Bill Davidson – Island Icon

Written by Karen Scanlon, CHA Volunteer

This article was originally published in the October 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more, click here or the button below.

Barely a step through the front entrance of the Temecula, California home of Bill Davidson and you are drawn into something special. A quick hello, no formalities, and the tour begins.

Amidst his walls of history are ten handsomely framed photos. “These belonged to Granddad. They were of his personal, first-name-basis friends. Top left is Franklin D. Roosevelt. That one is Granddad with Henry Ford and son in the Ford Building of the 1915 Panama Exposition.”

He points to Taft, Coolidge, and Pendleton. “Here’s President Woodrow Wilson, in town to speak on the League of Nations in Balboa Park in front of a crowd of 50,000. Granddad found a microphone back East somewhere and it was the first time Wilson had ever used one. There was a huge roar when all could hear. He told Granddad that it was the greatest day he’d ever had.”

So just who was this fellow to befriend such well-knowns? G. Aubrey Davidson founded the Southern Trust and Commerce Bank in 1909, and was President of San Diego Chamber of Commerce. But he offered San Diego something much longer lasting.

Bill’s grandfather proposed an exposition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. It would boost San Diego’s economy. A committee was formed, and Davidson served as President of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and as Board Chair of the 1935 California Pacific Exposition. G. Aubrey Davidson’s exposition legacy remains in the magnificent structures that highlight San Diego’s famous Balboa Park.

“Granddad was always calm, humble, and loving, especially to my grandmother. She always went first,” Bill says. “So many good memories of him, like driving to the sulfur pools in Warner Springs.”

The Davidsons all resided at Hotel del Coronado. Bill was born in La Jolla in 1929, moved to Pasadena during his elementary school years, and then transferred to Coronado High School. “The hotel was only about a third occupied back then and Granddad rented three suites at $5 a night. I lived there through high school (then off to UCLA for college).”

Bill remembers well his first CHS football game, “A freshman walking toward the stands and here came these monstrous seniors with their big green and white uniforms, and the band was playing, I thought these guys are God to me, the most exciting thing I’d ever seen.”

At the time, Ernest Tiedemann was manager of the hotel. “I loved the sweet rolls they had. I wore Levi’s, which meant I couldn’t go in the lobby with its dress code. Funny thing, during Prohibition, society people brought all of their ‘houch’ of rare wines and whiskeys and gave it to Tiedemann to hide. In 1970, that secret storage was opened and there was all that liquor. People never came back to claim it.”

During the war years, there were no hotel vacancies anywhere. “The carrier USS Bunkerhill pilots occupied the third floor of the Del ‘til they raised too much hell and the manager moved ‘em up to fourth. Naked ladies ran in and out of rooms, and as a high school kid, I thought how wonderful, these guys know how to party!”

“Back in my high school days, we ate in the Del dining room. At wartime, Granddad would tell the maitre d’ to put the sailors’ tabs on his room. And when carriers came in from the Pacific Theater, they’d let out 30 Hell Cat bombers, gun their engines over the hotel flagpole, and the whole hotel would vibrate.”

Adult Bill went into the insurance business in 1950 through 1970, achieving lifetime membership in the Million Dollar Round Table. He also helped form Presidio Oil, which later sold.

In 1970, Bill got into agriculture in Madera, CA, planting his first field of 100 pistachio trees. “I couldn’t move the next morning.” Ultimately, he planted over 1000 acres, 350 trees per acre. The breeze pollinated those pistachios, not bees!”

“I was also the first guy to plant the Fuji apple in the Central San Joaquin Valley. We had a good market with the Japanese who preferred a sweeter apple.”

Gone are the days when a younger Bill living at Hotel del Coronado would romp on the rooftop “just for the fun of it, it no longer is a hotel for ‘newlyweds and nearly deads’.”

Coronado holds happy esteem for Bill, but he laments, “Today, the area is so crowded you can’t move; same with Hotel Del, so many tourists.” Even the beach has changed. Before the sand filled out the beach, Bill remembers waves hitting the glass of the hotel ballroom. You won’t see that today!

This article was originally published in the October 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more, click here or the button below.

More photos of Bill Davidson:

Davidson with the Fuji Apple cover he designed.
Davidson playing football for CHS

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