If you’re familiar with the history of the El Cortez in downtown San Diego, you probably know it featured the world’s very first outdoor glass elevator. (Although I’ve also seen information that says it was the first such elevator in the United States, second in the world.)
Based on an idea suggested by a hotel bellboy, an outdoor glass elevator, called the Starlight Express, was installed in 1956 on the side of the El Cortez Hotel, then the highest building in San Diego. People from all around Southern California would converge on the elegant hotel to be swept dizzily skyward to the chic Starlight Room restaurant on the twelfth floor.
Today I came across a black and white 1956 newsreel that has been released by Universal City Studios into the public domain. It shows thrilled passengers going up and down what was then the brand new, incredible, jaw-dropping Starlight Express!
Check out the “futuristic” costume (uniform?) of the smiling elevator operator! And check out how downtown San Diego appeared in the 1950s. A bit different than today, right?
I snipped sequential images from the old newsreel so you can enjoy a fun look!
By the way, the El Cortez Hotel also featured the world’s first moving sidewalk! You know–the sort of thing you might stand on in an airport terminal or at an amusement park. It was called the Travolator. Both the Starlight Express and Travolator were removed many years ago.
Read much more about the El Cortez and its extraordinary history in this detailed Wikipedia article. Among other things, you’ll learn how this Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style landmark was built on property once owned by a son of President Ulysses S. Grant, how a third of San Diego’s population showed up for the hotel’s opening day, and how it had an anti-aircraft battery on its roof during World War II!
I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!
My walk early this morning was a real treat. Magical, mysterious fog had crept during the night into the very heart of downtown San Diego, where I live. High skyscrapers disappeared into the gray. Please enjoy a few photos…
The historic El Cortez Hotel, now converted into condominiums, has been an iconic landmark in San Diego since 1926. Decades before gleaming skyscrapers rose to shape our modern skyline, the El Cortez dominated Cortez Hill and was the city’s tallest building.
The large sign on top, illuminated at night, brightly flashes the sequenced letters of “El Cortez” like a beacon out of the past. The El Cortez years ago had the world’s very first outside glass elevator. Known as the Starlight Express, the elevator brought visitors to the hotel’s penthouse restaurant, which featured amazing views of the growing city and the bay below. The hotel also had the world’s first motorized moving sidewalk!
I live several blocks from this wonderful building and love to gaze at it whenever I walk or drive past!