Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel
The Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel opened in 22 June 1928 in the Mexican city of Tijuana, Baja California. It was a lavish resort that included a casino, spa, championship golf and tennis facilities, its own airstrip, and lots of entertainment. Stylistically, the resort was an amalgam of Mexican colonial, California mission, and neo-Islamic designs that ranged from mosaic minarets, to cozy guest bungalows, to steaming Turkish baths. It was designed by 19-year-old architect Wayne McAllister and built by Baron H. Long, Wirt G. Bowman and James N. Crofton. Some sources note the fourth partner was Abelardo L. Rodríguez, Military Commander and Governor of Baja California, and future Mexican President. The $2.5 million Agua Caliente racetrack opened in December 1929.
Drinking, gambling, and horse racing were illegal in neighboring California, so many wealthy Americans and Hollywood celebrities flocked to Agua Caliente. Rita Hayworth was discovered there while performing in a show. The films In Caliente and The Champ were filmed on location there. The highlight of the opulent casino was the Gold Room, where patrons could only bet using gold chips, with a rumored $500 minimum wager. Bugsy Siegel cited Agua Caliente as his inspiration for building the resort on what became the Las Vegas Strip.
Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas outlawed gambling in 1935 and closed the resort. It became a state-run school, Escuela Preparatoria Federal Lázaro Cárdenas and eventually fell into disrepair. Remnants of the original buildings remain next to the Plaza Minarete strip center at the end of Avenida Sanchez Taboada. Although the casino and hotel were closed, the racetrack continued to operate for many years. The original grandstand structure was destroyed by fire in 1971, but was rebuilt and continues to operate today
The Agua Caliente Story: Remembering Mexico's Legendary Racetrack, David Jimenez Beltran (Blood-Horse Publications: Lexington, Kentucky) 2004
The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister, Chris Nichols (Gibbs Smith, Publisher: Layton, Utah) 2007