TIJUANA.- On May 17, 2016, in a spectacular blaze that lit up the early evening sky, the once-famous seafood restaurant known as La Costa, which crowns the main entrance to San Antonio del Mar and its parkland, was engulfed in a massive fireball that reduced the former restaurant to a gutted, blacked-out ruin.
The cause of the fire is not yet determined.
The building had been shuttered, empty and semi-derelict for many years from the time the La Costa Restaurant went out of business nearly a decade ago until just after sunset on Tuesday evening, May 17, when it was consumed within the first minutes by fire that could be seen for several miles along the Tijuana/Rosarito scenic highway.
A large contingent of approximately a dozen fire trucks and support vehicles arrived quickly on the scene and worked with great expertise to successfully contain the blaze, which was seriously threatening the adjacent building and the houses below, who suffered no damage other than a shower of ashes and anxiety on the part of their owners.
However, the old restaurant building itself, as witnessed by onlookers who arrived early on the scene, would have been impossible to save and was clearly going to end in total loss. Seemingly out of nowhere, witnesses stated, the building was suddenly the center of a firestorm that erupted at both ends and down the middle of the entire 70 foot length building. The fireball, at its peak, hovered more than forty feet in the air and consumed itself in a little more than an hour. No electricity power lines were supplied to the building and neither a resident caretaker nor nearby residents of San Antonio del Mar witnessed suspicious activity or transients living in the building.
The building was built in the late 1960s as part of the original development known as San Antonio Shores, a campo turistico that included lots for sale and a golf course across the road, presently the back nine of the Real del Mar golf course. Old postcards show the building and the commercial arcade and the parkland as the original anchor structures of the development.
The graceful, scalloped rooflines mimic the Coronado Islands in the background and are echoed in the parklands retaining walls, which repeat the same wave pattern. These flagship, mission-style buildings set the architectural style and tone of the future development, including red clay tile roofs and cobblestone streets.
San Antonio Shores, however, in a pattern far too familiar, went belly-up amidst multiple fraud allegations and a boatload of bad publicity on both sides of the border. Changing its name to San Antonio del Mar, in 1973 the State of Baja California created Mexicos first and largest Master Trust, lasting for thirty years, in which investors could at least feel secure during that limited interval. Then, fortunately for foreign investors, in the early 1990s the law was changed to allow for individual trusts (fideicomisos) renewable in fifty year intervals. The old San Antonio del Mar Master Trust ended in 2003.
The Pedrin family, already the owners of the highly-successful La Costa Restaurant on 8th Street in Tijuana, across from the Jai Alai Palace, then converted the old San Antonio Shores clubhouse into a second successful La Costa restaurant. In due time, the San Antonio location of La Costa became very well-known on both sides of the border and was a frequent stop for Los Angeles visitors on their way to Puerto Nuevo and points south. During the '80s it was a very popular spot for politicians to meet and mix with well-connected people in what was then a rural outpost of Tijuana, long before Rosarito was carved-out from its territory.
San Antonio always had Las Vegas and Hollywood connections from its very beginning, both as developers and investors. Celebrities felt comfortable, a world away from the spotlight, and visited frequently. Fresh fish and game were specialties of the house and it was famous for its table-side Caesars salad and Mexican coffee flamboyantly served with burning sugar.
[p]Alas, both restaurants are long gone. The restaurant building has been for sale for the last ten years. Plans to open a school at the site fell through. Up until now, the building has been part of a parcel the owner chooses not to divide, which includes the restaurant building and its adjacent parking and, across the street, a similarly styled, but much smaller former market and its parking lot.
A lone water truck now guards the smoldering ruin.