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This large hotel on the south edge of La Paz is a very prominent structure - 13 stories, I believe. It is made up of two separate towers, connected by walkways. The two towers are not parallel, but open like a funnel to catch the breeze - the success of this design is attested to by the many frigate birds using the updrafts to soar on. The buildings are quite visible from the entire La Paz waterfront.
Thirteen stories seems correct since thirteen is considered an unlucky number and, if anything has been unlucky, it has been the Gran Baja Hotel. (I'll refer to this structure as the Gran Baja Hotel, although it has had other names over the years.)
I'm not an expert on this subject, but I've spent about 10 years living, for at least part of each year, next to the Gran Baja Hotel. During a good part of that time the hotel has been active and, at times, a delightful place to stay, dine, or just hang-out.
The hotel was constructed so that the top two floors contain suites with balconies. This is quite evident when you look closely at the hotel. In 1987, a single room on the lower floors cost $35US a night, while a suite of two rooms and two baths went for $50US on the top floors.
Start of Construction
The hotel was built at the time of the completion of the paved highway down the Baja California peninsula (about 1972) - it was the southern most of the string of La Pinta and El Presidente Hotels which were designed to provide the traveler with comfortable accommodations along this remote highway. Probably the El Presidente in La Paz was to be the crowning jewel in this string of hotels. In any event, this 13 story giant of a hotel was originally an El Presidente. (There is now, in San Jose del Cabo, a more southernly El Presidente.)
These hotels along the new highway were financed by the Mexican government in a fashion which, for many years, was typical of such matters: it was really a joint venture, with the government taking all the financial risk and certain private "investors" being in line for any profits. This was a time when very large loans from U.S. banks were flowing into Mexico, and "white elephants" were being constructed throughout the country. The ultimate risk takers were, in fact, U.S. banks.
At the time of construction, the hotel was located well out of the city of La Paz. It is on the channel which connects La Paz Bay and the large ensenada (lagoon) to the southwest of the city. Due to the strong tidal flow between these bodies of water, the location is not one which would favor a major tourist hotel. At times the tidal flow can reach 5-6MPH! There is also some question as to the quality of the water due to outflows from sewage treatment plants (some distance away, but the tidal flow moves the water throughout the channel). All in all, not the place you'd expect to find a "big-time" hotel. (I happen to enjoy living in the area, but for reasons other than what the resort-oriented tourist would be looking for.)
This particular area did have some hotels prior to the Gran Baja, so the choice of location was not completely unjustified. Just south of the Gran Baja may be seen the remains of the Hotel Cocos (named after a large grove of coco palms just back from the water). For a time the old hotel rooms were used by workers at the Gran Baja, but they are now completely abandoned. A large white building there housed what has been a restaurant and bar, and, briefly, a whore house. The name was El Caracol Loco (The Crazy Snail) - and the building sort of looks like a snail shell.
In front of the Gran Baja and El Caracol Loco is a large abandoned pier. For a number of years this was the home of NAO Yachts and the Club de Yates. In the mid to late 80's this was an active site for visiting yachts. Yet, in the long run, it also became another defunct part of the Gran Baja scene.
Just south of the remains of the Cocos Hotel is the La Posada Hotel, now named "La Posada de Engelbert" (Engelbert Humperdink purchased the hotel about five years ago). This hotel also predates the Gran Baja, and is the only hotel to have survived in this area of La Paz.
At some point the El Presidente Hotel was sold by the original sponsoring group with, I believe, the government continuing to be responsible for all the financing. It then became the "Gran Baja Hotel." In later incarnations it was known as the "Ramada - La Paz," the "Riviera del Sol," and then back to the "Gran Baja." During some of these transitions extensive alterations were made. It had to be very expensive!
(After the first sale, the El Presidente moved to a location equally far to the north of the city, and languished there for many years. It is now the Hotel La Concha.)
During the first five months of 1987 I lived on a sailboat just north of the hotel. It was a great place for meals - I would have breakfast there several mornings a week. If guests were visiting, dinner at the Gran Baja was outstanding and inexpensive (e.g., Chateaubriand for two: $8US, total!). The "yachtees" (i.e., "boat people") could use the swimming pool area if they just bought an infrequent drink of any sort. There was often live music at night.
About four years ago the hotel was purchased or leased by a group which has been very successful with Mexican hotels (the Los Arcos in La Paz, the Hacienda and Finisterra in Cabo San Lucas). However, in the long run, they also faltered, and the Gran Baja has been closed for almost two years. Rumors occasionally hint of a new group purchasing the hotel, but nothing comes to fruition.
In February of 1996, an auction for the hotel was held in Ensenada. The minimum bid was set at $6 million US - there were no bids made!
One curiosity, somewhat in line with the way this hotel has been taken advantage of, is the matter of repainting the building about four years ago. The color had always been that of plain concrete, but a new paint job turned the edifice to what I will call salmon. Shortly thereafter, salmon buildings appeared all over La Paz. Envy? Unlikely - probably just a lot of salmon-colored paint being "skimmed off!"
Fred Metcalf (email@example.com)
(Written in April, 1996.)
(Revised in August, 1996)
(Photos added in May, 2000)
Some information from Rodolfo Rodriguez - April, 2006
Three weeks ago, Land's End Realty's salespeople in La Paz, including myself, made a tour of the property. I know that at least Coldwell Bankers Rivera was invited to a similar explanation. The architect showed us drawings (blueprints), a display and paintings about the project for the "Grand Baja and Spa Resort" consisting of 123 condos, spa, tennis courts, pool, restaurant, etc.. A second phase consists of town houses (villas) and more condos. In average, three previous rooms plus their access aisle become one condo. It will have 11 floors plus the pent houses. The sizes range from 1110 to 2558 sq. ft., and from 1 to 3 bedrooms. Prices are averaging 160 USD per sq. ft., 130 in presale. There is no start date, only "around June" but presale has started and reservations are being made.
Report from Richard Adcock - January, 2006
Construction has begun to turn the hotel structure into condos. Several rooms will constitute a single unit. No information yet about the sponsor or prices.
Report from Fred Metcalf - May, 2004
The cleanup of the hotel was completed, but then work stopped. Nothing has been done for several months, and there are no rumors suggesting any reconstruction schedule. A few squatters were moved from the land furtherest away from the water, and a fence constructed along that street (and the street was widened!).
The neighbors are probably dreaming of expensive buyouts by the Melia Group, but that's just wild conjecture at this point. It is clear that the hotel and surrounding land are part of a joint venture - while there appear to have been two buyers involved, both were from Spain and probably are just separate subsidiaries of Groupo Melia.
Report from Richard Adcock - December, 2003
The hotel proper has now been purchased by a group from Spain. At the moment there is no confirmation if the group is associated with the Melia group which had purchased the surrounding land, but it would make sense that the hotel and land would be developed as a single parcel.
The interior of the hotel is being cleaned out, with a great pile of refuse building up on the north side. It is being carted away in large trucks. The rumor is that the hotel will be operational sometime in early 2004!
Report from Richard Adcock - October, 2000
The land to the north and east of the hotel has been sold to the group owning the Hotel Melia chain. This land stretches in an "L" shape from the beach to Rangel street and south past the entrance to the Gran Baja. It seems that the next natural move will be for the group to purchase the Gran Baja at a good price.
Comments from Earle Robitaille - September 26, 1996
I, my son, and two friends spent a couple of nights at the El Presidente in 1972-73, just after they had opened. It was a real experience!
All the hot and cold handles on showers and sinks had been reversed. They had three or four new pool and snooker tables, with 3-4 racks and 15-20 cues per table, but no balls! The ping-pong tables also suffered from the same lack of balls.
The staff was trying very hard to please the guests, but all their pleas for help went unanswered. There were not enough linens for all the rooms, and many had not yet recieved the lamps that were to be the only source of light. As I remember, they switched our room two or three times before they found one where everything worked.
The food and the view was great. In subsequent years we too found the La Posada and used it from that point on.Earle Robitaille (firstname.lastname@example.org)