Frank Lloyd Wright in Oklahoma!
We did it! Don and I finally spent a night in Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper! It's kind of embarrassing that Don and I never knew about this iconic building, that was constructed in 1956.
In the 1990's, our family lived in Tulsa, less than an hour away from Wright's 19-story tower. We didn't know about it. We also didn't know that Phillips Petroleum bought it, in 1981.
Interesting. Don turned down a job at Phillips, in 1977. Could he have ended up, with an office in Price Tower? I guess not. Phillips had some issues with the building and used it mostly for storage. Thankfully, they donated the building to Price Tower Arts Center, in 2000. Today it houses hotel rooms and much more.
Bartlesville & The Tower 2019
Don and I rolled into town on a Monday afternoon, in November. It was easy to spot the skyscraper. Oh, how I love that retro word!
FLW was never all about vertical buildings, but then the H.C. Price Company commissioned him in the fifties, to design a corporate office building... way out in Oklahoma! I have a feeling that this very view of the tower (with the street and shops) hasn't changed a whole lot, in 60+ years.
"The Tree That Escaped the Crowded Forest"
The sight of the lone tower was pretty dramatic as we approached. What an unusual design, even for Frank Lloyd Wright! In 1929, Wright created this tower idea, with hopes of building a 4-tower complex in NYC. When the Depression hit, he put his plans aside, until the 1950's
I'm no expert on the famous architect, but I know Frank loved his prairies. He must have been pretty enthused about adapting his plans and creating this building, in Oklahoma's prairie land.
Wright nicknamed the tower, the tree that escaped the crowded forest. The skyscraper wouldn't have looked nearly so tall and unusual, in a crowded city.
Cantilevered Reinforced Concrete Tower
We parked in the nearby lot and headed to the lobby. The asymmetrical building looked like it was balanced at the end of a diving board. I was ready to get a huge lesson in architecture and construction.
I recently learned about reinforced concrete at our hotel in Berkeley. (Previous post) Now I was ready to see what this "cantilevered" design was all about.
Nature and architecture! The tower was the tree trunk, with some kind of anchoring structure acting as roots. The floors, "cantilevered" from the core, like branches. The outer walls were actually hanging from the floors. All mind boggling to me!
The lobby was quiet and colorful! We passed some curious built-in chairs, before stepping into a stunning space, now called the Taliesin Room. Josue greeted us from behind the desk.
After checking us in, he kindly gave us a bit of a mini tour. It was Monday, which meant no regular tours and no restaurant. He was pretty delightful with his enthusiasm.
He sent us upstairs to see the their permanent museum. He pointed out the crazy angles in the stairs and the aluminum hand rail.
In the museum, we spotted a copper panel, like the greenish ones on the exterior. It was crazy to see the bright copper as it looked, before being treated to hurry the weathering effect.
What a treat to have this complimentary museum all to ourselves. Both of us loved the P-Tower model. Don studied it like an engineer. I looked at it with my dollhouse-maker-eyes. I love miniature things and how they're made.
Originally, most of floors in Price Tower were used for office space. I wonder what kinds of things cluttered that particular desk, 60 years ago?
"Willows and Reflections" Added in 1979
Josue insisted we needed a photo of the two of us, with the 25-ft long, cloisone mural.
We were happy to pose with the fabulous copper & enamel, willow scene. The branches hung behind us... their shapes and colors, "reflected" in the table! So gorgeous! But, now I sort of cringe to see our silly selves in our drab colors, invading that colorful scene!
Heading up to our room was an adventure! The oddly shaped core of the building, held 3 elevator shafts... or were there 4? I just remember standing in the hall center, surrounded by doors.
We grinned as we entered the tiny elevator, ready to ride to the 13th floor.
We stepped out to see a porcelain water fountain, a shiny, brass floor design and 4 guest room doors.
Our "Glass-Wrapped" Room!
The hefty door let us into our 430 sq-ft room. Today, there are 19 hotel rooms, but none in 1956. The upper floors had been office space and the Price Family penthouse. There had been apartments and shops and businesses below.
What a great office this would have been, back in the day. I wouldn't have minded a desk job, with all those windows to distract me. Lots of sunshine too! The sheer curtains kept us from being blinded by sunlight.
Once inside the confusing structure, we started to make connections with what we'd seen of the exterior. Those long, horizontal windows weren't so visible from the outside.
Once inside, we could actually open the windows to let in air. Some of the exterior copper panels worked like sun shades... just like leaves on tree branches! This was all pretty fun and curious!
Don and I were both giddy, absorbing every nook and cranny. The shape of the room, was playfully geometric. No right angles.
There were non-parallel lines everywhere, in the furniture, wallpaper and on the fabrics and carpet.
I counted 10 triangle-lights on the ceiling. There were triangle shapes on the wallpaper.
There was even a triangular waste basket, tucked into the mod desk. And look at all the electrical sockets. This 64 year old office space was built for today's technology!
Copper & Concrete
The dressing/bath end of our room was a fun mix of concrete, wood and copper. It was fun to see the exposed concrete floor with Wright's favorite, Cherokee Red.
I spotted lots of copper in the furniture, hanging light fixtures and towel rack, in the sink and vanity area.
Love a Quirky Bathroom!
I'm all about the memories. I'm happy to put up with some inconvenience, to have a memorable experience. I won't forget our bathroom, with its tiny green tile.
The toilet was mounted from the wall. A cantilevered toilet? Maybe not. But it amused me. Don't jails have toilets like that? And copper pipes, holding our toilet paper and towels! Love it! All was clean and fine with me!
Our oddly-shaped shower couldn't have been cuter, with its triangle shelf and seat! I was too impatient to wait for the hot water, so took a cold one... kind of like I was in jail. Don showered next and said it was wonderfully hot. And how about that great corner window?
We had a fabulous view from the bathroom window. Later when outside, I spotted our corner windows, surrounded by those greenish copper panels! The "patinated" copper represented the "leaves" of Wright's escaped tree!
I can't say enough about the windows. All 18 were trimmed in aluminum, with handles that reminded me of my grade school. We opened some up at 4:00 pm and heard church bells and a train whistle.
Having open windows and good weather, was a huge treat. Having window views from the 13th floor, was even better.
It was fun to see the buildings in Bartlesville and to wonder which were there, when Price Tower was built.
It seemed pretty peaceful for a small city.
Sunset and Nighttime
Since the bar was closed, we made our own drinks and toasted to the sunset, over the distant prairie landscape. Were those Osage Hills, far off?
The prairie view would have been a little more dramatic 60+ years ago, but we could see the horizon! It was dark before we headed out for dinner. The town was quiet, but we found the lively Painted Horse Bar/Cafe, within walking distance.
We slept well with our windows open and woke to the sound of church bells. 8 chimes... at 7:00. Funny.
We headed to floor 16, for the complimentary breakfast. The door to the hotel bar was locked, so I couldn't get a peek. But we at least got to experience the dining space.
I think we were the only hotel guests. We had the pick of all tables in two rooms. The soft jazz music was lovely.
The outdoor areas looked pleasant. We sipped our coffee and enjoyed the view. The breakfast options were not a bit exciting, but from everything I've heard, the restaurant itself, is worth a trip to Bartlesville. Next time!
Don and I had to take off before the first tour at 11. It seemed sinful to leave without seeing the upper floors, with Harold Price's penthouse and the corporate offices. But we did a little more exploring on our own. I was so tempted to go out the emergency exit and use the exterior stairs, inside the triangular enclosure. I've always loved climbing stairs in interesting places. When I was a kid I had a notebook filled with the stairs I'd counted in various towers, domes and parks...
But these stairs were off limits. They were considered unsafe, back when Phillips Petroleum bought Price Tower in 1981.
I'm a little confused about the timing, but Phillips basically did not end up using the building for much more than storage. These unsafe stairs were evidently one of the reasons.
One Last Look
We checked out at 10, knowing we'd have to come back another time, for a tour and a meal and a visit to the art gallery. But we took one last look from the outside.
Maybe we can return in the spring of 2020 when the nearby park is completed. We can do all we missed, plus have a picnic with a view of the 221-foot tree!
The obvious, is that we stayed in a masterpiece, created by Frank Lloyd Wright. I don't believe you have to be a fan of the famous architect to enjoy the adventure of staying at this unique hotel.
It helps to have an open mind and to let your imagination enjoy! Imagine the past and visualize the Madmen era, when men in suits smoked at their desks... push aside the claustrophobic worries and enjoy the elevator and showering adventures......be open to observing and exploring and learning about all that was created by a man in his 80's!
This was a pretty amazing stay for about $145. in 2019! You don't have to be rich either!
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.
Women's City Club
I searched the internet for a curious hotel. I was delighted and confused to find this one, which was once called Berkeley Women's City Club! A Club with hotel options? I know that's not all so confusing, but I've never stayed in one.
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!
When we arrived, I was surprised to see the 6-story building, sort of tucked into a neighborhood. It was hard to view the whole thing, with all the tree growth. I borrowed this photo from a book. 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 had read a little about Julia Morgan, the famed engineer/architect, who designed this building and over 700 others. Not only was Ms. Morgan ahead of her time, being a woman architect at the turn of the century, but she led the way, in her use of reinforced concrete.
Poured concrete doesn't usually excite me, but Gothic architecture does. Julia Morgan brought both together, when she was commissioned to design The Club in 1927. 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. Julia Morgan was called in. Her skills with concrete were in demand. The badly burned interior of this fabulous hotel needed more than refurbishing.
20 years (and many buildings) later, Morgan designed the Berkeley Women's City Club, creating a totally different look, with her concrete. 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!
So we actually had 3 windows in our hotel room. It was a beautiful day and I was glad to be able to let in air, while taking in the view.
I could look right down on Durant Avenue and a yellow house. I could look out the other side and see a church steeple and campus buildings.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.
I'm not sure who used to sit in the viewing area to watch the swimmers. Were there swim meets?
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.
This lovely, narrow room had wicker seating and windows that looked out to the pool. By 6:00 the pool had gained a few entertaining lap swimmers, with very odd techniques. 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.
Coffee & Paper
I loved sipping my coffee from a cup & saucer, at a table with fresh flowers and white tablecloth. Mostly I was delighted to have a choice between the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times... instead of a blaring TV.
I was extra thrilled when I glanced down and read, "Ginsberg recalls her fights for equal rights..."
What? The 86 year old Justice had been in Berkeley, the night before! 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. The Moorish-Gothic building was created by a woman so far ahead of her time! We didn't have to swim in the pool to enjoy it. It was amazing to admire!
Maybe a weekend stay would have been more fun, with activity and food/drink options. But I will always remember our quiet wandering, in the building and around campus. 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!
40th Anniversary at The Fairmont!
On October 20th, Don and I drove to the top of Nob Hill to celebrate our 40th anniversary! We drove up to the classy entrance with the colorful flags and we valet parked for 76 dollars! That's more than we spent renting our wedding venue, in 1979!
But we were ready to splurge for a night in the grand hotel, that became the social hub of activity when it opened in 1907... at least, until the Great Depression. Yikes! 76 dollars would have bought lots of food and clothing for a needy family in the 1930's.I didn't allow myself to dwell on that too much, when we headed from our rental car into the land of luxury!
The enormous lobby was as magnificent as we remembered. Don and I briefly visited the hotel 3 years ago and put it on our "must stay here" list.
I remembered the swirling marble columns. They almost looked edible, like chocolate-caramel cheesecake!
The gilded ceiling detail made me think of empty frames.
I wanted some high scaffolding so I could pretend to be Michelangelo. What could I have painted inside those golden shapes?
We checked in at the desk and I asked a few questions. I was sad when I discovered the key boxes were just for show. I really wanted to use a brass key with a gold tassel.
I made sure to ask about the hours for the famed Tonga Room, that Don and I visited in 2016. Our desk clerk was excited to tell us the tropical bar/restaurant was open at 5, with live music at 8. Yay! Luckily we had packed the proper clothes for Tiki Time!
There is something like 55,000 square feet of "function space" at the Fairmont. That doesn't include the restaurants. The place is big... 591 guest rooms & suites! We got a little lost just looking for the proper elevator. But wandering is very fun at The Fairmont.
We took in lots of details in the lobby. The glass vases on the center table were lovely.
Earthquake of 1906
I wandered early the next morning to take photos without people. It's easier to imagine the past with no guests on cell phones. The palms in their decorative containers, looked very vintage Hollywood to me!
I tried to imagine what this space looked like in 1906, when the great earthquake hit San Francisco. The hotel had just been completed, but it took another year of repair before they opened. The building survived the earthquake, but the fires that followed, damaged the interior.
I have always loved a grand staircase! Looking upward, I wondered about the famous people who have walked down the marble stairs.
Nearly 20 presidents have stayed at the Fairmont. Nearly all from President Taft to President Obama, have been guests. They probably used a secret elevator.
There have been more celebrities than presidents though. I heard that Frank Sinatra always requested the same room on the second floor, so he didn't have to use the elevator. Imagine meeting him on the stairs!
I couldn't resist climbing! How often do you get to walk up marble steps and slide your hand over such a sleek railing. No one during our visit seemed to be using the stairs, so I felt like a little kid alone on the landing, spying down on my parents' party.
Statues and Mirrors
I wouldn't want to live in a palace with such decadence, but I loved being a guest for a night. I had to pause to study the marble lion and gold mirror. There are some surprises in that mirror frame, when you look closely.
The hotel's interior made a dramatic change in 1945. Dorothy Draper was the most famous interior designer of the time and she was called in for a major facelift. She brought in her "Modern Baroque" and transformed the hotel with her bold red fabrics and black lacquer. It wasn't until 1999, that they removed her red carpet that covered the marble lobby floors.
The Venetian Room
We only had a quick peek in the Venetian Room. Evidently Ms. Draper's remodeling of this grand ballroom was really what got the hotel out of its slump in 1947. It became quite the dinner club.
Many big names performed on the stage, from Nat "King" Cole to Tina Turner. Tony Bennet first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in this room. (Or so I was told) There was a statue of him out in front, that was installed for his 90th birthday in 2016. It was a sweet looking image, surrounded by grass and flowers. But why didn't the artist have Tony's mouth open, just a bit? I wanted to see him sing.
I love a good circus theme, so I was pretty curious about this fabulous Art Deco Bar.
There were 9 colorful murals, painted by the famed Bruton sisters, in 1933. This was years before Ms. Draper did her decorating thing!
This whimsical space with all its curves and colors, was the first bar to open in San Francisco after the repeal of Prohibition. Sadly it was not open to us, during our stay.
Women of The Fairmont
The murals in the Cirque Bar were created by two sisters, but I wonder if the bar allowed women when it first opened. Hmm? Another set of sisters was involved in the hotel even earlier. Virginia and Tessie Fair had the hotel built to honor their wealthy father, after he died. James Graham Fair had owned the property perched high over San Francisco. The "mont" after the family name, refers to the hotel's mountain-like location. I've been to a few Fairmont hotels and never knew the name history.
This is a photograph of Esther Bruton, beside one of the Cirque paintings. Years before, another woman took on an even bigger role with the hotel. After the earthquake of 1906, architect/engineer Julia Morgan was hired to help tackle the issues of the heavily damaged interior. Her expertise with reinforced concrete came in very handy. Cheers to all the women of Fairmont!
Finding Our Room
We could have booked a room in the 23-story tower, that was added in 1961. The views are spectacular from most of those rooms.
But Don and I always prefer the historical experience (and sometimes the price) of staying in original rooms. We headed up to the third floor and down a hall, with some nice black and white photographs. When we stepped into our room 332, a classy photo image greeted us in the entry.
The room itself wasn't grand or over the top, but it was large and nicely updated, with more photos of San Fran scenes. Love it! The bathroom wasn't memorable, but I appreciated having a tub.
The bed, pillows and linens were comfy soft. There were good lamps and tables and a large TV. The colors were calm. No signs of Dorothy Draper.
There was a surprise Anniversary treat, waiting on a plate! The "N" was a chewy brownie and the chocolate covered strawberries were juicy-sweet. Luckily our comp snack made the "room bar" goodies less tempting. Don laughed when he picked up the tiny Pringles container. "Seven dollars?"
We didn't have a Tower Room with a view of The Bay, but we had a great view of the rooftop "Square" below.
The view was like a picture and I loved looking at it, through the original wood-framed window. The thick window was the only thing in the room that reminded me that our hotel was over a century old.
In the evening and morning, we enjoyed a little time exploring the rooftop garden that we could see from our room. Green grass, flowers, palms, trickling fountain... and an herb garden and honey beehives.
The garden gave us a good place to check out the architecture of the old hotel. We never figured out which room was ours. It did make us wonder about the rooms with terraces!
More Views From Square
When I walked to the railing of the garden, I found the best view.
What fun watching cable cars going up and down Powell Street, just below. And there was Coit Tower and the Bay! That view inspired us to do some walking the next day.
Evening at Fairmont!
By 5:00, we were in our tiki clothes and on our way to the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar!
We headed down the elevator to find the basement lounge which opened in 1945, when the hotel's pool was cleverly transformed into a Polynesian lagoon.
Here's a photo from 3 years ago, when Don and I sipped tiki cocktails and grinned at the floating band boat. We laughed each time a thunderstorm rumbled down on the water!
No Tonga Time for Us!
On the evening of our anniversary, we headed past some vintage displays and moved towards the glowing space. Then we were stopped by a man who announced, "We are closed for an event. Sorry." My jaw dropped. The man didn't really seem to care that we'd been told at the desk that it opened at 5. He wasn't impressed that it was our 40th anniversary and we'd come from Houston. He certainly didn't get the significance, when I told him I'd bought my flamingo dress online just for this night! But he did take our photo and yes we smiled.
It would have been easier to take the news, if the doors had been closed. But we were able to see the Microsoft "event people" sitting around on laptops, using the space like an airport lounge. In fact Microsoft was using almost every event space in the hotel. I'm still trying not to be mad at Microsoft.
But, there was no time for sulking. We headed up another grand staircase.
The marble stairs brought us up to the Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.
When we visited 3 years ago, a piano player performed under the middle of 3 domes.
There was no piano music at 5:30 on our anniversary night, but the 3-domed space was lovely. Plus it was open. We can't take things like that for granted. In fact the whole Laurel Court space was closed down for 6 decades.
We made a quick costume change, (I just grabbed a sweater) and returned to the lounge where we made a toast to ourselves with French 75s! We thought about dining in the rounded room with ionic columns and murals... but we decided to move on.
Off to Explore!
We celebrated the fact we were staying in the one of the best locations in San Francisco and we took off walking.
We had a drink at the top of Sir Francis Drake Hotel and we had a ridiculously fun, retro bite at Sears Fine Food!
Then we headed towards our hotel, but made a stop just across the street, at the Mark Hopkins. Drinks at "Top of the Mark" and then back to The Fairmont, where the flags welcomed us back.
Morning at Fairmont
The next morning, we woke to lovely weather. We enjoyed our comfy hotel until late morning, then took advantage of our location once again. The hotel held our bags and allowed us to keep our car in valet until 4!
We headed off, walking DOWN Powell Street towards Fisherman's Wharf... with detours to Grace Cathedral and Chinatown. We ate lobster rolls and rode the cable car up to Nob Hill. One more perk of our hotel... All cable car lines meet at the top of Nob Hill, near the hotel.
We had a great 24 hour stay at The Fairmont. Besides the glitches (due to Microsoft's takeover) the hotel was lovely and we were treated well. But honestly our stay had more to do with the hotel's incredible history and our own silly fun, exploring and absorbing.
There's so much we did not see or sample, but we had a ball... without making use of any of the numerous, ballrooms! We didn't stay in a lavish suite, or even explore the Tower. We didn't get pampered in the spa and we didn't even wine and dine properly. We might have had a little more royal treatment if we'd spent more, but we left happy and full of memories and knowledge!
Did I mention those international flags on the porte-cochere? In 1945 The Fairmont hosted meetings that led to the creation of the United Nations! Wow! I love hotels with history!
Sweet Hotel in a Tiny Town
In October, Don and I spent one night in a cozy historic hotel, that was once called the Temperance House. The hotel was built in 1878, when the Mendocino area was a booming, logging community.
I read there were 20,000 people living in the area. Hard to believe!I imagine the town had plenty of saloons and hotels back in the day. Our sweet 2-story hotel overlooking the Pacific, was probably the only one that didn't smell like liquor.
141 Years Later
When we pulled into town last month, the sweet yellow structure looked like a building from an old Western movie set... except for those cars.
Today Mendocino has only about 900 residents, but tourism keeps things busy. Since it was October, we were able to pull up right in front. I think it's a different story in the summer, when there are more tourists than parking spaces.
Fifties to the Seventies
By mid-century, the dying lumber industry caused the town to shrink. Loggers were replaced by artists... at least that's what I heard. The "hippie migration" of the early seventies brought a whole new kind of living to the area. Hollywood also came to Mendocino, to shoot movies, like "Summer of 42".
We didn't spot any communes around Mendocino, but there were evidently many, back in that time. I need ask my sister. I can still remember her talking about this small town, when she visited in 1976. Jennifer didn't say anything about the old hotel, but it was nearly a century old by the time she visited the town.
It was fairly quiet in the parlor when we arrived around 4. We stepped inside to see some of the renovations that took place in 1975 when the rundown property was purchased, by R.O. Peterson.
I glanced up at the stained glass above us as we headed towards the desk. I'm guessing that was added in the seventies. I wish I could have found some before and after photos.
Don got us checked us in, through the window of the lovely Victorian lobby desk. The staff was friendly and not nearly as formal as the decor surrounding us.
I peeked in the bar, knowing it would be crowded later. I liked the little gremlin holding up the back bar. Obvious there was nothing original here, since The Temperance House served no liquor.
The polished steel fireplace was my favorite. It wasn't original to the hotel, but I believe it was over 200 years old.
A storm was predicted, so Don and I grabbed two chairs right in front of the fire. I was hoping for some real weather drama, but we only had a light rain.
The restaurant was all prepared and ready for guests at 5. It was Friday, so we expected some crowds.
We were warned by a head waiter (or someone who seemed to be in charge) to arrive before 8 if we wanted to be served. He explained that October was not their busy season, so they close when there's no business. We kept that warning in mind.
Tables by the Window
We decided to go for the less formal dining tables, in the parlor.
We grabbed a table by a window, although it was dark by then. My clam chowder was yummy and huge. Don's crab cakes were good, but tiny.
The hotel website was a little confusing, since they described rooms in the original hotel and luxury Garden Suites in a different area.
We of course chose the oldest part of the hotel and yes, it did feel old! Our room #9 was in the back, at the end of a long and narrow hall. The warped floor was covered in worn carpet and creaked a bit on our journey.
I'm pretty sure we had the smallest room in the hotel. The flowered bed spread was faded and the satiny shams and dust ruffle had tear or two. But we did have a bathroom, behind two grand doors! (Some of the rooms had shared baths in the hall)
Beside our tall window, sat the only chair in the room. I tried to sit once and the thing scared me with its sway. I let it hold my sweater instead.
The window looked out to the back of the property. I was sorry that it had been painted closed. But luckily the weather was decent and our room wasn't too stuffy. I think heating and cooling issues are common.
We could access the back porch through a door in the hall. Somewhere back in all the garden growth, was the additional guest housing. Since rain was starting up, we didn't make good use of the garden.
I wondered about the wooden water towers that were scattered all over the small town. There's history to these towers, I'm sure.
From the rear, we could see the hotel's large tower and the curious shape of the old building.
The Front Balcony
I was a little jealous of the rooms that looked out on the front balcony.
However there was access to the balcony for all guests. Maybe I wouldn't have wanted a room, with guests sitting right outside my window.
Checking it Out
Don and I always make good use of hotel porches and verandas.
We had hoped to have a glass of wine in the evening, on this one.
But the evening rain prevented that. Instead, we took our coffee out to the porch in the morning.
What an amazing view!
Our very favorite hotel memories include stays where we enjoyed the hotel AND its surroundings. In the morning, Don and I made good use of the area around our hotel!
It's easy to see why movies have been filmed here! How is it possible that we simply walked out the hotel door and saw all this, on a morning stroll?
This hotel stay was not about the hotel room. Our hotel stay was also not about the people we met. Surprisingly, we really hardly spoke to anyone in, or near this hotel!
Our memory of this hotel will be about the cozy fireplace in the parlor and the view from the upper porch AND the peaceful walk the next morning. Good memory for $143!
Storybook Hotel in a Storybook Village
Don and I take turns finding hotels, when planning our road trips. I wasn't thrilled when he said, "I booked the Victorian Inn, in Ferndale." Ferndale sounded like some hick town in a sitcom.
The Victorian Inn, didn't sound like a very creative name. I figured this would be yet another cutesy B & B, with lace and red velvet and lots of the owner's favorite knick knacks.Then I looked on the website and saw the immaculate two-story hotel, with all its trim.
On Main Street Since 1890
It was hard to believe the hotel was nearly 130 years old. It almost looked like something created for Disney World's Main Street.
The solid structure, known as the Russ Building, originally housed the Ferndale Bank on the first floor. The second floor held single rooms, suites, water closets and fireplaces. The Stick Style Eastlake Victorian, was built of Redwood on a brick foundation.
Decorated Bay Windows
The elaborate Italianate detail surrounding the windows, was stunning.
The hexagonal window was the most impressive. I found a photo from 1891, that showed a tower, extending up from that corner window. No cone shape above the window now, but still amazing!
Finding the Door
The double doors on the corner had a sign that sent us to a side entrance.
We followed the iron, hitching post horses and found a door leading to an entry, between lobby and restaurant.
In the entry, we found a friendly statue of a champion mule, named Loretta Jones. Loretta evidently once belonged to the current owner. I kind of liked her, with her festive leaf necklace. I greeted her every time we passed.
We found the check-in desk in the back of Silva's Jewelry Store. That seemed odd at first, since it seemed like a grand hotel, should have a grand lobby.
But it made more sense when I remembered this area had been a bank before it was a hotel. It made even more sense when I learned that the current owners were gemologists long before they were hotel owners. They fell in love with the old hotel years ago and made Ferndale their new home.
We checked in and carried our bags past my horse friend and up a stairway. The second story held about 15 rooms.
A skylight brightened the dramatic landing with all its dark woodowork.
I'm not sure what was behind the double doors at the end of the hall.
Maybe it was the fancy corner suite, with the fabulous bay window.
Room #210 - The Olivia
Our room actually had 2 doors. The first was near the cuckoo clock. It had some elaborate woodwork around the transom, but no number and no door knob.
The next door was the entrance to our guest room... which had once been 2 rooms. When the second story was renovated, rooms were all expanded. Now, every other door opens to a room.
I had already peeked on the website to see our room, but I was still pleasantly surprised.
The room was much larger and fresher and comfier than I expected.
I'm all for authentic furniture, but it's a treat to have a luxurious king bed, instead of an antique standard. The red velvet couch was much more comfortable than it looked. The 14 foot ceilings removed any gloom, that an old hotel might offer.
Books or TV?
I had to laugh at the tiny TV on the cabinet across from the bed. I think they should have hidden that little modern reminder, inside the cabinet.
As always, I was delighted that we had two bedside tables with lamps. That's common in chain hotels, but not expected in historic ones. I'd rather read a book than watch a tiny TV. The hotel was very quiet, so I appreciated the floor fan, which had a nice hum for sleeping.
Two Bathroom Pics
I always keep bathroom expectations low in old hotels. But, we had a decent sized bathroom with a window that went practically from floor to ceiling.
I liked the bathroom so much I had to take 2 photos. I especially liked the little pair of marble top tables... for our own stuff. It was nice having a tub and ample fluffy towels. If we'd needed a flashlight, there was one attached to the nightlight. If we'd needed a plunger (yikes) there was one nicely hidden inside a cloth bag, tied with a ribbon. Classy! No sarcasm there.
I do love windows and we had a few. It was nice having a view of the pretty town and sky, in the evening and morning.
Best of all, the window let me study the intricate trim up close. Were those Christmas lights, outlining the building? I should have stepped out after dark to have a peek.
It was dark soon after we checked in. There might have been some dining options in the small town, but we checked out the hotel's cozy tavern.
We sat at the old leather-top bar and took in the festive fall decor on the back bar. I was happy to see no fake cobwebs. We've stayed at too many old hotels in October and I get tired of that.
Don and I celebrated with a Martini and Cosmo, made by our bartender named Brandy. We figured she gets enough comments about her perfect bartender name, so we talked about other things.
I spotted a nearby couple drinking coffee and decided they must be the owners. The place wasn't busy, so I headed over to the table beneath the beautiful ships and inquired. I was right, and Lowell said I made his day, when I raved about the hotel.
We watched a few people come and go through the doorway to the Dining Room. "VI" was the name of the restaurant. It took me a while to realize those weren't Roman numerals, but initials.
There was a cozy area around a fireplace and a large space filled with dining tables. But we decided to stay put in the tavern.
Baby Spinach and Sliders
Our meal was just right. My salad had squash, strawberries, walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette and Humboldt Fog cheese. Brandy had to explain that Humboldt was the county we were in... which gets a lot of ocean fog.
Don had pulled pork sliders. He happens to love pickles, so he was extra impressed. I loved the green apple coleslaw.
Before bed, we helped ourselves to coffee in the second floor sitting area. Decaf options meant I slept well in our luxurious bed, with humming fan.
In the morning, we got up early and walked around the charming town... or should I call it a village? There are over 200 Victorian buildings and a cemetery that climbs up a steep hill, on the edge of town. It was the perfect morning walk.
Breakfast was included with our stay, so took a window seat in the VI Restaurant. What huge windows!
Our eggs, bacon and potatoes were served by a sweet young "Texan" named Katie. We were delighted to share some Texas stories, mostly about her hometown of Bastrop. She had gone to school with our favorite young, talented blues musicians, The Peterson Brothers. Oh how I love surprise conversations when we're traveling. I wish she could have pulled up a chair.
Our stay at The Victorian was a package deal. I feel like we experienced the hotel and town, all together. The combination was just lovely, but it was it too perfect? I wondered, "What's the catch?"
During our morning walk, I kept an eye out for flaws. However, I didn't spot any tacky t-shirt shops or glitzy, ritzy, overpriced gift shops. I saw locals greeting one another on the sidewalk. I saw a resident or two in their yards. I even saw the pharmacist from Rexall Drugs, strolling down the walk with a mug of coffee in one hand and a dog leash in the other. He said "Good Morning!" with a big smile.
Okay, this hotel and town made me happy. I think we need to move!
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!