One More McMenamins Hotel!
In July, Don and I stayed at the Crystal Hotel. It had some pretty wild history!
All McMenamins Hotels have some kind of intriguing story. We had just stayed at the Edgefield Inn, a few days before. That hotel was housed, in what had once been a "Poor Farm". The history of Crystal Hotel was just as intriguing.
The 4-story building in Portland's West End, looked charming. But Don and I were a little grumpy by the time we drove through a mess of traffic and laid eyes on it.
Don dropped me off and I ran in to ask about parking. The options weren't great, but we lucked out, with a parking meter near the entrance. It only needed to be fed until 7 p.m.
Our drive had taken us through some questionable areas, so I was glad we didn't have to park far away.
The area surrounding the hotel seemed lively at 4, so that was good to see.
"Hotel Alma" in 1911
In 1911, the history of the hotel began. The building covered the entire triangular-shaped block.
The upper 3 floors housed Hotel Alma, a residential hotel. The first floor, held auto-focused businesses.
The Cute Annex
The Annex at the opposite end of the block, was the most intriguing. I'm not sure if the skinny little addition was there in 1911, but in the 1920's it held a tire store.
Today the "Ringler's Annex" holds a cozy bar, with seating that spills out to the sidewalk. In chilly months, the sidewalk is heated.
In We Go
The entrance on the "wide end" of the triangle had a vintage look. But the tile work was new, since the property wasn't called Crystal Hotel until its reopening in 2011.
The Magestic Hotel (as it was called then) was in shambles when the McMenamin brothers bought it for 3-million.
As we checked in at a small counter, I peeked into the Zeus Cafe.
I had heard that it was named after Nate "Zeus" Zusman, who ran the hotel's "Desert Room" nightclub in the late 1940's.
The large windows in the cafe looked across the street to the iconic, Jake's Famous Crawfish.
We later learned how Jake's history was tied to our hotel's.
On the opposite side of the "lobby", I found more seating with lots of cozy booths and windows. It felt like I was on a ship and I had just crossed to a different deck. I felt like I should pull up a chair and look out, at the sea of activity. That sounds pretty corny, but there was something about our triangular island hotel, that got my imagination going.
I'm still unclear if the whole first floor once held Zeus' Desert Room. But, it was fun to just imagine.
I doubt the Desert Room was ever so bright or quiet. In the late 40's, Zeus ran quite a gambling racket, along with his nightclub. He also worked with the madam across the street (Above Jake's Crawfish) to set up call girls when his gamblers needed a little something extra. Our server at Jake's confirmed that their upstairs had once been a house of prostitution.
Art in the Stairwell
The hotel did have an elevator...
... but the stairs were a lot faster and much more entertaining.
We hiked up 4 flights, grinning at the dramatic dark blue walls and chandeliers, painted pipes and curious murals. I wish I knew the stories behind the artwork.
Most of the photographs were labeled, giving clues about the history of our hotel. I was most touched by a photo of the Zakoji family. They moved into The Magestic in 1946, after being released from a Japanese internment camp.
The family ran the respectable, residential hotel for 20 years, while Zeus and his Desert Room Nightclub, entertained with booze, gambling and prostitution, below.
The Flyin' Home Room
All 51 rooms in the hotel were named for the performers or songs.
Most were artists who have entertained audiences at the nearby Crystal Ballroom, for over 100 years. I didn't have a clue about "Flyin' Home" when I saw our door.
Our Musical Room
We were pretty delighted with our black velvet drapes, animal print pillows and fringed lamps!
The deep blue walls and cartoonish musical notes were a hoot!
I read the words, at the end of the staff. "Lionel Hampton... written with Benny Goodman" I had to look that up.
There was a square painting of Lionel Hampton, playing a vibraphone. I looked up the jazzy piece that our room was named for and I pretty much loved it.
I was glad we were on the 4th floor and had thick curtains AND it was a weeknight, or there might have been street noise.
But our room (and halls) was very quiet. Plus we were sleeping beneath a painted vibraphone, lit by a full moon!
Yay for the Sink!
This was our second McMenamins hotel in a week, so we had the "shared bathroom thing" down. Like before, we had handy robes and there were no lines. But having a sink in our guest room was a treat!
I kind of liked our cozy table corner, too. We had glasses, plus a complimentary mason jar that could be used as a beer "growler" at the hotel's brewery.
Exploring the Street Level
Before taking off for the evening, I headed down to the hotel's lowest level and found the saltwater soaking pool.
The bamboo walls and brick floors made the space more festive than creepy. I greeted a few young men sitting on the benches and promised I wouldn't make them pose. I asked why they weren't in the water. "Too hot!" They laughed.
It was too early for any entertainment in the basement bar, named for the hotel's other notorious character. Al Winter once ran the hotel's Club Mecca. He was dubbed, "The vice overlord of Portland" by the FBI.
Evidently lots of shady deals were made in the basement space, that is now used nightly for acoustic entertainment.
Club Mecca in the 1950's
Here's the "swanky Club Mecca" in the 1950's after Al had moved on, to Vegas.
I wish I could have gone back in time and had a martini at Club Mecca!
Music Here... Or There
We weren't able to take full advantage of all the music options at the hotel, but we did have a peek in Al' Den around 9:30. A woman with a beautiful voice was performing on guitar.
Just a short walk down the street, we peeked at the Crystal Ballroom in the early morning. The venue has held everything from folk-dance gatherings, to performances by Tina Turner. Today, hotel guests get special perks when attending concerts. If we'd only had more time...
If Walls and Halls Could Talk
I learned after our stay, that the hotel took on a different focus in the 60's and 70's.
In the 1960's the building housed a head shop and by the '70's the area was called the Pink Triangle. The hotel was transformed to a gay bathhouse.
The building itself was incredibly unique and the renovation and decoration was quite amazing. We've stayed at many hotels with colorful pasts, but this one had more than its share!
I feel like we were hardly able to experience the place with our short visit. We didn't make use of the hotel's food, bar, pool or music and that is almost sinful. But our room was comfy and clean and fun. Too bad we couldn't have found a recorded loop of Lionel Hampton's vibraphone. I would have loved drifting off to sleep with that sound!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!