Saturday, March 26, 2016

Vintage U.S. Hotels Through the Hallways of Memory

As a result of a professional life of travel both inside and outside the United States, it has been my privilege to have stayed at some of the most storied hotels in America.  Recognizing the hold that classic hotels have had on the national psyche, I am embolden to feature five, with a few souvenirs, that hold particular memories.

The Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. has been the scene of many notable events, including Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball.   A paperweight above shows the early look of that hostelry, including the horse-drawn carriages on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Upon first coming to the Nation’s Capitol in 1962 I spent my first and only night there, as a nervous chaperon to a group of visiting high school students.  At that time the Willard had been allowed to run down and my room was a dreary place, located at the entrance to the fire escape with a glass panel in the door that could be broken to let fleeing guests enter.  I spent a restless night.
About that time a proposal was floated to tear down the historic structure and build something “modern.”  I was among those who wrote letters opposing the move.  Luckily that idea never prevailed and instead the Willard was refurbished — looking like the magnificent “Beaux Arts building as it does today, shown above.  

Finding souvenirs from this hotel is difficult.   In the mid-1930s, Willard management decided that putting its logo on an object was tantamount to having it stolen and stopped doing it.  Shown here is a much earlier flowered vase,  dated from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  The base indicates it was made for “The New Willard.”

The original Parker House Hotel, shown below, opened in Boston in 1855, making it the longest continuously operated hotel in the United States.  (For 18 years from 1868 to 1986 the Willard was shut down.). Some of America’s most distinguished thinkers and writers made it a meeting place. The notoriously finicky Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for six months in 1867-1868.  The hostelry also became famous for its “Parker House rolls,” a soft bun that my mother was expert at recreating.  
During the 1976 Bicentennial I took my family to stay there while visiting historical sites in Boston.  At that time owned by the Dunfey family (1968-1996), the Parker House was going though a “down” period and was just this side of shabby.  Still, it was close to many attractions and the positive memory later caused me to buy the ashtray here.  Now the Omni Parker House, the hotel has been refurbished and is on the “Historic Hotels of America” roster.
Shown here on a postcard, the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City first opened its doors in May 1915.  This hostelry is forever linked with another President, Harry S Truman.  It was there that the Missouri politician repaired for low-stakes poker games with his cronies and, it is alleged, to have a shot of whiskey during National Prohibition.  Charged in 1984 with bringing an business delegation of South Koreans to five cities in the United States, in Kansas City I chose the Muehlebach on the basis that Truman was the Commander-in-Chief who ordered U.S. troops to oppose the invasion from the Communist North, thus saving the South.

The choice proved inspired.  Not only did the delegation like their accommodations, the large Korean community in Kansas City took the delegation under its care and treated them to a home style banquet.  The visitors had quickly tired of American style fare.  Unlike the Willard, the Muehlebach Hotel believed in putting its logo — a chandelier — on many objects, including ashtrays and glasses.
One of the most expensive hotels in America is the Fairmont in San Francisco.  Sitting atop Nob Hill at 950 Mason Street, the Fairmont since opening in 1907 has been a renowned luxury destination.  Luckily for me, the management also was interested in being known as a site for international meetings.  When the U.S. and Federated States of Micronesia sat down there in 1995 to negotiate an agreement, I was in the FSM delegation and received a “bargain basement” rate on my room.  Breakfast, however, cost $24 regardless of  what was eaten.  As a result I took a trip daily down Nob Hill to a McDonald’s —and a weary trudge back.
The final hotel in this nostalgia walk through hotel hallways is the Pfister in Milwaukee.  Opened in 1893 at a cost of more than a million, this place is known for the two lions at its entry and massive statue light fixtures in the lobby. My initial stay there about 1981 was not impressive.  The place looked shabby in those days and at 2 A.M. a overly-zealous hotel employee decided to vacuum the hall carpet in front of my room.  

Subsequently all that has changed.  The Pfister was refurbished into one of America’s most attractive hotels, as evidenced by my later visits there.  Moreover, the art collection that has graced its public spaces for years, out of critical favor in the 1980s, has become fashionable and very valuable.  The Pfister is said to have the largest assemblage of Victorian art of any hotel in the world and many stop there to enjoy the paintings and sculptures.  Its gift shop features coffee cups that allow one to reminisce repeatedly about a stay there. 

My last hotel is the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu, shown above, an iconic hostelry that once faced the wrecking ball. It was during that prospect that I first stayed there in 1968.  Because of its imminent demise, I was among a handful of guests and the daily rate was very reasonable, even for a graduate student.  Afterwards, along with other tens of thousands, I wrote letters asking that this marvelous building be saved.  

The threat was removed, thank goodness, and today the cost of a room is mind-boggling.  The most collected souvenir of the Royal Hawaiian are its menus, with their cover prints of island scenes by John Melville Kelly, a noted American artist and printmaker.

Hotels have always had special place in the literature and life of Americans.  Given the "cookie cutter" aspect of most contemporary ones, I have concluded that it is vintage hotels such as those identified here that hold the imagination and make the memories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brews and Bullets: Mixing Beer and Hunting

Several weeks ago I posted a piece on ads that juxtaposed whiskey and hunting.  Most of them were from a pre-Prohibition era when the notion of rugged manhood was very high.  Not so with beer and hunting.   Although two items here can be dated before the 14-year American experience going “dry,” the majority of the ads shown can be dated later — some just a short time ago.
The pre-Prohibition Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co. ad above shows an amazing kill.  The three hunters standing in the background appear to have bagged three moose, two young buck deer, and what appears to be a fox.  They are celebrating their “big game” with Schmidt’s City Club beer, advertised as “The Better Brew.”  This was a leading brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota, for many years, founded in 1855 by Christopher Stahlmann.  The complex was purchased in 1900 by Jacob Schmidt and eventually became one of the leading regional beer producers in the country.  Converted to ethanol in 2000, odor and noise from the plant eventually forced its closure in 2004.
The scene at the right of the vintage trade card above seems to show hunters in the midst of their woodsy activities pausing to enjoy a bottle of beer while their dog looks on in anticipation.  They seem not to have shot anything yet, but, we hope, their aim will be steady as they move on. The H. Clausen & Son Brewing Co. opened in 1888 and closed a short eleven years later in New York City.  At that time, the Big Apple boasted 220 breweries, a whopping number even for the metropolis.   Competition was fierce and H. Clausen and Son likely were casualties of ensuing “beer wars.”

Immediately the images take us into the post-Prohibition era, 1934 to the present.  The Falls City Brewing Co. was organized in 1905 in Louisville, Kentucky, by local saloon and grocery store owners attempting to break a monopoly in the city by a brewery that also owned taverns, called “tied houses.”  They called their facility “Falls City,”  a nickname for Louisville’s location on the falls of the Ohio River.   Despite the interruption of Prohibition, the brewery operated until 1978 and the Fall City brand was extant as late as 2010 and after.  The saloon sign, entitled “Man’ Best Friend,” makes it clear from the hunter’s gaze that it is the bottle he adores — not the pooch.  The sign likely dates from the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The next ad, from United Breweries, a trade organization, can be dated during World War II.  The text tells of a soldier who has been “doing a different kind of hunting overseas,”  writing a letter home.  In it he expresses his desire to going hunting again when he gets back.  Meanwhile his relatives have bagged mature buck and are having a beer to celebrate.  The text goes on to explain:  “A glass of beer or ale — not of crucial importance, surely, but it is the little things like this that mean home to all of us, that do so much to build morale….”   This ad was just one of hundreds that brewing industry issued as the war ended to promote beer — likely remembering that National Prohibition had occurred after World War I.  

I doubt that the miss with the shotgun in the Rheingold Beer ad ever pulled a trigger in her lifetime.  But Margie McNally was “Miss Rheingold” of 1852 and the winner of that famous beauty contest could be expected to pose in a variety of tableaus, including hunting scenes.
Rheingold, founded in 1883 in Brooklyn, was a New York beer that held 35% of the state’s beer market from 1950 to 1960.  Its Miss Rheingold pageant began in 1940 as customers voted for the girl of the year.  The contest ended in 1965 and Rheingold shut down operation in 1976, when the company was unable to complete with large national breweries.  The brand name later was revived. 
The bar sign from Narragansett Brewing Company seem aimed at a humorous look at drinking beer and hunting.  The three nimrods are enjoying a bottle of beer from a case on the ground when they are startled by the sight of a huge buck behind them.  Unusually, however, at the far left of the scene appears to be a live rooster.  Was this bird meant for the grill at center, or did he wander in from another ad?   The Narragansett Brewery, founded in 1890 in Cranston, Rhode Island, ultimately became the largest in New England.   After several ownership changes it closed in July, 1981.

A Falstaff beer sign sounded a similar theme.  This time the hunter is torn between his meal on the fire and the stag running in the snow behind his tent.  Although he seems torn, the gent is leaning for his gun that is sitting on a case of Falstaff.   This ad made use of original art work from a well-known illustrator,  J. F. Kernan, famous for his many Saturday Evening Post covers.  Because Kernan passed away in 1958, this sign can be dated earlier in that decade.

The hunter illustrated in the Stroh Bohemian Beer sign might have felt short-changed by the brewery.  Narragansett and Falstaff gave their hunters a full case of beer.  This genial fellow has been given only three bottles.  Unlike the others, however, he has dinner fully in hand as he roasts the grouse he has shot, while his dog looks on hungrily.  During my supermarket career I sold Stroh's for $1.98 a case (24 cents a bottle).  Located in Detroit, Michigan, Stroh’s for years was the “economy brand” of choice, particularly among the young.   The company, founded in 1850, was taken over and broken up in 2000, but some of its brands are still being sold.  

This Miller brewery newspaper ad once again has a happy hunter with a full case of beer at his disposal as he checks out his shotgun.   “Nothing quite hits the spot after a day’s hunt…like a bottle of delicious Miller High Life,” the text proclaims.  From the looks of his waders and the mallard decoys in the picture, this gent has been duck hunting with nothing much to show for his effort.  The Miller Brewing Company was founded in Milwaukee by Frederick Miller in 1855 and remained in the family until 1966.  Although the brand continues as one of the Nation’s most popular, the company has changed hands several times.

Even in contemporary times, beers sometimes advertise in a hunting mode.  The pastime has been a central theme for Keystone Beer, a product of the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Golden Colorado.  First introduced in Chico, California, in 1989, Keystone Light can be found primarily in cans and frequently with the implication of some gunning going on.  Note, for example, the trophy plaque with a can of Keystone and a pair of horns.  The juxtaposition of hunting and beer is evident.  Another Keystone ad, below, makes the same pitch, with a can of Keystone in the crosshairs as “beer of the day.”  
Countering Keystone beer and the other brands with hunting motifs is the final illustration shown here.  It is a spoof on the Dos Equis beer ads that show a suave gentleman who assures us that he does not always drink beer but when he does it is — no surprise — Dos Eqius.  Here the hunter apparently has been drinking while nude (except for his boots) and staggered into the snow with a bottle in one hand and his rifle in the other.   His fate is a lesson to all:  Drinking beer and hunting don’t really go together.