Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Memorial Day tradition

I sometimes wonder how people perceive me based on my blogs and status updates. We live in a world where people seem to be more open than ever before about their daily lives and yet appearances can be deceiving.

Take food for example. I may post all sorts of pictures of delicious looking food which may give the impression that I eat out all the time. So not true. The reality is that I'd love to eat out every day and I used to eat out a lot more than I do now but for the past year or so most of my meals are eaten right here at home. I do, however, know every spot on the peninsula where you can get a meal for under $5 so if I post a picture of a wonderful meal, it was either cooked and photographed by T, who makes everything look professionally done, or it was one of my budget specials. 

I'm also blessed to live in a tourist heaven. Drive 5 miles in any direction and you come upon scenery that looks like I've flown away to paradise for the weekend. Since I only feel like taking pictures when there's blue sky and sun, you also don't ever get to experience the days of clouds and fog that are so typical  here in the summer. I don't belong to the Chamber of Commerce for nothing!

It may also look like we always seem to be attending some event but that's because we live in a place that is brimming with free events and we take advantage of every one we can find. Food truck festivals, Italian festivals, BBQ cook-off festivals, concerts - you name it, we're there if the admission is FREE. I like to experience life, I enjoy learning new things and indulging my passions. For me, it's important to make the most of our time and live life to the fullest no matter what. And that brings me to today's post...you were curious where I was going with all this, weren't you?

The granddaddy of all the free events here on the peninsula has got to be the Memorial Day open house and concert at NPS. We go just about every year and it's the perfect way to kick off summer.

The concert is held on the grounds of the Naval Postgraduate School which is usually not open to the public (not since 2001) so just being allowed on the property is a big deal. And why would we care about getting onto the NPS property? Because it used to be a fabulous and famous hotel!

This was the first Hotel Del Monte from the 1880s and it looked like this (give or take a fire or two) until it finally burned down completely in 1924. Well not completely, the two wings on either side were saved and are still around today. The hotel was built by railroad pioneer Charles Crocker to give people an incentive to purchase a ticket all the way out to California. It was an instant success, the center of social life on the Monterey peninsula for visitors and locals alike.

In 1924 there was a terrible fire and they had to blow up the main building in order to stop the fire from spreading to the wings. They immediately started to rebuild but this time they chose a design in the new Spanish Revival architecture that was so popular in the 20s. The new building was concrete rather than wooden which made it fireproof, something probably very important after 2 major fires.

The new hotel was even more popular (truth be told the old Victorian hotel was getting a little passe for the Roaring 20s crowd) and soon became the weekend home to several celebrities of the day including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Other notable guests included Charles Lindgergh and Amelia Earhart, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.

Knowing how much I adore history from the 20s and 30s, you can imagine how much I love roaming these grounds. The Navy has done a wonderful job keeping the interior and exterior in prime condition so it's not hard to imagine what it would have been like to be there back in the Golden Age.

The Navy took over the property in the 40s for a flight school and bought it outright in 1951 so that they could move their graduate school there from Annapolis so it hasn't been a hotel in a very long time. I used to be sad about that but now I've realized that it probably would have fallen into disrepair like so manygrand hotels and could have been demolished and the property sold to developers long ago. We are blessed to still have it around all in one piece and it's such a thrill so see it every year.

Oh yeah, there's a concert too but I must admit that's not the priority for me. Actually, we tend to set up our chairs on the other side of the hotel, across from the reflecting pool and near the rose garden. In other words, away from the crowd.

The pool is new this year, new and old. There always was a pool there in the hotel days and even after the Navy moved in but eventually they filled it with sand for some reason so whenever we'd visit the tour guide would say "just imagine that this sand pit is a delightful Roman Plunge pool" and it was always kind of hard to imagine, even for someone like me, with an excellent imagination! Now it's nice to really see it. Apparently the pool was a big hangout for celebrities. The tour guides always like to mention that Jean Harlow used to skinny dip there.

There's a fantastic Art Deco ballroom that's now the scene of fancy weddings and military balls. In the 30s I imagine it saw a lot of multi-course dinners and fabulous parties with dancing and music till the wee hours.

When we go to NPS on Memorial Day we spend the whole day. We are there when the gates open at 9, stake out a place for our chairs and we stay until they kick us out. There's a special poignancy to the day since you know you won't be able to see any of it again until next year. I soak up all the atmosphere I can stand and linger as long as the scary, uniformed soldiers will let me. Au revoir Hotel Del Monte, can't wait to step in my time machine for a visit again next year!

1 comment:

  1. Well shucks, I thought you two were dining on fine china at 5 star "joints" every night. How disillusioning. ;-) And I love your Memorial Day tradition.


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