Monday, January 18, 2010

Hotels I Have Known

The San Carlos in Pensacola

Camp Connell, Ca. - Part of my family history is told through the hotels I stayed in with my father when I was a child.

He traveled constantly for a living for the better part of 30 years. For several years after he and my mother divorced he pretty much lived in hotels from Miami to Memphis, and from Charlotte to Meridian. I got to ride along with him during the summers from 1947 to 1952. There were few motels at the time, and no Interstate system, and hotels were good safe places to stay in the business center of America's towns.
The managers knew my dad, and he knew them and their families. Sometimes I was allowed to wander around exploring the hotel during the day while my dad worked. The employees kept an eye on me.
I doubt if he ever was told "no vacancy." The hotel managers took care of regular customers to the point that on one trip we ran into a convention-packed town, and the manager gave my father a room on the roof, usually reserved for employees.

His territory covered most of the South, and he went from town to town by car auditing the payroll records of companies for insurance firms. The reasons for the audits are a little vague to me today, but I recall it had something to do with workman's compensation.
Thumbing through a few of the hundreds of letters he wrote while traveling is like taking a tour of a bygone era of America. Hotels were actually places real people stayed; working people; families; relatives from out of town; and tourists. The hotels he stayed in usually catered to traveling men like him, but you could meet all sort of people in the lobbies. They were inexpensive, and the man at the front desk knew your name.

The Purefoy Hotel has disappeared, but it's famous cookbook lives via Google. The Purefoy Hotel in Talladega, Alabama, was a favorite of mine because it served food family style at long tables, and the menus promised "air conditioned bedrooms" and "We serve at least 30 of the following dishes each meal."

The Hotel Cherokee in Tallahassee, Florida, held mixed memories for me. I remember playing tourist at nearby Wakulla Springs while staying there. but I also remember being carsick and throwing up in the hotel lobby. My dad slipped the bellboy a dollar to clean up and we left.

Here are a few others I found in the old letters:
The Tutwiler in Birmingham
The Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the fancier places -- this was when the steel mills were still booming. It was owned by the Dinkler family and managed by Ira M. Patton.
The Benwalt Hotel in Philadelphia, Mississippi, promised "Courtesy/Cleanliness" as well as "Modern- Fireproof."
The San Carlos Hotel in Pensacola, Florida, "The Grey Lady of Palafox Street," had everything going for it: a good restaurant with fresh seafood, a waitress I still remember because for her bright red nails and the smiles she gave a little boy, and a radio station on the roof. Motels and the Interstate system killed it, unfortunately, and it was torn down in the early 1990s.
In Montgomery my dad often stayed with relatives, but when he needed a place he always stayed at The Greystone where Mr. L Loeb was manager.
The Hotel Collins in Jasper, Alabama, had been completely "RE-decorated and RE-furnished," and proudly showed the AAA symbol on its stationary.
The Evangeline Hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana, served flounder for dinner but my father was mildly irritated that the drug store down the street closed the ice cream parlor at 5 p.m., too early for his taste.
The Hotel Dixie-Sherman in Panama City, Florida, had one of the oddest combo names I found, probably hoping for loyal Southerners and Yankees to check in. That hotel was "offering every comfort and convenience in the better hotels."
There are too many to name or remember but here are a few more: The Biltmore Terrace on Miami Beach; The Houston Hotel in Dothan, Alabama (Peanut Capitol of the World); The Hotel Patten in Chattanooga, Tennessee (where it snowed in March) and the Hotel Stark in Starkville, Mississippi, where my dad saw Choctaw Indians and wrote "the men dress just like we do."
After the divorce my father always stayed at The Battle House, a rather grand old hotel in the heart of Mobile, Alabama, where I lived. I spent more time there than almost any other hotel, and got to know the service corridors, the bellmen, and which deck clerk would tolerate me sliding down the marble bannister which lined the entrance to the dining room.
The Battle House is one of the few that I am sure still operates, though in a somewhat different manner. It is now known as "Mariott's Renaissance Battle House Hotel and Spa" and probably charges more for a single room than it used to for a month-long stay.
The facade is exactly the same, including the balcony where we used to watch Mardi Gras parades, but everything else was torn down and a new high-rise constructed which now bears the name Battle House.

1 comment:

Pat Fritts said...

Hi Sanders

Did you ever go to the Peobody (sp) hotel in Memphis? That's the one wher they parade the ducks to the water at about 4Pm everyday.