McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley
Don and I have explored so many parts of Texas, but we've never been anywhere in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In May of 2021, we headed towards the border of Mexico, in the southern end of the state. McAllen was our destination. At least the hotel was.
It took us twice as long to reach our destination, due to torrential rains and road closures. The sun was just peeking through, by the time we arrived. (This deep blue sky was the next morning)
Why Casa de Palmas?
We never would have known about this old hotel, if years ago we hadn't spotted it, in our vintage cookbook. The 1950 recipe below the image, didn't lure us. Sliced Breast of Turkey Mornay on Toast. Ugh!
But the water color image looked festive. When I saw it in the book, I went straight to the internet and breathed a sigh of relief. The old hotel was still in business! When we arrived last week, I breathed another sigh of relief, to see the tall palms. I expected damaged or dead trees, since Texas lost so many in the February 2021 Freeze. These palms had been recently freshened up and showed new life!
I was thrilled to see the 103-year-old, mission/Spanish revival-style building. It looked to be in good shape. So often historic hotels in smaller towns and cities, just don't get the support and care they need.
The exterior looked similar to the illustration, although the palms were taller. As we carried our bags from the car, I could hear a train on the nearby tracks. That was a good reminder of the tourists and traveling salesmen who used to come to McAllen, by way of train.
As we approached the front entrance, we passed two courtyards. The dining and fountain areas looked very tropical and inviting.
I paused to read a sign about the history of Casa de Palmas. Shortly after the hotel opened, it became a refuge for most of McAllen's residents, when the Corpus Christi Storm hit, in 1919. It's hard to imagine this hotel as a storm shelter, filled with frightened families.
The first thing I spotted when we entered, was the twirling staircase, disappearing into the second floor. Ironwork, along with and blue and white tile!
Recent renovations made the lobby very welcoming. New paint and modern furniture and fixtures. The big fat columns and Satillo-tiled floors, were impressive reminders of the past. I wish I could find interior photos from when Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn stayed here in 1952. That was when director, Elia Kazan set up headquarters at the hotel, for the filming of Viva Zapata.
At the opposite end of the lobby, there was lots of lounging space.
At 4:30 there were a few guests enjoying drinks. They were seated and not wearing masks, so it reminded me of pre-pandemic travel. However the staff and all the guests coming and going, consistently wore face masks. I was happy with that.
I was excited to check out our room on the third floor. It was gloriously large, after our night before at Tarpon Inn, in Port Aransas.
For $119. + tax, I couldn't complain. There was lots or space and large TV and couch area. There had been some paint and decor updates. The bed was comfy, but it looked like it had been made up by a rushed or cranky teenager. (I'm not showing the sloppier side)
Beams & Brick
I liked seeing some of the original structure. Our little sitting area had exposed beams and painted brick walls. You don't see brick in hotels much. Not sure why there were 2 refrigerators.
After our tiny bath the night before, we were thrilled to have 2 sink areas and a tub for me. I should have been thrilled for a bath at all. In 1918, only half of the 60 rooms had baths.
I would have preferred Spanish or Mexican style decor, to match the building. However, there was a little Western flair going on behind the bed. The floating cowboy hat art was actually sort of interesting! The photos online showed cowboy pillows. I wonder if the previous guests liked it too much and stole ours.
It was nice having a set of double doors, opening to a large balcony. We actually kept the door closed, due to bugs and birds.
Balcony & Pool
I would have loved sitting on the balcony, with its view of the pool. But some nesting birds made the space a little dirty. The patio chairs weren't inviting. They looked like they had been snatched from a conference room. Maybe the next renovation project will focus on balconies.
The pool below could have been all ours, if we'd thrown on some suits...
Instead of pool time, we decided to find the perfect spot for Happy Hour. The bar/lounge had lots of room, but not the perfect vibe for our moods.
Pandemics and masks, make chatting with others less desirable. And the men studying their cell phones didn't appeal either.
So we ordered 2 glasses of wine at the bar and took our drinks with us.
There was a common porch area on the third floor, looking down on the courtyards. There were a few comfy seats left, but the man with a bottle of tequila at the other end, kept us searching for a better spot.
We spent a little while on the second floor balcony. We were intrigued by a big tree, which looked like it was struggling to recover from the big freeze.
I searched the internet later and learned that the tree is an African Sausage Tree. We need to come back when we can see its flowers and sausage shaped fruits. Don encouraged me to pose with the ropey vines... since I was wearing a striped shirt. Good eye, Don!
Chairs with a View
Don and I sat on the balcony and studied the palms through the arch. We liked our cushioned chairs so much, that we searched for a tag and Googled the brand. Wow! Those are super expensive chairs!
Then we took our wine to the lowest level and enjoyed some people watching. The hotel van arrived repeatedly, with airline pilots and flight attendants. They wore their masks and uniforms and rolled their bags to the lobby. I have a feeling the majority of guests during our stay, were
connected to the airlines.
Dinner in the Spanish Room
I peeked in the newly renovated dining room earlier.
It looked very different than the dark dining decor that I spotted on the internet.
Feast for Two
We returned at 7:30. There was only one other couple dining when we arrived. Our cozy booth made it feel like we had the place to ourselves.
The food was pretty amazing. I had Chef Ari's special of the night, which was ravioli, stuffed with Osso Bucco. Don got the catch of the day, salmon. We were surprised with complimentary salads, since the wait for our food was a little long. But we were in no hurry!
The best part of our evening was pulling out the old cookbook to share with the chef and our waiter Oscar. How fun that this cookbook inspired our visit to Casa de Palmas... and that Ari and Oscar were amused by that.
Oscar and I decided to pose with our masks down, when we concluded that we'd both been vaccinated. Oh the world is feeling better!
Enjoying the Night
After dinner, Don and I wandered a bit and enjoyed the glow...
The moon was pretty above the palms. The strings of lights, looked festive on the dining patio.
The pool looked pretty at night. Again, not a person in sight.
My photo didn't capture the colorful spotlights very well.
From Our Room
I stepped out onto the balcony one more time. The balmy evening and the pool and palms, made me feel like we were on a little getaway to Mexico.
And we practically were. The Mexican border was just 5 miles from our hotel.
We drove a long way, to stay at this historic oasis and it was worth it. The room and restaurant prices were very decent. The lobby and restaurant felt remarkably classy for this small city.
As usual, it's the connection to history that I adore. I'll remember sitting on the porches, looking at the tropical vegetation and imagining the guests from the past who stayed here... in 1920 or 1950.
Cheers to all the people who keep these historic treasures from disappearing.
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!