Agua Caliente: Mexico’s forgotten Monte Carlo

Constructed to capitalise on the waning pleasure industry during prohibition, Agua Caliente certainly filled this void, with a scandalous party era, spanning the late 1920s and early 1930s.

When the market for pleasure dries up in one stretch of playground, another usually emerges where one least expects it to. That’s exactly what happened when three auspicious Americans saw prosperous opportunity for entertainment over the border in Mexico, away from the crippling regulations of prohibition in the USA. Wirt G. Bowman, Baron H. Long and James N. Crofton, three wealthy speculators (dubbed the "Border Barons" by the media) bankrolled the development of an entire resort - Agua Caliente – to accommodate the urge of louche conviviality.

Bowman, an Arizonan, was the lynchpin of the development. He had already maintained a highly successful gambling establishment called the Foreign Club, just south of the border in Tijuana. A self-proclaimed capitalist, his fortune made in business was matched by his success in politics, which gave him a decidedly good vantage point from which to observe and exploit the loopholes in legislation. A very successful hotel and nightclub owner in California, Baron H. Long provided vital hospitality knowledge, whilst Crofton's horse racing background rounded off a triumvirate of experience, that was optimal for the construction of a heavy drinking, easy-gambling, and wildly entertaining holiday resort. The Agua Caliente development was commissioned to 19-year-old architect Wayne McAllister, who later designed the famous Lawry’s restaurant in Beverley Hills. The resort’s architectural style was influenced from a mishmash of cultures. Art Deco was popular, Mexican Colonial prominent and even the mission revival style.

After the Mexican revolution in 1910 - sports, leisure and numerous entertainments had boomed in Tijuana – providing the perfect idyll for the construction of a getaway for the stylish elite. Booze, prostitution, erotic dancing and gambling were all coming under moralistic glare in the United States. Enormous gaps in the market for pleasure were opening up and Bowman, Long and Crofton did not hesitate to make the most of the opportunity to develop Agua Caliente. With building complete in June 1928, Agua Caliente very quickly became popular with Hollywood's elite. An opulent gaming resort by any standards, it included a hotel, casino, spa and later a racetrack. These facilities attracted many Americans to venture southward in search of drink, drugs and gambling, three pleasures that were contraband during national prohibition in the United States.


    Freddie Anderson


    April 2022


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