Lionel Rowe – Island Icon

Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Carol Pastor

This article was originally published in the May 2022 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.


Not often does one meet a person who is always upbeat, smiling, ready to come up with a quick joke. That best describes Lionel Rowe, definitely one of our village icons. This is what we know about his past eight-nine years.

Lionel is actually a native, born in San Diego at Mercy Hospital in 1932. His school years were spent back on the east coast where he graduated from high school from Storm King School north of West Point in New York. He then attended college at the University of Virginia. When it came time to take a job after college he joined the Budd Co. in Philadelphia. Part of their industry was manufacturing railroad cars. This probably explains his lifelong love of model trains. He later returned to San Diego going into real estate in Imperial Beach with the Kinsella Warren company until he decided to go out on his own and form his own company. He subsequently became a silent partner in the Coronado firm of First World Travel.

In talking about the “old days” he said he remembered selling newspapers at the “Landing” at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945. That was one of many interesting stories he shared. He told of the time when people had horses on the island and there was a stable to rent horses near the gate to North Island. Then there was his experience with friends, of course, holding onto the rear of one of Coronado’s trains on their route through town. They could grab the back end and ride a few blocks. That was mischief in the good old days. He remembers when the Lambs Players Theater was a movie house and his first movie there was “How Green Was My Valley”. Can any of you remember that?

Lionel later married Sara, now Rowe in 1983, a local artist whose work was not only on display locally but also graced the cover of the Kennedy Book, the local telephone book. She did some beautiful watercolor scenes. Lionel became her assistant, helping her set up when she had a showing. His home is a gallery of Sara Rowe’s creations. 

Lionel is very proud of his twin grandsons with whom he played tennis. He certainly encouraged them, being an avid player himself. They even played in some “Grandfather” tournaments together. 

There were two questions we have asked all Icons for their opinion which, probably because of the age of our icons, has been somewhat similar.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR 16-YEAR OLD SELF? To which he replied “Stay in good health”, which he must have done to reach the age of eight-nine.

And lastly, WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED? Lionel did not hesitate in answering “Get all the education you can.”

It is not surprising with his outgoing personality that Lionel would become involved in the community. For over seven years he was the MC you heard at the Sunday concerts in the park. He was often there with the group of singles who formed their own spot at the park each week. He has been an active member of the Coronado Yacht Club as well. He was active in the Crown Club, a club for those who loved to dance and socialize in town. Something that not everyone knows is that Lionel, from his personal collection of Lionel trains, donated the train set and all its accompanying items to the Children’s Library in Coronado.

He had gone before the board telling them what he wanted to do and naturally,

they eventually approved. He installed the entire system over the top of the bookcases in that portion of the library. If you have not seen it do take the opportunity to go by. It is still there for all the children to see and enjoy.

As we interview our Coronado Icons we learn more and more about the history of our lovely island and the people who helped make it what we still have today.


This article was originally published in the May 2022 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.


More Photos of Lionel Rowe:

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