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Travel: Tales of Great Ulysses

Nancy Wong Bryan

While cleaning out her garage in Murrieta, Calif., last winter, Veva Haacke discovered a leather case containing century-old relics from the US Grant hotel. The items had been buried at the hotel 65 miles away in San Diego—as a time capsule by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., founder of the US Grant and the second son of the Union general and 18th president. The case’s contents included photographs documenting the Grant’s construction in the early 1900s, a handwritten note from Grant Jr., and a newspaper from the hotel’s opening day in 1910.

No one is certain how the items ended up in Haacke’s garage, but her discovery was well-timed: She returned the collection as the US Grant was nearing completion of a $52 million renovation that has helped the establishment reclaim its place in San Diego’s hotel hierarchy.

If the Hotel del Coronado is San Diego’s grande dame of beach resorts, the US Grant is her metropolitan cousin. Grant Jr., who relocated to San Diego after his father’s death, built the Beaux Arts style property in what is now the Gaslamp Quarter, the historic business district that recently has become the city’s dining and entertainment hub. But while its surroundings in the Gaslamp were being spruced up over the past decade, the Grant was losing its luster.

In 2003, then-owner Wyndham International sold the Grant to the Sycuan band of the Kumeyaay Nation, a Native American tribe whose ancestors originally settled the downtown San Diego area about 12,000 years ago. For the Sycuans for whom President Grant set aside land as part of his Indian Peace Policy in 1875 the US Grant represents a link to the past as well as an investment in the future. The tribe members, who operate a casino in eastern San Diego County, abide by principles that dictate their decisions must positively influence the next seven generations.
 
The Sycuans’ renovation of the Grant, which closed for nearly two years during the process, appears to have followed the tribe’s forward-thinking philosophy. Instead of furnishing the hotel with antiques, the new owners offset the Beaux Arts architecture and formal Italian chandeliers with swathes of cornflower blue brocade, abstract paintings, and bronze Native American sculptures. In the lobby, a yellow and blue primrose pattern on an enormous Thai silk rug subtly references the Sycuans (whose name means “primrose” in their native language). Whimsical works by French painter Yves Clement crown the beds in the guest rooms and suites, which feature dark wood furnishings, recessed lighting, and 32-inch flat-panel TVs.

The Grant, which reopened in October and is managed by Starwood Luxury Collection, does lack for at least one modern amenity: The Sycuans did not add a spa to the property. However, the hotel has a partnership with a nearby day spa, and eight of the hotel’s 270 accommodations were designed specifically for in-room treatments, with massive marble showers featuring Kohler showerhead tiles embedded in the walls and ceiling.

Embedded in the floor of the US Grant’s lobby is a pewter seal of the letter G, the hotel’s logo, underneath which rests a modified version of Grant Jr.’s time capsule. The capsule’s contents, some of which are now on display on the mezzanine, were too fragile to rebury, so the hotel scanned every piece onto CDs. The CDs were lowered into the lobby’s floor along with a basket containing photos and a history of the Sycuans, tokens for the next generation, or seven, to rediscover. 

 

The US Grant, 800.237.5029, www.usgrant.net

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