A Lucky Find!
Finding Nevada City
Don and I were excited to get back to the little town that we fell in love with, a few years ago. The idea that we could stay in a cute motel, in walking distance to shops and restaurants was pretty exciting!
The Old Airway Motel
There was no snow in Nevada City when we arrived, but we drove through some to get there. This is how our inn looked in the 1940's I'm guessing. Kate Smith and her husband owned and operated the motel and convenience store for 60 years.
The Creek Side
This is the same view today. It was a little chilly for lounging by the creek, but it looked a lot more inviting than the snowy scene.
Outside Inn, Since 1997
Evans Phelps purchased and renovated the motel in 1997. Her daughter and husband run it now. Not only did they keep the retro charm of the past, but they added a lot more fun to the place.
We checked in about 4 and the young woman working the desk was very welcoming.
Circle of Units
We must have been the first to check in, since the cars filled the space later. There was a nice sitting area and grill towards the back of the circle.
In the summer, the pool would have been fun. Maybe next time.
This is the only photo I have of Scott and Chali's bicycle themed suite. I loved the little kitchen with yellow wooden cabinets and table. So did Lola.
The Winter Room
Our room was right next to the office. We stepped inside and I just grinned. I love a theme and I love old. They did both well. Usually I'd cringe at paint over knotty pine, but I loved the icy, purple-blue paint, with silver snowflakes and the antique skis!
We didn't have a full kitchen, but we had no need. There was a tiny fridge and microwave and an adorable vintage sink and lots of knotty pine. Plus a wonderful view of the creek!
Built-ins and Woodwork
I have no clue if the little built in desk is original. I don't know if the wood framing the door is old. I just loved the feel of it all. The desk area was cozy and the cute bathroom had corner shelves for your stuff... plus a window to the creek!
Some Art, too!
I loved the painted, blue furniture with glass tops on the bedside tables. The quilt was pretty without being oldie-moldie. There was a TV, which I was sort of an unexpected treat.
A coffee maker was equipped in the kitchenette. I made a little before heading outside. I was excited to see a daffodil. We don't get those in Houston. I loved seeing the "free veggie cart" even though it was empty. In the summer, locals and guests can donate and enjoy!
Our Back Door
Again, the weather was a little cool for sitting out. But we had a backdoor to the creek and patio. I wandered a bit.
I found a welcoming fire pit with wood. I wish we had taken advantage the night before!
For just over $100. we were able to spend the night in a delightful, family run inn, in a charming town. I know rates go up in summer, but how I'd love to come back and enjoy Outside Inn... inside and out!
"America's Creepiest Motel!"
And yes, I did read reviews and articles. All seemed to claim Clown Motel as "America's Creepiest Motel". Don and I were not afraid.
Flurries were swirling when we pulled into the big lot off Highway 95, about halfway between Reno and Vegas. The blue and white motel with clown sign, looked just as worn and curious as the photos I'd seen on the internet. I was surprised to see the dramatic mountain in the background and all the vehicles in the lot. At least the motel had some business.
Then the owner Bob Perchetti, entered and gave us a warm welcome. He'd been expecting us. I'd called a month before and requested a room with lots of clown decor. He'd been very chatty on the phone and said he would book us for the Clown Suite.
The walls behind Bob's desk were covered in sticky notes and paper work, but framed clowns shared some of the space. Acrobatic clowns and a parachuting clown hung from the ceiling.
I peeked around as Don checked us in. It was clear that most of the clowns were for pure decoration, but a few had real jobs, like holding books.
Bob laughed about all the attention the motel has gotten from being on a few TV shows about haunted hotels. He casually brought up the fact that someone had recently died in the motel. I tried to unhear that bit of news, since we were staying over. But now I wish I'd asked. I can't find anything on the internet about it.
Bob and Me
So we posed near the cluster of clowns. I took off my jacket so my very fine t-shirt from Angie's Circus Diner (Hugo, OK) could be seen! Then we chatted some more.
Actually Bob's stories of small town, Tonopah were more interesting than the Clown Motel history. He loved growing up in the once mining town, just a couple doors down from his Serbian grandmother. I loved hearing Bob talk about his grandmother first coming to Tonopah, as a mail order bride. And I had to laugh to hear that Bob was named after his Uncle Bob, who happened to go by the nickname, Bozo.
Bob and His Mom
There was a photo of Bob and his mom on a bulletin board. He said at 97, she still lives in the house where he grew up. Every morning he eats breakfast in town, but he has coffee at his mom's, first. He talked about the importance of family, his own now and his good family memories from the past. Those memories included lots of gatherings with Serbian food!
Bob said there were 500 to 600 clowns on display. Of course I had to ask if he had a favorite.
This sad little guy is Bob's favorite. He showed up at the motel one day, with a note. The note is kept under his foot.
I think of all the clown figurines at the motel, this is the only one I would have snatched up, had Bob been selling clowns. I always loved the real Emmitt Kelly, who created his little Tramp, Willie character... the first clown to break away from the "whiteface" clown image. I loved this sad little guy.
One Last Look
Don and I took one last look at the china, metal, crocheted, wooden, plastic collection... and took our key to the Clown Suite.
Up the Stairs
We had to cart our stuff up some icy stairs, but Bob said, we would have a good view of the Tonopah Cemetery from up there.
At the End
The last 2 rooms for some reason didn't have a colorful clown figure. All the others did.
Our room was at the end, but this sign was right between the last 2 doors. Who was Joe? Were both rooms suites?
We opened the door to our clown suite and saw a few, right away. $70. was at least $20 more than the other rooms and that's a bit pricey for an old motel... but we did ask for a room with clowns and by golly we got them.
We also had 2 beds, tons of space and a door adjoining another room. Maybe if you book both, you can have a super big clown party with some friends. Or I guess we could have knocked on the door, since we could hear voices and smell some kind of food cooking. We could have invited our neighbors over for a clown appreciation party.
Pondering the Guests
Actually, after doing some internet searching, I learned that "Joe" is a motel manager and he may have been the neighbor we heard, next door. Hmm? At least the article I read, said he lived at the motel, in the Clown Suite. Maybe he lives in both rooms and moves out of one, when there's a request. I'm not sure.. and I'm kind of glad I didn't know that at the time.
Don and I wondered about other guests. The truck filled parking lot, made it clear that most of the overnighters were workmen and such. Besides the work related travelers, I think the Clown Motel actually gets more guests who are interested in paranormal activity than clowns. Luckily that doesn't faze me, since most of the historic hotels we visit claim to have ghosts.
A Very Big TV
Our 2-bed room was spacious and the TV was huge. However, there were some room issues that most reviewers might gripe about. Yes, it needed new paint and carpet and there was a crack in the window, but it was clean. And if I were Bob, I wouldn't be wanting to put money into renovation before selling. Don and I were just pretty excited to have our oddball Clown Motel experience... before it's too late.
When will we ever again stay in a motel that has a cluster of colorful clowns displayed on the dresser? When will we be able to pop some microwave corn, while a cookie jar clown grins from above?
Washing up with Clowns!
There were clowns dangling near the mirror over the sink. And look at the special make-up mirror! Most old motels don't provide magnified make-up mirrors! But then again, I would need that if I had brought along some clown make-up.
Toilet Paper Delight!
This display on the toilet tank, put the biggest grin on my face. First of all I expected no toiletries, but there they were... laying on a colorful circus fabric, right next to a crocheted toilet paper keeper with a clown head!
There was artwork, too. I liked the triple-image-art with Emmett's, Willy character in the circus ring. But what was the other one? With closer observation, it made me think of a fever dream, featuring an aged Emmett, floating with eerie cloud faces. We chose the bed furthest from that print.
Night at the Motel
We had a great dinner at the charming historic Mizpah Hotel, in town. That's on our list for next time. When we returned, there was a nice layer of snow on the parking lot. That is not a moon in the photo. That is a mystery. I have no clue how that orb ended up in my photo?
Morning at the Clown
We woke at 6 am, to sounds of snowplows. It was bitter cold, but I threw warm clothes on, over my p.j.s and wandered out with the camera.
The Clown with Snow
There wasn't a ton of snow, but it did make everything look clean and tidy.
I walked past the office, which I knew would be serving coffee soon.
I walked just a few steps past the office, to the old miners cemetery. It looked very peaceful on a snow covered morning.
The cemetery opened in 1901, when miners were hit with some sort of plague. Evidently, the father of Clown Motel's original owner is buried here.
My footsteps weren't the first. I saw some kitty paw prints when I stepped in through the gates. I was told later there is a local program that captures and fixes local feral cats. Many cats are fed nearby and call the cemetery home.
I studied Mr. Smith's grave for a moment. He was "murdered in his cabin, behind the Midway mine." Hmm.? Maybe it was his spirit orb, that I captured in my photo, the night before.
February Stop in Arizona
Opened in 1927
We arrived at the corner of Aspen and San Francisco, on a blustery Wednesday afternoon. I was surprised to see the downtown streets and sidewalks looking so lively.
The lobby was as intriguing as I'd remembered. The space was empty at 4 pm, but the sound of clinking glasses and cheerful chatter drifted in from Rendezvous, the hotel's coffee shop/bar, on the corner of the building.
The opposite end of the lobby showed 2 sets of stairs. One headed up to guest rooms and a sitting space. The down staircase, lead to the hotel's original cocktail lounge.
Besides the painted beams and tiles, I was most in love with the arches. Above the staircase, there was a small painting inside an arched alcove. Between the lobby and Rendezvous Bar, there was a glassed in arch, filled with liquor bottles.
We walked through archways to go up the stairs and through an arched opening to enter an extra lounge area on the lobby level.
The elevator even had an arched entrance. Hotel Monte Vista was the first to install a self-service elevator in Arizona. Luckily it has been updated, but mostly we took the stairs.
Our hall on the second floor had some jazzy chandeliers and classic, exposed pipes. We were across the hall from the Bob Hope Suite. If I'd only done my research ahead of booking, I could have requested a celebrity named room. The bartender told us later that she'd never been in the Debbie Reynold's room, but she heard it was a nauseating bubble gum color. I would have loved that.
For about $75.00 we were able to get a fine room overlooking San Francisco Street.
A double set of windows let in some light and caused our walls to shimmer a bit. Gotta love some shimmery walls!
The Cocktail Lounge
At the southwest end of the building we found the cocktail lounge, right where it opened during prohibition. Evidently the popular speakeasy was shut down in 1931, but came back to life a couple years later. There are also some underground tunnels that were involved in the bootleg history.
Bogey & Candy Machines
I love historic hotel bars, especially when I can picture some of the past famous guests enjoying them. There were many famous guests, thanks to Flagstaff's scenic location for movies. Humphrey Bogart was one of the hotel's most famous guests. It is rumored that one scene from Casablanca was shot here.
Pool Hall or Ballroom?
Don and I tried to experience a little of the historic cocktail lounge, but we didn't stay long. The classic bar counter was filled up and the spacious, once-a-ballroom-area, was crowded with pool playing, locals. (this photo was taken earlier) We wimped out and headed for the slightly more subdued Redezvous bar, upstairs. .
In the Day
This is a peek through the hallway window to Rendezvous, during the day. The light coming through the windows made the corner, coffee shop/bar warm and inviting, with temps in the teens.
At night, the atmosphere at Rendezvous was friendly and upbeat. It seemed like the staff behind the bar, actually enjoyed their work. Don and I were lucky to get 2 seats at the bar, where Liz served us and amused us with her booming laugh and her own cocktail creations.
We also enjoyed an interesting chat with Paul, who sat beside me. His work with the Forestry Service was actually interesting enough. But I especially liked his stories about growing up next to Buddy Holly's family in Lubbock. In fact his mom ended up marrying Buddy's brother, in later years.
Night at the Hotel
It was so darn cold, that Don and I lost interest in wandering around in search of dinner. When we found out the hotel had an walkway to a Thai restaurant right next door, we were thrilled. No coats needed and the food was amazingly good. Plus, we got to experience a meal, where the original hotel coffee house once sat.
It also helped that our stay was on a weeknight, which helped cut down on bar noise. In the morning we enjoyed our complimentary coffee in Rendezvous, before heading out on the road.
What's Notable? Hotel Monte Vista is reasonably priced gem in the center of an interesting city, just off of Historic 66. I'm guessing in summer, it's packed with travelers. However, I don't think we met or even saw another hotel guest in the charming hotel, with 73 rooms. We seemed to be the only travelers, in a happening place, filled with locals. Maybe they should go back to the original name, "The Community Hotel". That was the hotel's name when it opened, because the townspeople had contributed to its existence.
Home of the Movie Stars!
Old Cookbook Illustration
I first saw a picture of El Rancho in our 1954 edition, Ford Motor Cookbook. There was an inviting image of the sprawling ranch-hotel, along with a recipe from the restaurant. When I Googled the hotel, I was pretty thrilled to find out it hadn't closed down after all these years.
It was a cold February afternoon when we arrived. I was so glad to see the hotel hadn't updated the rambling, rustic, ranch-y, plantation-like facade that I'd seen in early photos. I wondered how long the logo, "Charm of Yesterday - Convenience of Tomorrow" had been connected to the hotel.
This old photo shows the same portico with logo above the pillars!
Hotel el Rancho, was the creation of R.E. Griffith in 1937. "Griff" had connections with Hollywood, because of his well known director brother, D. W. Griffith. Griff had the hotel built, to house movie stars and crews, in an area that had become popular for filming westerns.
It was fairly quiet when we arrived, so I had an easy time imagining the sprawling hotel, as it might have looked back in the day. Without modern cars and families with rolling suitcases, I could picture those wonderful cars of the '30's and '40's, pulling up to deliver Spencer Tracy or Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball or Esther Williams. So many of my favorite stars stayed at this hotel.
We crunched over a little icy snow with our bags and headed towards the middle set of doors.
Loving the Lobby!
A second set of doors took us into the square lobby. I'd seen photos, so I knew there was a hunting lodge decor, but it was better than I'd imagined. I grinned to know I was stepping into a time warp. This is just what Katherine Hepburn saw when she arrived in 1946 to film scenes from "Sea of Grass".
The main focus was across the lobby. Two carpeted staircases curved around the stone fireplace. The stairs lead to a balcony, running around the perimeter of the second story. It seemed fitting that the carpet color was red.
Don checked in at the desk with a fellow whose name tag read, Leroy. They would later compare their turquoise. I admired the silver dollars, embedded along the edge of the counter.
While Don checked in, I snooped around the lobby. Oh, if only the fireplace had still been in working order! Even without a glowing fire, the surrounding brick and stone work was mesmerizing! Outside of the fireplace, I studied the split log stairs, with bent wood railing. Just beautiful!
"Charm of Yesterday"
I took in some of the charm of yesterday, that was probably considered mighty modern, when the hotel was new. Too bad we couldn't get a shoeshine or buy stamps or cigarettes, anymore. Not that we needed any of those goodies.
I Love Doors
Leroy gave us our key and we headed upstairs and entered the hallway through a festive door with a round window.
The door to our room had the original slatted, air-vents. That was fun. It was also nice that Leroy had given us an extra spacious room, since we had booked a lower rate room. The room was named for actress, Paulette Goddard, one of the hotel's many famous guests.
I loved having 3 windows and a door to a little terrace of sorts... although it was a little too snowy to care about that.
I was happy with the vintage coziness, but I started to mope about what I was missing. "Don, do you even know who Paulette Goodard is?" We are both huge fans of old movies and yet we were staying in a room, named for a star we didn't even know. I usually just go with the flow, but I headed back to the front desk.
I asked Leroy if it would be possible to get the Katherine Hepburn room. He said there was no problem, but had me check it out first. I was giddy, walking down the painted brick hallway, towards the door with its polished wood frame.
The room was smaller, but it had Katherine Hepburn's name on the plaque and that was good enough for me. Plus it a wagon wheel bed and that made me chuckle.
Kate, Keeping an Eye
Kate gazed down towards the bed from her frame. I'm sure she was probably saying, "You don't truly believe I slept in this room do you? I would have demanded a bathtub and so should you."
Yep, we gave up the corner room with the bathtub and got the Kate Room, with funniest little bathroom. I tried to take a photo of the oddly shaped shower, but it was not possible.
I had to run down to tell Leroy the room was just fine. Then, I asked Leroy if I could take a photo of his awesome bollo tie. First he said no. Then he laughed.
It's difficult to tell from this photo, but Leroy (who insisted I say his name with a French pronunciation) was a very funny, talkative guy. Don and I chatted with him numerous times during our 1 night stay. Leroy was a big part of what made our stay so memorable!
Leroy and Mr. Ortega
Leroy's father and grandfather died young. He said Mr. Ortega had been like a father to him, until his death a few years ago. Leroy spoke in Navajo, some words about the wisdom of Elders. He felt it was their wisdom that had somehow guided him to this job and his friendship with Mr. O.
While temperatures dropped outside, Don and I felt less inspired to get out and explore Gallup. There was so much to absorb without leaving the building, so we headed upstairs first.
Cozy Seating and Photos
Autographed photos covered the brick walls, all around the second level. Some of the signatures were personal, with notes about staying at the hotel. I imagine the rustic furniture and Navajo rugs were a nice change for some of the stars, used to staying in swanky Hollywood hotels.
Working up a Thirst
We studied the last wall of photos before heading down to the 49er Lounge. If only the weather had been warm, we could have taken drinks right out onto the terrace, over the portico. Don and I do love a hotel with a porch or balcony.
I have no clue about how this rambling cluster of buildings was constructed, but I'm pretty sure the bar was original. Luckily we could enter from a walkway past the hotel's impressive Native American gift shop and avoid stepping outside in the cold.
I'm not sure when this photo of staff was taken, but evidently the hot summers were also an issue. I'm surprised they had air-conditioning!
Don and I put on our cowboy boots and a little turquoise and headed for the bar. The bar decor, unlike the hotel, had changed a bit since the thirties. We enjoyed one beer and wine, while watching the local, after-work crowd come and go. Then we headed for the dining room.
It was pretty quiet in the dining room at 8 pm, but we didn't feel a bit rushed. We enjoyed studying the menu options like, John Wayne burger and Katherine Hepburn BLT.
I made sure to bring my vintage cookbook, with El Rancho's recipe for Spanish Omelet. I always carry a cookbook, just in case there's a possibility of a fun encounter.
Even if the server is way too young to care, or the atmosphere indicates we'll have a dull reaction... I take the risk and pull it out. So even though our server spoke little English and I could hardly explain why I carried a cookbook, I showed her the picture and recipe. Suddenly her eyes lit up. She laughed and rushed off to get the other servers and they all gathered around and took pictures. It was a success, even if they look very serious in this photo.
Sleeping Under the Stars
I'd like to say the spirits of all those old movie stars were swirling around us during the night. I actually slept well, so no ghostly visitors woke me.
We headed out at 8 the next morning and it was in the teens. We'd said good-bye to Leroy the night before, so we just had the hotel to say good-bye to. It was a fun stay.
What's Notable? It was the perfect hotel for someone who loves authentic, old hotel experiences AND old movie history! It was perfect for someone who doesn't want renovation and updates to cover up the past. And it was perfect for someone who wants the memory of a good people encounter to go along with their hotel stay.
Don and I loved this quirky place. We would stay again.
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!