Say Good Bye To Plain Vanilla

Hotels & Resorts

When the prospect of another drywall-with-a-light-switch makes you yearn for an intriguing alternative, consider holding your meeting in a historic hotel. These one-of-a-kind properties offer character, a comfortable ambience and a bit of nostalgia for the past—or how we’d like to remember it.

Because of the properties’ age, their owners had an exceptional choice of locations, resulting in spectacular settings that are not available today. Nor are the craftsmanship and materials. And, considering the hubbub of today’s lives, the hotels, by nature, offer respite with a slower pace.

They’re “more than bricks and mortar,” says Michael Dimond, senior vice president of marketing at The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs. “There’s an emotional takeaway.”

Here we showcase seven historic hotels that vary widely in their settings, their architecture and the experiences they offer. None are city hotels—each requires a little more planning—but all are worth the effort.

And, lastly, see the sidebar at right for the new kid on the historic block; it’ll give you pause.

The Inn on Mt. Ada, 1921
Avalon, Calif.
As your ferry approaches Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles (or 22, if you’re not the Four Preps) from Southern California’s mainland, your senses are saturated with a brilliant, aqua-blue bay and a sun-splashed, Mediterranean-like village. Marking the north tip of the crescent-shaped bay is the island’s most prominent landmark, the Catalina Casino, which once hosted the cream of Big Bands and 6,000 dancers on Saturday nights.

Above the southern tip, perched on a hilltop, is The Inn on Mt. Ada, a six-room inn that was once the home of William Wrigley, Jr., who bought the island in 1919 and used it as a spring training site for his Chicago Cubs baseball team. Beautiful, although not ornate, the 1921 Georgian Colonial wasn’t the Wrigleys’ only home. “It was definitely a summer cottage as far as they were concerned,” says innkeeper Marlene McAdam, sort of “their Airstream on the lake,” where they stayed for six or eight weeks a year.

But the Wrigleys knew a good site when they saw one: the hill had a panoramic view of the harbor, the nearby mountains and the Pacific, and today, the Mobil Four-Star inn retains their vision with its casual, yet elegant ambience.

Available for a buy-out, the inn, which opened in 1985, is ideal for small board retreats and incentives, with a living room, dining room, sun porch and den that are sunny, comfortable spaces where creativity can flow. In addition to the breakfast, lunch, appetizers, wine and champagne that are included in the room rate, each of the guest rooms comes with a gas golf cart for use in and around Avalon, where carts greatly outnumber cars.

Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, 1927
Death Valley, Calif.

Historic Hotels of America

The words “Death Valley” conjure up a landscape with unrelenting sun and no rain—and that is the scenario for summer. Ah, but mid-October through mid-May, just when your group is looking for a winter respite, the Furnace Creek Inn, a Four-Diamond, seasonal resort, becomes an appealing option. The tile-roofed inn, designed in Mission style with hand-crafted adobe bricks and Moorish-influenced stone work, was originally built in 1927 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company to house its executives, then completed in 1935 with an eye toward the increasing number of visitors drawn to the desert, particularly during the spring, when yellow, white and purple wildflowers blanket the hills.

Over the ensuing years, Death Valley National Park and its environs have also seen a proliferation of another sort: TV and movie cameras, which have filmed Death Valley Days, a television series that featured Ronald Reagan as host; television commercials like Cadillac’s Super Bowl entry; and feature films like Star Wars.

The 66-room inn itself is low-key and low-tech, “perfect for a retreat,” according to Phil Dickinson, director of sales and marketing. “We have the world’s lowest-elevation golf course (214 feet below sea level), a naturally warm swimming pool and four tennis courts; in winter there’s horseback riding.” As for technology, “There’s very limited cell-phone service here,” he says. “It’s a retreat where you can focus; the bonding and networking experience is really great.”

With five conference rooms and a total of 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the inn can accommodate up to 125 people. Consider it, also, as a pre- or post-addition to a frenetic Las Vegas trade show, a popular combination with their clients, Dickinson says. (Although the property is located in California, the closest major airport is actually McCarran, in Las Vegas; it’s a two-hour drive.) The resort also has a concrete, lighted airstrip for private or chartered planes.