A Night in Berkeley
While visiting the San Francisco Bay area in October, Don and I decided to spend a night in Berkeley.
Neither of us had ever visited the city, which is home to University of California's oldest campus. It sounded fun.
I kind of shy away from the word CLUB. It makes me think of exclusive country clubs... places that aren't welcoming to all. But this had once been a club for women in the twenties! I had to read on!
Before booking, I read about the building and the woman who designed it. It was intriguing and reasonably priced! Don was game to stay, even though it had once been a club... that was not so welcoming to men... at least until 1962. Thanks Don!
I headed in while Don parked. Street parking! That was a treat, since the night before we'd paid 76 dollars, to valet park at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.
Designed by Julia Morgan
As I approached the building, I only knew a few things.
I was surprised to learn that Morgan was also connected to The Fairmont, which was the hotel we had stayed in, the night before.
The Fairmont & The Earthquake
During our SF stay, Don and I learned a lot about the 1906 earthquake that devastated much of San Francisco. We learned that our lavish hotel, on top of Nob Hill survived the initial earthquake, but not the fires that followed.
How crazy that Don and I spent two nights in a row, in hotels that were created or improved by Julia Morgan.
Back at The Berkeley
So, as Don unloaded the car, I headed towards our sturdy, massive, building. It looked like we would be staying in some kind of Italian Palazzo-Fortress, if there is such a thing. I was ready to learn more.
Too bad we didn't have a teeny tiny earthquake during our stay... just for the ultimate test.
As I approached the entrance, I could see the concrete flowers and embellishments around the door. Molded? I guess you don't carve concrete? I know so little.
Was this the entrance? Was this actually a hotel? I saw no obvious signs. I felt hesitant walking towards the door, since I couldn't remember if I'd gotten confirmation, when booking.
I glanced at the windows. The columns and arches reminded me of a fairytale castle. The doors with their diamond-paned leaded glass, were mighty impressive... and locked. I buzzed a buzzer and heard a voice. "May I help you?"
I heard a click and worked with two hands to open the heavy door.
This was my first glimpse at the interior! Wow! I hoped this wasn't a flubbed reservation, because I really wanted to stay in this building. It looked like a church and I've never spent the night in a church.
To the right of the entrance was a desk, where I spotted two women looking over paperwork. This is the only photo I took that includes a peek at that space.
The women who quietly worked behind the desk reminded me of librarians or nuns or professors. I felt like I should whisper when I inquired about our reservations.
We Are Guests
Whew, I was helped by a very kind woman who found our reservations. This was indeed our hotel.
However, this lovely Gothic building offered much more than hotel rooms. Locals can become City Club members and use the numerous lounge and meetings spaces... or the amazing pool, which was down this hall.
I was in awe of the vaulted ceilings and the wrought-iron chandeliers. I was very much in love with the sweet bear-like creatures who were perched here and there, when I walked up the stairs.
We were glad we didn't have to hike the stairs with our bags up to our 5th floor room.
However the old elevators were a little slow and wonky. Luckily they got us to the floor and the clanky noise didn't bother us in our room... which was next to the elevators.
We peeked down the hallways before stepping into our room.
There are now 38 hotel rooms, but I had the feeling we were the only guests. I wondered about the women who used to stay here in the 30's and 40's.
Our corner room was simple and basic. The door almost bonked the corner of the queen bed, when we opened.
There was no TV, but we had some appealing artwork and great windows for our entertainment. I'm not being at all sarcastic. It was peaceful and cozy.
I liked the old radiators and the wicker chair for lounging or reading. The desk was very sweet. I wish it could have inspired me to write a letter... or a novel.
Love the Bathroom
If I had been staying a month, I might have hoped for a little more bathroom luxury. But we were staying one night. I actually loved this oddly shaped bathroom. I felt like I was in a film noir movie scene, when I brushed my teeth.
The floor and tub tile was retro fun. The curtain around the trough-like tub, meant Don got his shower and I got to soak. The wooden medicine cabinet was handy with its little shelf. The frosted, metal-framed window opened up, to a view of the campus!
But, we actually spent little time in the room.
It was time to get out and explore the City Club Building.
It was late on a Monday afternoon and all seemed very quiet.
Don and I searched for a good place to relax a bit before dinner. The library was nice, but there were a couple of men quietly studying their laptops. We moved on.
We found a piano and maybe I should have played! This Women's Club was after all, created to give women a place for social, cultural and recreational activity.
I was the most excited about seeing the pool, designed by Julia Morgan, over 90 years ago.
The 75-foot pool was empty, when we peeked at it from the viewing deck. I wonder if there were any swimmers at 5 am when it opened? I didn't check.
Later, we found a different door that took us to the pool deck, where we could see the beautiful arches and columns reflected in the water.
All To Ourselves
With no swimmers, the water was smooth enough to study the tile work. It was tempting to grab our suits and make use. But I saw a sign that said something about swim caps. Really?
We explored the locker rooms since no one was around. Don wandered through the men's area and I went through the women's. It looked like there were a few "men's" dressing rooms, spilling over into the women's area. Hmm?
There were some outside areas that we could have enjoyed, but the sun was getting low.
From the stairs, I peeked out one of the diamond panes and saw a little bas-relief panel on the wall. Surprises everywhere!
While wandering upstairs, we saw some activity, through the door to the auditorium. A very gracious man invited us in to look around.
He told us they were setting up an event. He shared a little history and encouraged us to peek out at the covered terrace/walkway. He gave us some suggestions for exploring the campus, later. Nice guy!
We continued to wander and wonder. I wasn't sure how this room was used today, but it was fun imagining it, when the Club opened in the thirties. Did women gather for lectures or musical performances? Were there once tables for reading and research?
The Women's Club Movement was much more than a social club. Women gathered to engage in recreation as well as education. They joined to get involved in civic activities and to rebuild their personal lives.
Morgan's Bar and Lounge
The hotel's bar looked classy, with dark wood bar and spacious seating. We were so disappointed it was closed on Monday.
We have learned so many wonderful tidbits from locals, in hotel bars. Being a block from Berkeley's campus and being associated with the City Club, we could have met some very interesting people here.
Since the bar was closed, we decided to make ourselves drinks in the room and carry them to one of the sitting rooms.
There were lots of game options. I spotted Scrabble and a chess board, nearby.
Books and Art
But I was more drawn to the art and books. The walls held an exhibit by Risa Lenore. Beneath each painting was the "forgotten snapshot" that inspired the art. Oh how I love that idea!
Then we both flipped through some nearby books. I took a photo of one book, with plans to put it on my Christmas list. What a beautiful (and informative) book!
Before dinner, we wandered the campus on a balmy Monday night. We were impressed to see so many students out and about. Clusters of activity... dance, Taekwondo, drumming, yoga.
As advised earlier, we wandered to Hearst Gymnasium, one of Julia Morgan's designs. It was spooky on the outside, but inside it was bright and active. Open doors revealed ballet and tango classes, karate and EMS training classes.
It was clearly Berkeley 2019. It was not 1929 or 1969! We wandered a few more blocks for a Chinese feast, then back to sleep well, at The Club!
We woke to sunshine, through our 3 windows. We dressed and headed early to Julia's Restaurant, for our complimentary breakfast.
It was extra nice having the breakfast option, since the restaurant had been closed the night before.
The simple buffet was not memorable, but the setting was perfect. There was an ornate fireplace and mirror, at one end. A wall of windows, looked out to a terrace, with potted flowers.
What a fun bit of news! RBG had been speaking at an auditorium, just a block away! It's too bad she couldn't have stopped by the historic Women's Club, afterwards... to mingle with the spirits of Julia Morgan and all the women from long ago... who would have fainted with joy to know that someday we would have a woman on the Supreme Court!
We had so many fun surprises! We spent a night in a concrete castle that happened to be a club.
Our stay not only exceeded expectations, it took me on a little journey back to childhood.
In some odd way, our explorations reminded me of a day when I was about 9. My friend and I rode our bikes to downtown Grinnell, Iowa. We parked our bikes outside of my Catholic church and we tiptoed inside the unlocked doors. We explored and whispered and wondered and absorbed, the peaceful and spiritual space. I love it when a hotel stay, transports me back, to a special time in my memory!
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!