Growing up in a Hotel

Do you remember the children’s book series featuring the title character, Eloise, living on the top floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel? Kay Thompson is the author of the 1950’s series of books with its title character possibly based on Liza Minnelli, the author’s goddaughter. If you happen to be in New York, drop into the Plaza Hotel lobby – apparently you will see a portrait of Eloise occupying a prominent place in the New York landmark’s hotel lobby. Alternatively, for those with deep pockets, The Plaza offers an “Eloise Suite” featuring girly pink and black décor, king sized bed complete with a crystal chandelier; with prices starting at $1295 per night (but they will throw in an “Eloise” bathrobe and $100 gift card to spend at their “Eloise Shop” conveniently located in the hotel lobby).

Perhaps the most well-known hotel housing long-time residents was New York’s Chelsea Hotel; first opened in1884 as co-op apartments. In 1905, facing bankruptcy, the Chelsea was transformed into a hotel; a change that over the next several decades would see the Chelsea become a well-known and welcoming home to the arts community. Authors, actors, poets, artists and musicians inhabited the hip bohemian hotel where they painted, acted, composed and communed with like-minded creative types – many staying for years in the hotel located near Times Square. Andy Warhol was probably the best-known resident of the Chelsea but the list also includes Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Dennis Hopper, Arthur Miller, Jackson Pollock and poet Dylan Thomas (who died at the Chelsea Nov.9, 1953 at age 39) to name but a few.

Author Ed Hamilton’s book on the Chelsea


Growing up in a hotel has been chronicled in two books written by authors that experienced first-hand hotel living, Stephen Lewis and Tania Grossinger. Lewis’s home as a young boy was New York’s Taft Hotel (opened in 1926) and his 2004 book titled “Hotel Kid” tells the tale of being the son of a hotel general manager and being raised with chambermaids, waiters and bellboys. Here is an excerpt from his book:

“During the darkest days of the Depression, my younger brother and I treated our friends to limitless chocolate éclairs and ice cream sodas. Vague longings for a ‘real American life’ rose only occasionally — as rare as the home-cooked meals my mother attempted once or twice a year. From my privileged vantage point in a four-room suite on the fifteenth floor, overlooking the chorus girls sunbathing on the roof of the Roxy Theater, I grew into adolescence, both street-smart and sheltered by the hundreds of hotel workers who had known me since I was a baby. For over thirty years, the Taft was the only family home my brother and I knew. Through the dark decade of the thirties, the frenetic forties of WWII, and the post-war boom of the fifties, I observe my boyhood home, Times Square. As a grown man I share with readers the tenderness and anger I feel for the fall and rise again of what we think of as the Big Apple, and what I think of as my neighborhood — one that is no more.”

In the Catskills of upper state New York, Grossinger’s Resort operated from 1919 to 1986. Tania Grossinger grew up in the summer resort whose guests included boxer Rocky Marciano, baseball great Jackie Robinson and singer Eddie Fisher. Her account of life at Grossinger’s is documented in the 2008 book she penned, “Growing Up at Grossinger’s”. For an interesting article and photos from the long shuttered resort, here is a link to Pablo Maurer’s article that appeared on Jan. 10, 2014 in the“Gothamist”

Former vice president Al Gore’s past also includes living at Washington DC’s Fairfax Hotel (opened in 1927 and owned by his cousin Grady Gore) as a child. Gore’s antics at his home in Suite 809 in the Fairfax were documented in a Washington Post article on October 10, 1999 and include his recount of playing Frisbee and dropping water balloons on unsuspecting passers by from the roof of the Fairfax.

The Gores Young Al Gore at the Fairfax (courtesy of Associated Press)

Long before the creation of Eloise and her “home” in New York’s Plaza Hotel, the practice of living in a hotel was more commonplace than you may think – especially for hotelier families that operated these twenty-four hour labour intensive businesses.

At Chilliwack’s Royal Hotel the Berry Family ran the hotel from 1926 until 1995, with Tom Berry Sr., then son Buck and wife Louise operating the business for nearly seven decades. Louise (Irvin) Berry joined the Royal Hotel and the Berry Family after her 1942 marriage to Buck Berry. Louise Irvin was born into the hotel life (along with her twin sister Marguerite) at the Coronation Hotel in Athelmere, B.C. in 1914. The family later moved to Rossland where Louise and her siblings grew up in the Central Hotel. Louise and Buck Berry would raise three children in the Royal Hotel – Sara Jane, Tom and Margaret Anne. As Louise stated in her 1990 obituary, “Raising three small children in a hotel is no small task, but I had grown up in a hotel family so I really didn’t think too much in those early years of how hard it would be at times. I always had wonderful support from family, friends and staff and of course, my mother.”


Royal Hotel early days

The Berry Family built a house in Chilliwack in1960 on thirty acres of farmland, with room to accommodate the whole family. Louise was 46 years old at the time and had lived her entire life in hotels; she had a difficult time adjusting to living away from the hotel. In fact, for the first three months, Louise slept at the Royal Hotel, not in her new house!


Antique Oddities at the Royal Hotel – part 2

Sitting under the front window in the breezeway entrance of the hotel is another antique oddity often mistaken for a washing machine, probably due to its round shape.

Although the appliance was used in early households and was meant to assist “the lady of the house” it was not for washing clothes but for keeping food cold. The White Frost Refrigerator was manufactured in Jackson, Michigan and bears an unusual cylindrical shape.

IMG_0049 the White Frost Ice Box in the Royal Hotel

• They were first manufactured in 1905 in Michigan
• A full patent was granted to Charles H. Boeck in 1906 for his refrigerator
• It was the only ice box with a cylindrical shape
• In 1919 a water cooler attachment was added to the exterior – leaving room inside for three shelves (which revolved….)
• The White Frost was made entirely of metal with a “snowy white” enamel interior (which differed from the standard square oak models available at that time)
• Blocks of ice sat in the top compartment –typically lasting one day – and chilled air was then vented to the food storage area, located below the ice compartment
• The unit was equipped with roller bearing casters for easy moving
• The refrigerator came with a 25 year guarantee

courtesy of the Boulder History Museum

The following claims were made by the manufacturer:

• More hygienic – easy-clean curved enamelled steel, food always in perfect condition

• More scientific – better design, better insulated, economical with ice, revolving shelves

• Desirable yet affordable – stylish, special, above-average price payable in installments

Home appliances have sure changed in the last 100 years – just wander the aisles of any store selling appliances and you’ll see refrigerators with two doors, one door, freezer on the top, bottom, side or not at all; in-door ice cube makers, and refrigerators with sizes ranging from under-counter bar units to huge side-by-side double door models with enough room to store food for the largest families.

photo courtesy of the Boulder History Museum


And the Boulder History Museum website

Thrift Store Shopping in Chilliwack

I love shopping at thrift and vintage stores. In fact, while planning a trip (anywhere) I will research the area to locate any thrift shops – like Salvation Army Stores, Goodwill, church shops or stores operated by various charities like animal shelters, recovery homes, hospitals– and then google the proximity of these shops to where I will be staying. Just remember when you’re flying to your destination, that vintage chair you had you had your sights on with the awful upholstery, just waiting to be “updated” won’t fit in your suitcase….Or, you can purchase a vintage suitcase to haul your finds back (well maybe not that chair) probably for less than the price of a large latte!

1997.59.6 Lovell Hosiery

Thrift store are also great places for the creative types. Looking for fabric to recover that chair or make throw pillows? Vintage household linens like bedspreads, drapes, curtains and tablecloths are better value than buying fabric by the meter; keep your eyes open for clothing, bedspreads, blankets or curtains made with interesting fabric you can recycle. If you have a good eye, shop regularly at thrift store and happen to hit the store on the right day, you may get lucky and find vintage curtains or bedspreads made with bark cloth, chenille, or damask. These sturdy fabrics can be re-purposed to create one-of-a-kind home décor. Old sweaters can be used to re-cover dining chairs and stools or to re-cover  cushions for a unique vintage look. That old wool sweater can be shrunk to make felted wool and re-purposed into bags or cut into squares and made into a quilt.

Downtown Chilliwack has some great thrift stores. Overall they offer a clean, organized and affordable shopping opportunity. The beauty of thrift store shopping is that you’ll never know what treasure you’ll find! Go with an open attitude, a measuring tape, comfortable clothes (if you want to try anything on) and enough time to check out the merchandise while supporting a worthwhile charity. It’s the ultimate form of recycling.

Ann Davis Transition Society will be opening Chilliwack’s newest thrift boutique on May 1st. The yet unnamed volunteer run thrift store will be located on Yale Road near Nowell Street and will offer high quality items with proceeds going to support the important programs and services Ann Davis provide to the community. For further information here is their website.


Thrift Stores Located in Downtown Chilliwack

Back at You Thrift Store 45923 Airport Road 604-792-8976 (June 2nd move)

Bibles for Missions Thrift 9280 Nowell St. 604-793-1996

Chwk Hospital Thrift Store 9236 Main St. 604-793-9222

Lions Club Flea Market 46293 Yale Rd. 604-792-3483

MCC Thrift Store 45776 Kipp Ave. 604-792-3731

Mother Theresa’s Place 8909 Mary St. 604-795-7110

Salvation Army Thrift Store 45742A Yale Rd. 604-792-3367

Street Hope New & Used 8982 Young Road 604-316-4670

United Church Thrift Store Corner of Main & Spadina 604-792-4634

• Please note this list does not include thrift stores located in Sardis, Yarrow, or Rosedale!
• Bring cash – not all stores accept debit and credit cards.
• Phone for store hours – none of the shops listed are open Sundays; some may be closed Mondays.

Tulips in the Valley


To celebrate spring and the annual appearance of the tulip, here are some fun facts about the flower.

• The origin of the tulip bulb is rooted in Turkey.
• Tulips bulbs were first imported to Holland via Turkey in the 16th Century where they became popular subjects in paintings.
• In 1636 tulip bulbs became the fourth leading export after gin, herring and cheese
• The Netherlands are still the world’s major tulip supplier; 3 billion bulbs are produced annually, with most of the bulbs destined for export.
• Tulip Mania occurred in 1637 when tulip bulbs became a luxury item, becoming so expensive the bulbs were used as currency until the market crashed.
• During WW2 some residents of Holland were forced to eat tulip petals because of the serious food shortage.
• Tulips are from the same family as lilies.
• There are around 3,000 varieties of tulips; the most popular colour is red.
• Tulips require a prolonged period of cold before they will flower (tulips don’t work in southern gardens).
• Tulips bloom in April and May for only about one week.
• Rabbits, gophers and squirrels consider tulip bulbs snack food.

Located on forty acres of fertile farmland just east of Agassiz, Tulips in the Valley is a breathtaking seasonal display of bulbs held annually for as long as the tulips are blooming – usually around two weeks. This year Tulips in the Valley opens on April 17th. For more information and to get directions to Tulips in the Valley, follow the link.  

If you are planning a trip to the Netherlands this spring, Keukenhof is where you’ll find the best display of tulips, located a short 30 minute trip from Amsterdam. Here is a YouTube video so you can experience Keukenhof.