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Chris' Collection: Souvenirs from Tijuana's Agua Caliente Casino

A bracelet features the Agua Caliente crest. It's estimated to be from between 1928 and 1935.
A bracelet features the Agua Caliente crest. It's estimated to be from between 1928 and 1935.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Where did Southern California residents in the 1920s and '30s go to sow their wild oats? Remember, this was a time long before Las Vegas became Sin City, the place where people for years have traveled to drink, gamble and engage in any number of prohibited vices. 

"When drinking, gambling and racing horses was not legal in LA, people decided that they needed to build a place to do that," said LA Magazine's Chris Nichols. "They went just a mile over the border and built a lavish resort city there with a hotel, a spa, an airport, with a racetrack, and the racetrack became very famous."

Agua Caliente Casino and Resort in Tijuana was a desert oasis where LA residents and Hollywood stars flocked to escape the rules and law enforcement of the U.S. The resort opened in June 1928, and quickly established itself as a destination for important people. Even mobster Bugsy Siegel found inspiration in Agua Caliente, which he used to build a similar resort on the Las Vegas strip.  

"Caliente was an amazingly complex and beautiful place, with fine materials from all over the world, with architectural styles from all over the world," said Nichols. "It attracted anybody that wanted to drink and gamble and mingle with these people and it was a really big deal in its day and completely forgotten now."

The resort was closed in 1935 after Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas outlawed gambling. 

Chris Nichols, who is quite the collector, brought in some mementos from the resort:

Image 1: "A piece of ladies' jewelry with silver hammer designs and the Aqua Caliente logo design. That was something in the gift shop, but when celebrities went, and well-known people went, they would gift them things, and so I've seen Caliente jewelry that was given to starlets that would go down and get photographed in it," said Nichols. 

Image 2: "A large yellow felt pennant with a race horse and Caliente logo, and on the back, it has a sticker with the date 1932 I think." said Nichols. "It is just a souvenir that I guess you would tie on to your car or tote around on a stick and root for your favorite horses down on the track."

Image 3: "It's a silver bowl from the hotel, it's got their stamp on it and I think its for wine or champagne maybe?" said Nichols.