is now called in English, the Caliente Racetrack. It is still called el hipodromo by locals here. The roaring 20s trains from San Diego and Los Angeles stopped roughly between the racetrack and the hotel/casino, where the tracks nowadays bend into 20 de Noviembre neighborhood. History will repeat itself (as the Aztecs and Maya knew) and the lightrail prophet Nostrendamus forsees that that spot is where the trolley stop for Agua Caliente will be constructed in about twenty years (if Antarctica hasn't melted and flooded everything by then). That should be just in time for the US-China war of 2026 to seriously impact tourism again. *Sigh*

The Agua Caliente Touristic Complex included all that you see, plus the golf course and new horse race track.

But we digress from the topic of mythical-real Agua Caliente splendour and glamour a l'amour de Doroty Lamour cha cha cha. All told, when built in the late 1920s, the complex covered several kilometers of ground, and was situated somewhat outside of town, sprawling along the sloping ground above the river. You might also be interested in Daniel's award-winning poem (he doesn't think it's very good, all pure purple prose and babel babel, but what does he know?) about the Casino, or an attractive site not affiliated with us, which will give you (or does in March 2003 at least) a visually attractive, postcard-colorful, and straightforwardly narrated look at what once was the most romantic and money-breeding zone here in Tijuana. The oldest around here refer to those years of Prohibition ("ley seca" -- dry law) as the golden age of tourism.

The Agua Caliente complex used to be beyond the edge of town, and the boulvevard led from the head of Revolution ("A" Avenue) out along the hills toward the resort.  Nowadays, it's all part of the inner Tijuana metropolis/megalopolis. Some pretty high-priced real estate lies around there.  And a bunch of excellent Tile-shops along the boulevard.  You can still eat at the old Sombrero -- except that Danial's landlord Ramón tells us that is not the original, that name has been changed, and that the original was actually much larger, and was torn down forty years ago when they widened the boulevard. Well. You could have fooled us. But here's a link to Hungry Hiker's review of the restaurant El Potrero as it actually exists at the turn of the millennium. FYI: If you're looking for food information, explore their site.

Back to our program already in progress from digress. After gambling got shut down by the federal government (of Mexico, you understand), the hotel complex was converted into a technical school, and the old buildings were gradually stripped of all their furnishings and even much of the tilework. It's a popular myth (probably TRUE) that bits and pieces of the casino and hotel are hidden away in houses of old families all across Tijuana. In the early 1970s, the old hotel structures were destroyed and a new complex of classroom buildings constructed on the site. This new educational campus -- one of the finest in the city -- is known as "Lazaro Cardenas" after the famous President. Former students tell stories of abandoned tunnels and a beautiful ghost called "La Faraona" -- the lady pharoah.

La faraona is what they call the ghost they say can appear at Agua Caliente. Supposedly a young murdered dancer. She has been seen as a ball or form of light floating in the trees and the mist and sometimes in the sunlight and sometimes at night. Sometimes she is specifically refered to as a beautiful lady, other times a more exact description of floating, fainting, light spots and clouds.

As for the "agua caliente" itself, the hot springs, well, they had been in operation for untold thousands, perhaps millions of years. Holy water places have power over the human mind and world. There is still one spa open to the public, across the river in the walled motel above the railroad bridge. Cleansing/healing/relaxing/bathing treatments almost vanished invisible shimmer in history, such "history" as exists in a city barely a century old! The waters are much, much older.

"El Bulevar" -- the boulevard of Agua Caliente -- which becomes Diaz Ordaz Boulevard -- is the longest commercial street in Tijuana. It runs along the base of the hills just above the southwest side of the river, from downtown (it starts at the uphill end of Revolution Avenue) all the way to the intersection of "5 & 10" and the part of town known as La Mesa, and beyond, toward Tecate.

In that sentence we just drove almost ten miles along a dense commercial strip, past the downtown bullring, the twin skyscraper hotel towers (with their fabulous Sunday brunch), the racetrack (gone to the dogs), the annual fairgrounds, the municipal auditorium (where wrestlers -- lucha libre -- hold sway), then on and on past the "Mercado de Todos" (market of everything -- "swap meet") and on... (Red & Black taxis from 4th & Constitución, or "5 & 10" bus from Constitución between 6th & 7th).

  • To top of Part One Ancient History
  • To top of Part Two The River
  • To top of Part ThreeLa Mesa, 5&10
  • To top of Part Four Downtown et al
  • To top of Part FiveThis Page Was Agua Caliente
  • *.*TO PART SIXtjmptx06.html The Surrounding Lands

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    Copyright 2001-2005 Daniel Charles Thomas