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Three hotels

Three hotels

by Wolf Pascoe on September 10, 2012

Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is the place for me
Santa Catalina, the island of Romance

–“26 Miles,” The Four Preps

What is it about old hotels?

According to my dream dictionary, a hotel is symbol for a transitory state of mind. But hotels have taken up permanent residence in my psyche and nothing I do will dislodge them.

The structure pictured on the right may or may not exist.

Some years ago the hospital where I work undertook a beautification campaign, and original paintings—one of this hotel among them–began appearing on corridor walls. At least, I think it’s a hotel. This is what I mean about permanent residence.

I think art is always a good idea, especially in a house of the sick. Art, real art, nudges medicine toward healing. Still, none of the paintings that showed up in our hospital did much for me, except this one. It was hidden in a corner alcove near the auditorium, where I’m sure no patients passed by.

I came to look at it again and again. The canvas is small, maybe eight by ten inches. That’s just right. Larger would assume too much. Small, you have to go looking for it.

It has to be a hotel, don’t you think? What else could it be, surrounded by forest under a mountain backdrop? What happens in such a place? Maybe your parents spent their wedding night there. Or mine.

Change, says a hotel, is the only constant.


Some day I will set a novel in this hotel. I’ve explored the island of Catalina on foot, bicycle, car, canoe, boat and airplane, but I never saw the fabled St. Catherine, which burned down after World War II.

To the left, the Casino seen from Descanso Beach, where the Hotel was.

If you’ve seen the film Chinatown, you’ve seen the Casino. It’s where Noah Cross, played by John Huston, is visited by Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson. If you haven’t seen Chinatown, you should.


What’s the appeal of the St. Catherine? That it was a secret island hideaway? That Bogie slept there? That it was beautiful and it’s lost?

All I know is that when I need a hotel for a dreamscape, I rent the mythical St. Catherine and bring my psychic crew there.


I’m always on the beach, looking through foliage at glowing lanterns hung from the windows. The people going back and forth whisper of steamy, unsavory doings on the third or fourth floor. But I never make it off the beach.


The Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino still stands, despite many fires. It’s owned now by a religious organization, so its glory days are over. Its glory days were over a long time ago.

Unlike the hotel in the hospital painting and the St. Catherine, I actually visited the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, with my parents and two sisters. I was very young and don’t remember much. There was a large lobby where my father and I played checkers. The lobby also had a TV you could watch, the only one in the establishment.

There was a forest fire. Everyone huddled in the lobby, looking out out the huge glass windows at the flames and smoke. I remember not being afraid, not connecting the dots. The next day the grounds were a shambles. The pool was filled with outdoor furniture the staff had dumped there to keep from burning.

We went home and never came back.

There were steam baths at the hotel. My father showed them to me before the fire–cavernous, black caves where people sat in white vapor.

In later years, I thought I had imagined the caves, but others remembered as well. A local TV reporter visited the site and filmed it.  The steam building is gone, but the foundations remain. The exact catacombs where my father sat.

I found photographs of movie stars at Arrowhead Springs. Elizabeth Taylor, married at 17, spending the night in the honeymoon suite with Nicky Hilton. Bogart by the pool, the same pool they threw the furniture in.

I like the photo from Life Magazine best—some un-famous people posing in the mysterious steam caves.

Steam, apparently, made you beautiful.



After Life




Tour the Arrowhead Springs Hotel. See the magnificent lobby! How I wish there were a tour of the St. Catherine as well.




Speak to me of hotels. Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara September 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I love old hotels like that – lucky you that you got to stay with one (and survive the forest fire!) To me, they are works of art in themselves. That’s why I love visiting the Driskill in Austin, despite the ghost stories. I stayed in the Galvez in Galveston years ago, in between its heyday and it’s makeover, but I could still feel the history and see it’s glamour, through the shabbiness. Yes, I think that tiny piece of hospital art is a hotel. How cool if you could find out where it is – or was!


Wolf Pascoe September 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Ah, the Driskill–site of my rendezvous with your family! Wonderful old lobby.


Jim Parkevich September 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hi Wolf,
Those hotels sound beautiful for their day. Too bad they only exist in your memories. Let me try to help…take that wonderful Mrs. of yours and that rascally kid and make your way, one day, to Mackinac Island (pronounced makinaw) On the converging straights of the great lakes of Huron and Michigan…between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the state..Stay at the “Grand Hotel”..the largest wooden structure in the world…..a front veranda the length of a football field, beautiful recreated rooms harkening back to the 19th century of elegance. Formal dining in the evening..Please, men in Tux and ladies in formal gowns…..silver settings, candles, fine linen table cloths…Nick and Nora will love it. Plenty to see on the Island…NO CARS ALLOWED..you must pack your bags and leave your car parked at Traverse City…then take a wonderful ferry excursion about an hour to the Island. Plenty of horse drawn wagons, bicycle rental….beautiful shopping in “downtown”. Take a 5 mile drive on the Mackinac Bridge…over water one evening !!!
And don’t forget to take the family to “Malabar Farms” near Mansfield, Ohio..
This was the home of”Louis Bromfield” A novelist turned ecological farmer. A beautiful area of wilderness Ohio……”Bogey and Bacall ” were married in the main house..Would it not be wonderful to stand with your lady on that very spot
and tell her you would marry her all over again ?? Here’s lookin’ at you kid..


Wolf Pascoe September 11, 2012 at 12:11 am

If Bogie was there, I’m there. Sounds like heaven. But do I really have to wear a tux to dinner???


The Exception September 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I was all ready to leave a comment before I read the one left by Jim and now I am ready to pack my bags and use his comment as a travel guide. Just awesome.


Wolf Pascoe September 15, 2012 at 1:13 am

I’ll meet you there.


Kristen @ Motherese September 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Those are some pretty fine looking un-famous people.

The hotel in the painting reminds me of The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs where I accompanied my dad on a business trip when I was little. I don’t really remember what the hotel actually looks like, but, in my mind’s eye, it’s beautiful and imposing, next to a lake, and surrounded by trees and mountains.

I second Jim’s nomination of the Grand Hotel. And I’m grateful to him for his nod toward Malabar Farms, just a hop, skip, and a jump for me and I’ve never been. Oh, the shame.


Wolf Pascoe September 15, 2012 at 1:17 am

I looked up the Broadmoor. Now there’s another hotel I have to visit.


Kate September 14, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Hotels were so very rare in my childhood, but when we drove to Big
Bend we would stay at the Gage in Marathon. Was it grand and imposing? I don’t think so. But it was a refuge after the long drive and a jumping off place to our camping and hiking adventures.

To this day they feel magic to me – liminal places on the way to good things.


Wolf Pascoe September 15, 2012 at 1:28 am

Been looking up definitions of liminal. The one I like best? threshold


Pamela September 15, 2012 at 6:45 am

Beautiful and mysterious tribute to these hotels. I know what you mean. When we lived in Coronado I was mesmerized by the Hotel Del.


Wolf Pascoe September 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Did you ever see the movie, The Stunt Man? All about the Del.


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