The nation’s few remaining grande dame hotels still offer the chance to step back in time and experience the classic elegance of bygone eras.
The Mediterranean villa-themed La Playa in Carmel is one such, a 75-room showplace perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It was designed in 1905 by landscape artist Christian Jorgensen as a residence for him and his wife, Angela Ghirardelli (as in chocolates), and served as a salon for entertaining their writer and artist friends.
It oozes romance and style, from its lushly landscaped half-acre garden, to rooms with rattan furnishings, wooden shutters, and 1930s pendant seashell lights. The original plastered hallways lead to tall French doors, arched doorways and windows, handmade metal sconces and chandeliers, wrought-iron staircase bannisters, exposed wood beams, stained glass, tile floors, hand-cut stonework and a fireplace mantel that reaches the ceiling. In the men’s room off the lobby is a 5-by-5-foot framed painting of Sacramento’s Buffalo Brewery, dated 1895 (on the site of what is now The Sacramento Bee).
You needn’t be a hotel guest to view the lobby and gardens and sit at the bar and on the terrace, maybe by the firepit on a chilly night. Really, it’s something of a tourist attraction with manners.
Now hotel manager Mary Crowe has initiated a special program called “Celebrating 110 Years of Love Stories,” that essentially is a lodging deal for those who married, honeymooned or celebrated an anniversary there. Crowe explained this way: “Generations have celebrated weddings, honeymoons and anniversaries at La Playa, and this year we extend an exclusive offer to honor those couples.”
Couples are invited to share their love-story memories (and photos) that were set against the La Playa backdrop. For instance, Peter and Andrea wed there in 1948. Her cake was made in the hotel kitchen and featured “satin ribbons of spun sugar that matched her gown. Her headpiece was fashioned from a piece of her grandmother’s lace and subsequently worn by each of her cousins at their own weddings.”
Paul and Kathy said their vows in 1999: “Kathy’s mother was particularly happy with the date chosen, since it was her 76th birthday. ... The day started out with coastal fog, but by 3 o’clock the sun shone brightly and set the tone for our 5 o’clock wedding. ... We return yearly to have lunch and tour the grounds.”