Carleton Lichty Became Synonymous With Hotel Del
When thinking of landmark hotels in the county, there’s little argument that the Hotel del Coronado stands head and shoulders above the rest.
And when it comes to the great hoteliers of our time, none were perhaps more influential or important than the Hotel Del’s Carleton Lichty.
Now 84 years old and still living in Coronado, Lichty was one of the driving forces as the region’s stature as a tourism destination grew through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
His career in San Diego’s hospitality industry began in 1945 when he was named general manager of the U.S. Grant Hotel in Downtown. Lichty stayed there until he became managing director of the Hotel del in 1961.
Three years later Lichty was named the hotel’s president and general manager, a post he held for two decades when he became the hotel’s vice chairman of the board.
In the early ’90s, then-owner M. Larry Lawrence prodded Lichty out of retirement to become a special adviser and president emeritus, a title he still holds to this day.
Though Lichty’s role at the 26-acre seaside hotel has diminished in recent years, he still stands as one of San Diego’s icons in the tourism industry. Consider when he went to the Hotel del, there was no Coronado Bridge; summer was the only high season, and attendance was a virtual seesaw, Lichty said in a 1991 interview.
Initiated Del’s Expansion
He helped initiate an aggressive expansion at the hotel, overseeing the hotel’s growth from 379 rooms, a ballroom and the Crown Room for dining to the facility as it currently stands.
They aggressively courted the convention business, adding the Grande Hall and other areas to create some 65,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel also now boasts 692 rooms, along with 10 restaurants and lounges, and 26 shops and boutiques.
While the Hotel del’s expansion in part stands as a visual monument to Lichty’s role at the hotel, the seemingly endless list of awards and honors reveals his importance to San Diego’s economic growth.
One of his most recognized accomplishments was persuading fellow hoteliers to market San Diego as a destination rather than marketing individual establishments.
Lichty also chaired and served on some of San Diego’s most influential organizations. He was: President of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1977 and served as a director from 1970-80; chairman of the San Diego Economic Development Corp. in 1982; and president of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce in 1979 and a director from 1975-84.
‘A Real Giant’
“He was a real giant in the industry,” said Alan Ziegaus partner and former president with the San Diego public relations firm Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger, Inc. “It certainly helped that he had the Larry Lawrence connection, but he became one of the leaders in the industry.
“Local political insiders really took his counsel seriously and he was a driver of policy on a broad range of fronts. It was also interesting that he was influential in San Diego politics, as it has been difficult for influentials from outside of the city (i.e, Coronado or La Mesa or Poway) to become movers and shakers in S.D. politics. He transcended that Coronado niche by far.”
He also was president of the California Hotel and Motel Association in 1973 and served as a director from 1970-80; was the state director of the American Hotel and Motel Association in 1981 and served as the group’s chairman in 1981. Not surprisingly, he was named the association’s Resort Executive of the Year the same year.
He also rubbed elbows with some of the world’s most important people. He dined in the Crown Room with everyone from Walter Cronkite to President Reagan. He even arranged a last-minute dinner between President Nixon and the president of Mexico at the hotel.
“I’m pretty old now,” Lichty admitted during a phone interview. “But it was something to be one of those guys. I always liked being out front.”