Friday, July 26, 2019

Curiosities: Brookdale-Area Resorts

Unlike Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek, the village that became Brookdale was designed first and foremost as a vacation destination. During its hay-day—from about 1910 to 1965—no matter where you went within a one mile radius of Pacific Avenue, there was a resort or destination or high-end residential subdivision. While locations such as Siesta, Huckleberry Island, Camp Joy, the Fish Hatchery, and the Brookdale Club have all been covered elsewhere, there were and still are other vacation spots in the Brookdale vicinity. These are the better known.

Reed's Hotel (c. mid-1880s)
Before Brookdale even existed, it was known as Reed's Spur for the Felton & Pescadero Railroad's nearby spur built upon the land of Robert C. Reed. The settlement was not a tourist destination but rather a waypoint for travellers and visitors to the nearby Grover & Company lumber mill, run by partners McKoy & Duffey. Nothing about Reed's Hotel is known except that it existed in the future village of Brookdale, probably a short distance from the spur. The hotel was likely just a converted home and probably supported only a few guest rooms.

Hotel Minnehaha (1903-1908), Brookdale Hotel (1908-1915), and Brookdale Lodge (1915-Present)
After years of informally renting out former workers' shanties as vacation cottages, Stephen Frealon Grover and John Harvey Logan decided to open up a resort hotel in the area. They christened the settlement Clear Creek, after the meandering brook that ran down the middle of the settlement. Grover left the venture in 1903 due to financial difficulties and Grover bought out his interest, opening up Hotel Minnehaha later that year in the former mill headquarters. The post office rejected his application to call the town Clear Creek, so he renamed the place Brookdale and the name stuck.

The name Minnehaha derives from a fictional Native American character depicted in The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Her name was also leant to a local "tribe" (lodge) of the Improved Order of Red Men, although it is unclear if there is a connection between the hotel and the lodge. By 1905, the hotel was in full operation and Brookdale as a tourist destination was official. Logan estimated around 200 visitors to the locale for the summer of 1903. The destructive San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 disabled the railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains for three years, although the tracks to Brookdale remained in operation throughout most of this time (the gauge was upgraded in 1908). The decreased traffic may have prompted Logan to rename the resort Brookdale Hotel in 1908. Three years later, he sold a portion of the village to John DuBois, who built several vacation cottages between the hotel and the Southern Pacific railroad tracks, thereby expanding the size of the village. A subdivision named Brookdale Terrace opened up in 1911, further expanding the village around the Hotel.

The Brookdale Lodge log cabin and the former Hotel Minnehaha main entrance, c. 1920s. [Santa Cruz Waves]
The Brook Room at Brookdale Lodge, c. 1930.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
In 1915, Logan renamed the resort again to Brookdale Lodge and this name stuck. But old age was catching up to Logan and decided to sell the hotel in 1922 to F. K. Camp. Camp was personally a teetotaller, but he seemed to have no qualms selling liquor to his patrons. It was under his ownership that the hotel more than doubled in size with the addition of the Brook Room and the famous mermaid pool. The Brook Room was a revolutionary dining room that featured Clear Creek flowing through it, as well as live trees and foliage, all designed by Horace Cotton. Granted, the room had a tendency to flood every few years, but it has remained one of the most appealing legacies of the hotel. The pool, meanwhile, featured a tall glass window on one side which was visible from a lounge downstairs. Rumors of how the window and lounge were used abound, but it is known that women dressed as mermaids swam in the pool to entertain onlookers. During the 1920s and 1930s, the hotel attracted A-list celebrities and musical talent. There is also a persistent rumor that the hotel supported bootlegging and gangsters and hosts several underground tunnels.

World War II took its toll on the local tourist industry as it did everywhere in the United States. By 1945, Camp had moved on and the Lodge passed through a few hands, first A. T. Cook and W. G. Smith, who subsequently sold the property to Barney Marrow, in February 1951. The next year, Morrow also bought the rival Brookdale Inn across the County Road from the Lodge, merging the two into one resort. Nonetheless, the respectability of the hotel declined precipitously throughout the late 1940s and 1950s as Marrow neglected its maintenance and allowed gangs and hippies to use the hotel as they would. It's unsavory reputation dates to this time and has never entirely recovered. The suggestion that the hotel is haunted also may date to this time. A fire in 1956 destroyed the Brook Room, although it was rebuilt. A 13-year-old girl later drowned in the pool in 1972, leading to its closure for several years. The floods of 1982 destroyed the Brook Room again and damaged much of the surrounding structure.

Marrow eventually sold the hotel and it passed through several hands until it was bought by Sanjiv Kakkar in 2007. Two years later, a fire severely damaged parts of the main structure and one of its out buildings. Another death in 2010 followed by an investigation indefinitely closed the hotel in 2011 and Kakkar was arrested and found guilty of fraud. After years sitting abandoned, the Patel family of Santa Cruz purchased the decaying hotel, refurbished the entire complex, and rebranded it the Brookdale Inn & Spa. It reopened officially on October 24, 2018, albeit under the name Brookdale Lodge. Presumably, the management firm that the Patals hired to run the hotel, Broughton Hotels, thought that the historic name was better and more appropriate. Rooms can be booked at the Brookdale Lodge's website:

Clear Creek Villa (1918-1928) and Brookdale Inn (1929-1952)
Until 1918, the Brookdale Lodge was often simply called "The Hotel" and the village of Brookdale was pseudonymous with the resort. But then William H. Shier and his wife, Mary E., arrived and founded Clear Creek Villa as a small seasonal resort and campground just across the County Road from the resort. For the first seven years of its existence, it was not a threat to The Hotel and it wasn't even mentioned in the Santa Cruz Sentinel until 1925. From that time, however, it became notable for its musical performances and dances, which were held at a large pavilion on the resort's grounds. By 1928, the newspaper reported that the hotel included a glassed-in lobby and had become a popular rendezvous site for vacationers. Suddenly, The Hotel had a rival.

The marketing of the resort was notched up to militancy in 1929 when the Shiers renamed it the Brookdale Inn, bringing it directly into competition with the Brookdale Lodge. Within a year, F. K. Camp, owner of the Lodge, sued the Shiers over name usage, citing an incident in 1929 where a potential vacationer was confused as to which hotel hosted the Brook Room and chose the wrong establishment. The case made it all the way to the state supreme court in 1932, which dismissed the dispute, in effect ruling in favor of the Inn.

Hollen's Corner in Brookdale, with the Brookdale Inn store at right, c. 1930s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Advertisement for the Baldpate Inn, 1935.
[Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Like the Lodge, the Brookdale Inn did relatively well throughout the Depression years and attracted its share of celebrities and seasonal vacationers. In 1935, Shier leased the dance pavilion and restaurant to Frank C. Bauer, who renamed the venue the Baldpate Inn, after a popular film released in 1935 called Seven Keys to Baldpate (Baldpate refers to a hotel in Colorado). The business only survived one season, though, as Bauer was arrested the following March for bouncing a check. Shier brought on W. H. Sawtell in May, and he brought the Baldpate back to the Brookdale Inn and combined them back together, adding an English tea room as his contribution. Sawtell left in 1938, however, and management of the resort passed to Harvey Wilson of San Francisco in June 1938. In classic Brookdale Inn style, he initiated his management by hiring an eight-piece orchestra for the opening of season gala. Shier, meanwhile, made several improvements to the resort in preparation for the 1939 season. However, the loss of her husband several years earlier and her own advanced age led her to sell the resort to Edward R. and Antonette Corrigan in December 1939.

Brookdale Inn and legal problems seem to go hand-in-hand. The hotel shut down in December 1942, probably due to the war, and in February 1944, Shier and an investor-friend Katherine A. O'Neil sued Corrigan for non-payment of amounts owed from the original 1939 purchase agreement. Within a few months, advertisements for Dick Hartman's Brookdale Inn appear in newspapers, suggesting Shier and O'Neil won the case, reacquired the resort, and hired a new manager. William J. Rowley and Bob Nardelli took over in 1946, with Hartman resuming his role in 1949, at which time he may have purchased the property outright. In 1951, management of the Inn passed to Homer Wylie and Ken Stone. The restaurant and bar were sold off as their own business to Charles Backman of Oakland in October 1951, but Hartman retained control of the hotel and cabins. However, events were moving behind the scenes. Barney Morrow, who had purchased the Brookdale Lodge in February 1951, bought Hartman's hotel and cabins in February 1952, effectively merging the two businesses into one. By that time, the Brookdale Inn consisted of an eight-room hotel with two private homes and eighteen guest cabins.

The Inn lingered on for several more decades in an increasing state of neglect, living in the shadow of the Lodge which was equally declining in quality. For several years, an underground tunnel connected the two hotels, allowing Morrow and his team to quickly bring supplies between them without having to cross traffic. In 1969, local residents tried to save the Inn by converting it into an art gallery, but little else is know of the hotel during this period. Most of the structures were finally demolished at some point after 1977. Today, there is renewed promise of a new business being erected on the former Inn grounds across from the Lodge, but progress has been slow. The property primary serves as a parking lot for locals.

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