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). http://www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york/special-offers/hotel-offers/family/eloisesuiteexperience/

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” http://gothamist.com/2014/01/10/abandoned_ny_grossingers_catskill.php#photo-1

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. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/campaigns/wh2000/stories/gore101099a.htm

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.”

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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!

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