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Ringo Boitano: 4 Historic Hotels

the Le Château Frontenac Hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Quebec skyline Le Château Frontenac dominates the Québec City skyline. Courtesy: Québec Tourism

Four Historic Hotels
By Ringo Boitano

“The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.”
- George Bernard Shaw

“This is an elegant hotel! Room service has an unlisted number.”
- Henny Youngman

hotel is a lot like a person. Both are living and breathing entities with experiences that are uniquely their own. Like a person, a hotel is full of memories. They have histories that only they can understand. First impressions are important. Sometimes the façade is misleading, with an interior offering no substance; at other times it only gets better inside. Sometimes it takes time to appreciate. Like a person, a hotel requires maintenance – it needs to have its pipes cleaned and its windows washed. Often time major renovations are required just so that it will be able to function. While some properties age gracefully, others have facelifts in an attempt to adapt to the styles of the day. Returning to a favorite hotel can be akin to visiting an old friend. As we age and grow, so, too, does the hotel – and it shows us how we too have changed throughout the years.

While staying at the following hotels, one cannot help but feel the presence of events past -- so here’s a fun way to look at them.

The Fairmont Banff Springs

the Fairmont Banff Springs with the Canadian Rockies in the background
Courtesy: Gary Averch

The Scene:
Modeled after a Scottish baronial castle, the opulent Fairmont Banff Springs is like its own bustling village, hidden in the spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountains. An adult Disneyland comes to mind with its army of impeccably uniformed staff, mammoth ballrooms, elegant restaurants, stately lounges, designer shops and its recently renovated European-style spa. If activities are what you desire, this world-class resort is the hub.

The Backstory:
'If we can't export the scenery, we will import the tourists' was the self-fulfilling prophesy of William Van Horne, General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who recognized the tourist potential of the hot springs near the railway station at Banff, Alberta. His vision was to design a luxury hotel amidst the stunning mountain scenery of the Canadian Rockies – and the only way to get there in 1886 would be via a railway.

The Look:
Van Horne commissioned Bruce Price of New York, one of the foremost architects of the day, to draw up plans for a hotel to be built above the confluence of the Bow and the Spray Rivers overlooking the beautiful Bow Valley. They looked to European castles and manor houses for their inspiration. The hotel officially opened on June 1, 1888, and was declared a historical site by the Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1992.

Most Unique Amenity:
Perhaps the only dilemma while staying at the Banff Springs is what to do next. A case can be made for enjoying the property’s endless amenities or for exploring the endless majesty of the Canadian Rockies. How about a hybrid - the “Cruising the Canadian Rockies” package includes accommodations, rental car and a road trip essentials pack containing a CD with a descriptive narrative of the journey. End your day with a plunge in the world-famous hot springs or with a treatment at the European-style spa.

If Walls Could Talk:
In 1956, Marilyn Monroe was staying at the hotel while filming River of No Return, directed by Otto Preminger. During the filming, she sprained her ankle and was on doctor's orders to be transported in a wheelchair. Needless to say, fierce arguments broke out among the bellmen as to who would get to push Ms. Monroe around the hotel. The dilemma was handled in the only civilized way – each morning the young men drew straws.

aerial view of The Mission Inn, Riverside, California
Courtesy: The Mission Inn

The Mission Inn

The Scene:
The Mission Inn occupies an entire city block in downtown Riverside, California and is a national historic and architectural landmark. The inn offers 239 guest room and suites, many with architectural features such as domed ceilings, wrought iron balconies, stained glass windows and carved pillars. The inn has been a getaway for personalities as diverse as Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Chaplin and Sarah Bernhardt.

The Backstory:
The Inn began as a 12-room adobe boarding house, built in 1876 by Christopher Columbus Miller, on land deeded to him by the city as payment for his services as civil engineer. By the turn of the century, Riverside was already a major tourist attraction for wealthy easterners and for Europeans escaping to warm winter climates and seeking investment opportunities in the profitable citrus industry. What the city lacked, though, was a major tourist hotel.

The Look:
Frank Augustus Miller purchased the property from his father, improved and enlarged it, and by 1903 opened the first wing of the current Mission Inn building. Over the next thirty years Miller added additional wings to the structure that included the Music Room, St. Cecilia Chapel, the Catacombs and the Spanish Patio. More than anything, the Mission Inn is an artful and architectural tribute to the vision, eclecticism, and eccentricity of Frank Miller.

Most Unique Amenity:
In 1909, President Howard Taft made plans to visit the hotel. Miller was worried that his chairs would not accommodate Taft's weight, reported at 350 lbs, so he constructed an enormous oak chair, with the overall width of 48-1/2 inches. Upon seeing the creation, the vain Taft replied, "Did you have to make the chair so large?” The Taft chair is the most famous of the nearly 400 chairs in the Mission Inn collections, and rests in the lobby. The hotel also boasts a noteworthy collection of ornamental and musical bells.

If Walls Could Talk:
Paul Newman was a frequent guest at the inn. His room of choice was the Bridal Suite, a large round room with a domed ceiling. Once, upon arrival, he was informed that the room’s plumbing was out. Newman still wanted to stay in the room and agreed to use another bathroom, which would require going outside to reach the other room. Word spread quickly, and a mob of the hotel’s female staff assembled in the courtyard below, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood heartthrob in his bathrobe enroute to the other room.

the exterior of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac on a winter night
Courtesy: Québec Tourism

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

The Scene:
Situated on a bluff overlooking the sweeping St. Lawrence River, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is more than a hotel - it is quite literally the symbol of Old Québec. The castle-like property, with its majestic towers and turrets, evokes an era of time-gone-by, yet still serves as a center for what is Old Québec today. With the boardwalk in front of it and the city to its rear, Le Château offers easy walking access to the array of attractions throughout Québec City, a United Nations World Heritage Site.

The Backstory:
In the late 19th century, William Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway continued his theme of building hotels as the ideal stopover for railway travelers. But Le Château Frontenac soon became much more than that; it became a destination unto itself - a true-life castle of many people's dreams. It is now a landmark known throughout the world.

The Look:
Once again Van Horne retained the services of New York architect Bruce Price who this time drew on the architectural styles of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The property owes its name to French governor, Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, whose coat-of-arms can be seen on the entry arch and many other areas within the hotel. Throughout the years a series of expansions have taken place and today Le Château towers even higher over Old Québec.

Most Unique Amenity:
Québec City boasts more restaurants per ratio than any other city in North America, and the quality is proudly on display at Le Château's four restaurants. Few people know, however, that Executive Chef Jean Soulard's dishes are delicately seasoned with fresh herbs that are grown in his own garden - nestled atop Le Château's roof. The garden is available exclusively to the Chef (and a gardener) and can only be accessed through a window!

If Walls Could Talk:
Countless personalities have graced Le Château, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and William Lyon Mackenzie King, who met at the hotel to detail the final touches of the Normandy invasion. The top-secret documents, though, were forgotten by a British general and lay unguarded in a very public area. Thanks to the attentive eye of bellman Frank Brittle, the documents were recovered, but our poor hero was placed under constant observation until after the invasion.

the lobby of the Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York
Courtesy: Millennium Broadway Hotel

Millennium Broadway Hotel

The Scene:
The Millennium Broadway Hotel is located on Manhattan’s famous Club Row, just half a block from revitalized Times Square. The recently renovated property boasts 752 rooms and suites, and offers the ideal location to enjoy midtown’s numerous attractions. The hotel is home to the 102-year-old Hudson Theatre, the Broadway district’s second oldest theatre. It is also the only hotel in New York with an on-site meeting facility approved by the International Association of Conference Centers.

The Backstory:
The property rests on the site that was once four tenement buildings in a largely Irish and working class neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. Renamed Clinton by real estate speculators in the 80s, the buildings were demolished in 1984 by developer Harry Macklowe, and construction began on the mammoth property whose lobby would extend from 44th to 45th Streets. After completion, Macklowe lost the luxury property to its current owners, Millennium Hotels.

The Look:
Dramatic murals, polished stainless steel, mahogany-paneled walls and the rich black marble lobby take visitors back to the Art Deco period between the two World Wars. The hotel’s newly renovated rooms feature an elegant Asian-inspired “East Meets West’ concept, emphasizing simplicity and fluidity of design. The rooms provide a tranquil haven from the adrenaline-pumping activities on the streets outside.

Most Unique Amenity:
Primarily a venue for dramas and comedies, the Hudson Theater was home to NBC's Tonight Show from 1954 to 1959. The theatre is now open to bookings by groups, and makes a unique and colorful location for conferences and meetings. The theatre has completed an extensive restoration, which includes restoration of the its recently discovered Tiffany mosaics.

If Walls Could Talk:
In 1984, the developers had the area’s four buildings demolished without obtaining demolition permits. They also neglected to turn off water and gas lines into the buildings before demolition began. NYC officials declared, “It is only a matter of sheer luck that there was no gas explosion.” For future “If Walls Could Talk,” check out the hotel’s famous Restaurant Charlotte, who has served guests that include Mick Jagger, Bill Gates, Denzel Washington, John Clayton and Diane Sawyer.

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Feedback for Ringo

I love Ringo's piece on historic hotels. I once stayed at the Laurentian in Montreal - is it still around, is it historic? And then there was the Heups in Bismark.

It is interesting that two of your entries are in CANADA.

Brent, Seattle, WA

It's no mystery that you are great at what you do.

Sandee, Seattle, WA

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The Mystery on the Oasis pics are very funny!

Ramon, Kansas City, MO

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Ha ha ha ha your "schtick" Ringo!!

Dolly, Las Vegas, NV

Hello the travelling Boitano's hope you enjoy. Best wishes.

Elsa Magdalena Berno-Boitano, Laussane, Switzerland

My Irish roots understand terrible beauty. So do my human roots. The concept has such a ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Great article, Ringo. I hope to get to Ireland eventually, and thanks for blazing the trail!

Sandeee Bleu, Seattle, WA

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No wonder I've been hearing all these wonderful stories about Ireland. I used to think that it was just for Irish Americans seeking their ancestral roots but your article seems to call out to the non-Irish like me. Fascinating and intriguing.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

Thanks for this great post wow... it's very wonderful.

Key Logger, New York

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Lets not forget that the Marriot Harbor Beach is within walking distance to the world famous Elbo Room - Fort Lauderdale's oldest bar.

Jeff, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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Thanks for taking the time for the message and reminder. Indeed, I had a quick drink at the Elbo Room. My trip to Ft. Lauderdale would not have been complete without a visit to this historic institution.I have been reading about it for years, and was not disappointed. It felt like a real local's hangout.

- Ringo


I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Dick and Liz. I remember seeing that article back in the heyday of Life Magazine.

To remember the "behind-the-scenes" stories like that makes you genuine fan of the 60's. The famous couple's turbulent relationship was just a precursor of today's headline-grabbing media stars like Britney Spears and her colleagues. Life was simpler then. The paparazzis still had some sense of decency. You "coulda" been a good paparazzi. I say "coulda" because you kept this to yourself all these many years.

Looking forward to other media trivia you can remember.

Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hey, Ringo –

Enjoyed your article on Antarctica --- cool photos, too. One thing, you mentioned that Ushuaia in Argentina is considered the most southern city in the world. I read that Chile lays claim to that distinction, with Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world.

Mick, Greenbay, WI

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Mick –

Now that football season is over --- I’ve often wondered what you Packer fans did in the off season ---- it’s great that you took the time to visit TravelingBoy. Great question, unlike my older brother, I adore all lamb products, and Patagonian Lamb --- cooked in a restricted area at the restaurant in an opened wood-fueled fire pit --- is amazing. The chef actually uses an ax to carve it. Frankly, I found it superior to Norwegian fjord lamb, Irish Burren lamb and even those much esteemed creatures down in New Zealand. The crab in Ushuaia is the other thing to eat. Wait a sec, you asked about Punta Arenas vs. Ushuaia as the furthermost city in the world. Well, they both have little disclaimers re populations --- you know, what’s a city, which one is a town, ect – so better let Chile and Argentina brass it out. They seem to be able to argue about any subject.

- Ringo

Stay tuned.

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