It doesn't look like the old motor courts and motels I remember from when I lived in Florida as a kid. But this 196-room boutique hotel had a nice mix of styles.
The huge lobby had lots of sitting areas, all very bohemian-modern. Or maybe should say, it seemed a little Sixties-Snobby. That term I just made up from watching Jerry Lewis movies as a kid. All the snooty, sophisticated characters who were mean to Jerry lived in modern penthouses with lots of super mod decor!
I grew up in a house with antiques, so the only modern furniture I owned was the lovely "marble" swivel coffee table, that went into my dollhouse. That "Petite Princess" brand of toy furniture looked a lot like some of the stuff I saw in the lobby... which was luckily pretty empty. It was October and no spring break crowds!
The patio rooms were just steps from the lovely pool. It was peaceful on that evening in October, but as we wandered through the tidy rows of lounge chairs I was reminded of how un-peaceful it might be with a spring break crowd. Closer to the beach and "shack-bar" there was a handy little platform, holding some sort of creepy mattresses...for lounging, or whatever. I don't think I'd want a poolside room in March or April.
Our Groovy Room!
I'm pretty sure this is the first surfer-style room I have on my Notable Nights list! One wall was covered with a colorful surfing mural. The green wall figures lured us towards the dandy chair with mod fabric. The window had Venetian blinds and drapes with groovy green fabric. The view looked out on our courtyard, which actually had some lovely trees and landscaping.
Pink Tile & Surf Board
I love old tile in bathrooms, especially when a soap dish and toothbrush holder are incorporated! Was that color a flesh tone? Pink, I hope. I've never had a surfboard in the room. I have a feeling that was not to be borrowed like a hotel towels. But it was tempting, since I could hear the gulls and surf through open windows!
By the Beach
Again, I'm focussing on the peaceful images. My sunset with dunes photo does not reveal the huge beach nearby. There were volley ball nets and sunburned tourists... This is the scene I choose to remember.
Later that evening, Don and I enjoyed some drinks and appetizers at the restaurant/bar attached to the lobby. It was a treat to enjoy the laid back atmosphere without throbbing music and "kids" who would have called us Gram and Gramps. But I wouldn't mind a glimpse of that scene just for fun.
A Sad Reunion in Springfield, Missouri
Two and a half years ago, my siblings and our families, gathered at this odd, yet comforting Bed & Breakfast. We had come "home" to bury my mother, traveling from 6 different states. I didn't grow up in Springfield, but it was the town my parents and the 4 kids returned to for holidays and vacations. Our family moved from state to state, but grandparents always stayed put!
I had expected quiet, since the host on the phone had said the compound had once been owned by an order of cloistered nuns who focused on "humility and gentleness". But as we creaked up the teak staircase to the second floor hall, it seemed almost too quiet... like The Shining.
So Much Space
The hallway was long and wide enough to hold numerous pieces of Victorian style furniture, including a pump organ. A bit of Christmas decor hung over windows and filled table tops. The mansion, built in 1892 had 13 suites, each with a bath. That seemed awfully extravagant for a convent.
The Veranda Room
Don and I were pretty delighted to find our spacious room decorated with a lit up Christmas tree. In fact all the rooms had one. We also had a ritzy door surrounded in stained glass that lead us to our own little veranda! Did they have 10 nuns per room?
Grand in its Time
As it turns out, this lovely home was bought by the "Visitation of Holy Mary " in 1906. It was built 125 years ago by millionaire, John O'Day for his bride. There were originally 35 rooms and 7 baths and they called it Park Place.
Quite the Doorway
Since we had such a fine room with a terrace and stained glass, I couldn't help but think this might have been a room reserved for the O'Day's special guests. But in truth all the rooms seemed pretty unique, some with fireplaces and sitting areas and one with a piano. I got to peek in quite a few rooms, since our family and kids took up so many of them.
My brother's room had a good table with lots of extra chairs. I very much needed this corner gathering (more than a chuckle over a bathtub) to relieve the stress leading up to our stay.
After 2 weeks of worry and planning and logistics and sadness, we were suddenly all together, spending time remembering our Mom. There was something comforting about this empty (except for our family) and spiritual place. We kept it respectful, since there is still some religious affiliation, with no liquor rules. Meaning, we respectfully packed up and carted off any plastic cups and bottles we may have used. I'm usually a rule follower, but we needed to toast our Mom.
A Chilly Morning to Reflect
I was up before the sun rose and gave myself time to walk the grounds and prepare my mind for the day. The cold air was like a slap in the face when I stepped out. A welcome jolt actually.
in honor of the elves she claimed to see on her misty mornings walks. It was eerie enough walking that early morning, without knowing that many of the nuns had once been buried on the grounds. Evidently they were "moved", sometime before the property was bought and turned into a B&B in 1990.
I wandered down the road under the odd metal arches, that must have been lit at night. I found a curious cottage that would have been a perfect elf house, had it been more the size of a shoebox. Then I headed back to the east entrance of the mansion where the sun was barely beginning to glow. I could spot our terrace above the stairs. And the tower!! If only I'd known that the tower held a guest room! Someday I'd like to stay in the Tower Room.
Convent, School, Church, Mansion
I crossed over to see the school/convent and church that had been built after the nun's purchase in 1906. The sun was warming things a bit, but the wind was giving the flag a workout and my hands were numb. I headed in to shower before breakfast.
Breakfast Before Heading Out
After having the place to ourselves the night before, it was a relief to have the staff on duty, preparing breakfast. Evidently they only do breakfasts on weekends, so we were lucky they made an exception for our small crowd. Our normally loud group was pretty quiet that morning as we sipped coffee and mentally prepared for the morning service.
But personally, I'll always associate the stay with Mom and family.
August 2007 with The Family
Don and I have visited the California Wine Country twice and both times were with our underage kids. In other words the big focus was not on wine. Our focus on this trip was a family wedding, so we didn't exactly end up making full use of the wine world or the natural baths at our historic resort. But we couldn't have asked for a better setting.
Coming from Texas, we tried to absorb as much of the heavenly California weather as possible. Don and his brother in law, Bernie made good use of the porches. I loved our homey cottage, with wicker seating and open windows!
There was nothing fancy about the inside. We hardly needed that much space or even a kitchen, but there was a nostalgic feel about the place. It reminded me of the motel/apartments my family of 6 used to rent when I was a kid in Florida. Of course they were never quite this nice.
Those worn out Florida motels never offered plush robes for the whole family. We made sure to put our spa robes to good use when we marched over to pool house for a night-time swim.
The Olympic-sized pool, built in 1913 was filled with thermal mineral water drawn from geysers on the property. We actually had a few lap swimmers in our group, but even at night the waters were too warm and our swimmers turned into loungers.
We got up early the next day to make full use of all the outdoor activities before wedding focus took over. The steam rising above the pool house was dramatic in the morning light.
Time to Play!
The shuffleboard brought me back to the Florida motel days. But those beachside courts never had mountains in the background! The tetherball brought me back to grade school days. Those memories weren't so pleasant, since tetherball is not so fun when you are short. I always lost quickly.
Pingpong and Croquet was more my style. And because all the other hotel guests seemed to be indulging in wine tasting excursions or expensive mud baths (using the property's volcanic ash soil) we had all these crazy games to ourselves.
I will always remember the hotel as an old fashioned retreat in the middle of a glorious landscape! It was such a calm and peaceful atmosphere for lounging around playing retro yard games! I've heard the resort has undergone some huge renovations recently. I wouldn't mind going back and sipping some wine... in a mud bath!
Venice, Florida in October 2012
Three years ago, we planned a Florida road trip to revisit some of the places I adored as a child. I had fond memories of Venice and I loved the idea of staying in a retro Florida-Style motel. However when we arrived I had to roll my eyes at this awful sign that overshadowed the quaint semi-circular office building.
The Tamiami Trail from Tampa to Miami
When most Floridians escaped to the north during summer months, our family traveled south (for Dad's work) from Tallahassee to Sarasota. We knew the north portion of The Trail well. Every neon sign and orange juice stand made the 4 kids (and our traveling pets) pretty giddy. My dream when planning the trip, was to stay at a motel on the actual Trail!
This is what Island Breeze used to look like! When built In 1951, it a had a cutesy name, a lovely grass courtyard with a fountain and most likely shuffleboard! The sign possibly was not neon, but it had a colorful fellow sleeping under a sombrero... which may not be considered politically correct, today. But these are the images that still make me sigh today. I'd like to sit a spell in one of those webbed lawn chairs.
At Least It's There!
I was glad we were able to find any place at all right on the TheTrail! When bigger interstates opened up, the motels and restaurants suffered. This very area turned pretty shady. The places that didn't have boarded up windows were becoming flophouses and homes to drug dealers and prostitutes. Around 2005, a few brave souls began to work on saving the area with renovations.
Nothing Too Fancy
The motel is not on the beach or they might have gone for a pricier fix-up. But I liked the simplicity of the flat roofs and painted cinderblock. We enjoyed the convenience of backing up to the door. There was even a covered walkway that we could have used as a porch to watch one of those great Florida thunderstorms.
Porch with Shells and a View... Sort Of
The TV and microwave reminded me that it wasn't 1967 anymore. But the doors and ceiling had the original knotty pine. This was their smallest and cheapest of 21 rooms. The woman at the desk tried to talk us into something "more comfortable" but we assured her it would be fine.
We didn't seem to have neighbors, so the porch was ours. We noticed a few shell collectors had decorated the windowsill. The rock and palm landscaping was pretty tidy and gave us a little view. But mostly it was just sad to see the parking lot, where there had once been a refreshing, green courtyard.
There was a tiny pool with a wooden table and grill, but I was eager to get to the beach. It was Venice Beach where my family spent many an afternoon filling paper cups with shiny black shark's teeth. "I found 94," Says an entry in my 1968 diary. I was sad to discover that 40 years later, the "Shark Teeth Capital of the World" has lost its loot. I didn't find a single one.
SOCO, might just be my favorite part of Austin. The wide road (at least when you cross it) has a dramatic view of the Capital.
Congress Avenue is lined with inviting shops, even for non-shoppers like me. There are kitschy junk/antique shops, an old fashioned barber, Big Top's for candy, Allens Boots for cowboy attire... street music, food trucks and fine dining! Of course if you stroll at dawn, you may have to wait a while for some activity.
The motel may be a little hidden behind a wall and large trees, but the sign refuses to be ignored. It's been there since 1938, when Jennie Eck inherited the land her parents purchased in 1888. Jennie and her husband built the motel to cater to folks enjoying the new craze of car travel! They sold to the Mr. & Mrs. Thompson in 1961.
I wish I had a photo of the inside of this 77 year old lobby when I checked in. I remember there was a sweet cat who greeted. There were areas for lounging and and enjoying free coffee and reading materil. But the gentleman at the counter made me feel a little shy with the camera. He probably was just shy himself. I read great things about the staff and the family that still owns the motel since the Mr. and Mrs. T passed away. I love family businesses!
When Dottye Dean inherited the biz from "Mom" Thompson in 1993, she left behind her opera singing career in San Francisco and used an artistic approach to renovating the motel. This rusty car garden, might not have been her artistic doing, but it might be a playful reminder of what Dottye found when she arrived at the motel Austin...
Nothing too fancy here, but it was fun to know we were in a room frequented by car travelers in the '40's and '50's. There was a small TV and the AC worked fine. There was no closet, but some hangers on a hook. And maybe those were original tile floors?
When Dottye inherited the motel, the property and rooms were being vandalized regularly. Don and I stayed in one of these small original rooms for around $80. Luckily the rooms were safe and clean, unlike a period in the 1980's, when SOCO was more known for drug dealers and prostitutes, than shoppers and diners. There have been renovations since Dottye took over, but much has stayed the same.
Our Tiny Room
Original 1939 Building
Lounging at the Retro Pool
You'll have to take my word for it, but this pool was indeed kidney-shaped! It was built in 1950, to keep up with the new motel built across the street. (now gone) Don and I fixed some cocktails brought them along for lounging in the awesome metal lounge chairs. We didn't need to make use of the red and white metal umbrellas, because the sun was going down. We stayed until the motel light was all aglow!
Never a Dull Stay!
The Best Part
The very best thing about staying at The Driskill, is that it still feels grand. I love the word grand and my grandmother used it a lot, always with a smile on her face. The Driskill was 10 years old when my grandmother was born in 1896. She never got to stay in the hotel, but she would have loved the Romanesque grandness!
Stained Glass and Pillars
It's hard to catch a glimpse of the lobby without people bustling through. If it's not filled with guests, then the staff is decorating for Christmas... or a costumed guide is passing through with a ghost tour group... or musicians and florists are heading towards the Mezzanine or a ballroom to set up for an event.
My Driskell Memories
All of my stays have involved some kind of reunion with family or friends.
The two stays with my mom and sister are the sweetest memories. Mom's Alzheimer's made travel difficult, but our overnights at The Driskill gave all 3 of us a rejuvenating boost. Mom loved the terrace best and we made many trips to use the rockers. Since Mom spoke a lot like her own mother in later years, I'm guessing she probably said, "This is grand!" while she rocked on that terrace.
Playing in the Room
A Fancy Room, with the Fam
One Tall Room
We didn't have a fireplace, balcony or stained glass like Ladybird once enjoyed in her suite, but we had soaring ceilings and art deco tiling and black marble in the bathroom. I was tempted to count all the "D"s on the glass, linens and tile. My favorite D was within an elegant design in the vintage sink! All in all it was a very festive setting for opening birthday gifts.
The Driskill Bar
Room With a View
It happened to be Halloween the day we gathered in the gracious lobby. Making the most of our hotel stay, we took one of the haunted ghost tours and learned some curious and creepy history.
Time for Costumes
We even came prepared with costumes and all 8 of us dressed up for dinner. The costumes that we saw later on 6th Street were a bit wilder than my "Aunt Ruth" costume. The street party below made it pretty difficult to sleep, but it was Halloween in Austin, after all. Don and I finally slept, only to wake to a phone call from our daughter. She had joined her friends for Halloween festivities after our family dinner. As the Street Party came to a close, it became clear to Heidi that hailing a cab to her apartment would be impossible. How lucky for her that she had parents (too tired to be grumpy) in a hotel room... just an elevator ride away!
Another Noisy Night
When we returned to the hotel after dinner, we joined the biker crowd in the bar for a little nightcap. If you've seen Brando in The Wild One, you might be imagining a more exciting atmosphere. The bikers at the Driskisll may have owned some loud bikes, but they were a pretty tame bunch. We headed up after a bit and the bikers on the street partied on for many more hours. Eventually the rumbling sounds lulled me to sleep and all was quiet in the morning.
With 7 stays, it's hard to decide. I guess I'm mostly impressed with the balance of Cattle Lovin' Texas Style and Old Fashioned Elegance.
Just look at the cow above the letter R! (That's Mr. Driskell's head high above the cow!) I love the fact that I have been able to experience this "grand" hotel with some of my favorite people! Wonderful hotel and wonderful people, with a few whacky motorcycles and costumed crazies thrown in!
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!