A Spotlight on Historic El Cortez

El Cortez is a landmark in downtown San Diego.

When it opened in 1927, The El Cortez, located at 702 W. Ash Street, made a namesake for itself as one of the most historic spots in downtown. Sitting on top of what is now called Cortez Hill in the north section of downtown, this converted hotel is known for its neon sign that glows year round.

While it first opened, it ran as an apartment-hotel but has since been converted into condominiums. One of which is currently for sale and is listed by Dwell Well’s very own Tina Dameron. Before we talk about that though, let’s dive a little deeper into the history of this incredible building.

Building The El Cortez

Built on the site of Ulysses S Grant Jr.’s home, construction of the 14-story building started in 1926. It was completed the next year at a cost of $2,500,000 (which is about $35,000,000 today). Designed by Albert R. Walker and Percy Eisen and built by Richard T. Robinson, Jr., the Spanish Churrigueresque-style hotel opened on Thanksgiving Day 1927 and was the tallest building in San Diego.

A Beautiful Addition in San Diego

The El Cortez opened with 117 rooms in total. Of the 117 rooms, 32 were specifically used as hotel rooms and 85 were apartments. According to The El Cortez Owners Association, in 1928, a hotel room with a bath was $5 a day and the apartments were $100 a month.

The Infamous Sign

The neon sign that sits on top of The El Cortez did not go up until 1935. When it did, it could be seen for miles as each letter is 12 feet high. The sign was then expanded in 1951 and was last restored in 1999.

Making History Again

In the 1950’s, The El Cortez made history yet again when it installed the United States’ first outdoor hydraulic glass elevator, the Starlight Express. The glass elevator was built to get people up to the Sky Room, which was a hotspot for San Diegans and tourists for years.

Making it Official

Unfortunately, The El Cortez fell on hard times in the 1960’s and closed its doors as a hotel when evangelist, Morris Cerello bought it as an evangelist school in 1978. Cerello then sold the property in 1981, which prompted a threat of demolishing the property. However, San Diego Historic Site board was able to step in and make The El Cortez a historic landmark in 1990. It wasn’t until 2002 that The El Cortez was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Giving The El Cortez Life Again

In 1999, developers Peter Janopaul and Anthony Block renovated The El Cortez to turn the rooms into luxury apartments while making sure to keep a lot of the historic elements. However, in 2004, The El Cortez has converted yet again, but this time to 85 condos and 11 commercial units, which is where it stands today.

Life at The El Cortez

Whether you’re a history buff or just love to bask in breathtaking views of San Diego every day, The El Cortez is an idyllic place to call home. Currently, Dwell Well has an absolutely incredible listing in The El Cortez, Residence 503, that is listed for $419,000.

The one bedroom, one bathroom, 680 sqft condo has panoramic views, an incredible redesign, wonderful building amenities and Mills Act is in place, which helps lower property tax exponentially.


If you’re interested in taking a tour of El Cortez residence 503, please fill out the contact form below and we’ll be in touch shortly.

San Diego Magazine
The El Cortez Owners Association

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Dwell Well is a next generation, forward-thinking real estate company based in San Diego and Los Angeles.

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