The Hotel del Coronado holds many secrets, but none as mysterious as the missing statue in the fountain that was once was located in the courtyard at the Hotel Del. What did it look like? Where did it come from? When did it disappear? And what happened to it? Although some of these questions remain a mystery, several have recently been answered. When the Hotel Del originally opened in February 1888, the first guests strolled through the inner courtyard amidst the flowers, fruit trees and other tropical foliage carefully planted by pioneering horticulturist Kate Sessions. All the garden walkways led to the very center of the courtyard, where there stood the Victorian fountain spraying water into the air.
It was said to contain a statue of a woman with “very few clothes” Records of the gardens and the fountain are scarce and the only reminders were some old photos and postcards from the early 1900’s, where the fountain is barely visible. Even Coronado’s local historians did not know what the statue looked like. Recently, however, two pristine postcards of the fountain came to light. One hundred years later, that part of the mystery was solved. The statue is “Venus Rising from the Sea”, with flowing tresses, standing on a shell. She was indeed wearing very few clothes; she clutched only a drape around her body. A pond with lily pads and electric lights encircled the statue. Jets of water spayed up all around her.
The statue in the fountain was the centerpiece of the stately courtyard from the time the hotel opened until it was removed, around 1909. Legend has it there were enough complaints from hotel guests about the lack of clothing on the statue to warrant its removal. No one is sure what became of the Hotel Del statue. But recent research has revealed she had four sisters residing in different areas of the United States out of twelve originally cast. Three original statues still exist that we know of, two have been totally restored and recast in bronze. All of the statues were originally purchased through the catalog of the J.L. Mott Foundry in New York. Prices ranged from $500 – $875, with options for fountains, cherubs, fish, etc. All available research indicated J.L. Mott had purchased the original fountain at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the statue was first unveiled. Although extensive research discovered a photo of the statue dated 1873 from the Centennial in Philadelphia, predating all other info by 18 years. Unfortunately, the name of the sculpture has been lost over the years. It is believed that the Hotel Del statue was one of the first of the twelve statues to be constructed.
“This is really quite incredible,” said Gerry MacCartee, Coronado historian and co-founder of the Coronado Beach Museum. “We’ve been dying to find a picture or postcard that gave us a better look at that statue. All we found was a quote that it was removed because it had too few clothes. That’s the fun of history, the discovery. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see what she looked like.” The mold of the statues is currently in the possession of the Port Townsend, WA Kiwanis Club and will stand only one more casting, owners say. Just in case the HDC is interested. Meanwhile, research continues to find the fate of Coronado’s lost Venus Rising from the Sea. Written and submitted by Lisa Krause