PASADENA – Our family loves to travel all over. But we’re native Californians at heart and deeply appreciate the Golden State’s history.
My uncle owned a mining claim near Downieville, and we camped, fished and panned for gold when I was my son’s age.
For my birthday this weekend, we traveled south, however: Taking a road trip to Pasadena, where I was born and lived until I was a teenager.
My wife, son, puppy and myself (a close-knit group) all holed up at the Huntington Hotel for a deep recession discount, courtesy of travelzoo.com. It’s close to the hospital where I was born, also named the Huntington, as well as my childhood home.
My friend and I rode our bikes to the grand but aging hotel in the late ’60s and ’70s to get bumper stickers from KRLA, a radio station just off the lobby. In its brown hues, the hotel looked rather ghostly to us.
The Huntington has a colorful history, as described by a book in my library, “Reflections on Elegance: Pasadena’s Huntington Hotel since 1906.”
The hotel opened in 1907 as the Wentworth Hotel. Contractors were scarce, because most of them left for San Francisco to help rebuild the city after the Great Earthquake.
Railroad barron Henry Huntington bought the hotel in 1911 and hired prominent architect Myron Hunt to restore it.
The Huntington prospered in future decades but almost was doomed in the mid-’80s, because its structure was not up to seismic standards.
Not to let that happen, the community rallied behind a restoration effort, including a citizen’s group, “Defenders of the Huntington Hotel.” In 1987, Pasadena residents approved a ballot measure to demolish the hotel but restore much of its grandeur.
We have two historic hotels in our community, the Holbrooke in Grass Valley and National in Nevada City. Both hotels are up for sale, and one — the Holbrooke — is on the verge of closing.
I’m hoping both will get a longer lease on life under new or expanded ownership, because they are gems to our historic downtowns.
Both hotels are steeped in California history. PG&E was created at the National, and colorful characters including Mark Twain stayed at both. They are among the oldest continually operating hotels west of the Mississippi.
A downtown hotel is an anchor to commerce, whether the city is big or small. Have you ever been to the Commercial Hotel in Elko, Nev? It has a polar bear in the lobby.
In our community, a lot of money — yes, we might have to welcome some out-of-town investors — and a grassroots effort to recognize both of our historic hotel’s importance can lead to needed improvements.
We need to rally around our hotels, just as the citizens of Pasadena did. We can do it but are we up to it?