Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect, called The Claremont Resort "one of the few hotels in the world with warmth, character, and charm." The Claremont Resort continues to charm visitors from all over the world.
Our room was beautifully decorated in Tuscan colors warm golds, purples and reds. High ceilings made the room seem even more luxurious. The large bathroom sported a jetted tub big enough for two (we tried it, fabulous!), and if you like the tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion like I do, you'll love The Claremont's signature line of rosemary/peppermint bath products. You can purchase larger bottles in the spa. Other amenities include high speed Internet access. Forgot your Ethernet cable? No worries, you can borrow the one in the mini-bar for free.
Room service is one of the luxuries we allow ourselves when we travel, and The Claremont's is excellent. We ordered a filet mignon, hamburger and Caesar salad. The food was delivered piping hot, 15 minutes ahead of when it was promised, and it came on its own roll-away table, so we didn't have to clear off the computer desk.
Once you've unpacked your bags, be sure to head to the lobby and spend a half hour perusing the historic photos on the walls. There's even a photo of Frank Lloyd Wright inspecting the site where he was going to build a wedding chapel. The chapel was never built, but the plans are on display.
Spa of Your Dreams
In 1989, The Claremont added a $6 million, 20,000 square foot European-style health, fitness, and beauty spa, that is one of the best I have ever been to. It's private and intimate. Be sure to ask Stan Barrett to give you an amazing Le Stone hot-stone massage. At the end, you'll feel relaxed and you'll learn a little about where your energy center is located.
Other spa treatments include various types of massage, facials, manicures, pedicures, hair care, yoga, floatation tanks, aromatherapy, water therapy, wraps, body polishes and scrubs, waxing, Pilates, personal training, nutrition therapy, classes in color, dressing, and make-up,and bridal services.
A large number of spa guests were locals, dropping by for the day, which is always a good sign.
Dinner by the Bay
Jordan's is the resort's Four Diamond, award-winning restaurant overlooking the Bay. The menu offers California cuisine with a Pacific Rim influence. Local ingredients are used whenever possible.
We opted for the casual dining offered at the Paragon Bar & Café with equally stunning views and a large selection of hand-shaken cocktails. We started with an Arugala Salad and the Maytag Blue Cheese cheesecake. What a delightful concoction blue cheese, walnuts and other yummies, tucked into a crust and warmed enough to spread on little toasted bread slices crostini. Our waiter suggested a pinot noir, which is a light red wine, to accompany the cheesecake, an excellent recommendation. Bob, my husband, had Grilled Pork Chop, which was so delicious that I never got a taste of it. Our waiter recommended getting a side of The Claremont's famous macaroni and cheese. "Some people come here just for the mac-n-cheese," he said. Bob concurred: "Excellent," he said, around a mouthful. I ordered the Halibut encrusted with walnuts. Very, very nice.
Best of all, we watched a beautiful sunset as we delighted in our dinner. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m., and we suggest you get there early to get a good sunset viewing seat.
Once a Castle
The history of The Claremont Resort dates back to the early days of the Gold Rush, when a Kansas farmer, named Bill Thornburg, struck it rich. He came to California with his family, and his wife dreamed of a home that looked like an English Castle. Thornburg purchased 13,000 acres, which were part of the old Peralta and Vicente Spanish land grants. To fulfill his wife's dream, he built a castle and several stables that housed pedigreed hunters and jumpers. Cockney grooms cared for the horses and Thornburg raised English foxes for hunting parties.
The grounds and natural setting in the Berkeley hills have given The Claremont a picturesque quality found in the Age of Romanticism. At one time, the entire second floor was flanked by a large porch on which visitors would sit or take walks, admiring the surroundings. This was the time when lawn sports such as tennis, badminton, and croquet gained popularity, and The Claremont also built its first tennis courts and pool. Years later, when the porch lost its popularity, and the resort needed more space, the porch was enclosed and turned into an office and a dining room. Today, you can relive the elegance of the porch by dining at one of the hotel's two restaurants, Jordan's. In the 1950s, The Claremont became a destination for conferences, and offered more convention and exhibit space than any hotel west of Chicago.
In order to preserve the interior design, the hotel added fire silos to the outside of the building. These silos had entrances from each floor and a long spiral slide that would take guests to safety in the event of a fire. As you might imagine, kids made it a sport to evade hotel security and slide down the fire escape as often as possible. The fire escapes were torn down in 1971.
Another historic slide has gone the way of renovation. Bob's mom visited The Claremont when she was a little girl, and found that the laundry chutes made excellent slides. When we told this story to front desk clerk, she said she had heard other older guest mention that they had ridden the chutes to the laundry room in the basement, too.
The New Claremont $24 Million Later
Harsh Investment Corporation took over management of the Claremont in 1971 and made multi-million dollar improvements including a Mediterranean porch, cocktail lounge and coffee shop. New tennis courts were built, and the pool and tennis facilities were remodeled to include a snack bar, lounge, and pro shop.
In April 1998, The Claremont was purchased by KSL Recreation Corporation, which owns and operates landmark resorts and golf courses around the country, including La Quinta Resort and Club, PGA WEST, the Doral Golf Resort and Spa (Miami, Florida), Lake Lanier Islands near Atlanta, Ggeorgia, and the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City, Michigan.
Visiting the University of California, Berkeley
My husband graduated from the University of California at Berkeley (aka "Cal") and was a student there in the 1960s. This was our first trip to the campus together, and I got some great stories!
The Free Speech Movement
Bob was a first year engineering student in 1964, the same year student protests and sit-ins began. (He also took a math class from Ted Kaczynski, long before he became the Unibomber). The Free Speech Movement (FSM), led by Mario Savio, resulted in a general sit-in in Sproul Hall by 800 students (including the arrest of his girlfriend), and Bob remembers standing next to Mario during one of his moving speeches. "He was getting ready to tell the agitated crowd to burn an abandoned police car. I mentioned that this might not be such a good idea, that people could get hurt. I don't know if it made a difference to him, but he decided not to order the burning."
People's Park was a period, years after the Free Speech Movement, of extreme violence, tear gas and deaths from police shootings. People's Park is a small plot of land near the university campus, and it became the focal point for a battle between "the people" and the "establishment. One day during this period, Bob was walking through Sproul Plaza, the site of many student protests, but on that day, there was no one in the plaza. From the distance, Bob heard the beating of helicopter rotors, and quickly found himself covered in tear gas. He had to stick his head in Ludwig's Fountain to wash the tear gas from his eyes. The choppers went on to gas a nearby hospital, too. "Boy was I surprised to watch the news that night," he said. "Governor Ronald Reagan announced that they had gassed a group of demonstrators, and made no mention of the hospital. Who knew I was a group all by myself?"
To learn more about the Battle of People's Park, check out these two Rolling Stone articles, written at the time the events were happening: http://www.beauty-reality.com/peoplespark3.html.
Other Cal Must-Sees
Best view of San Francisco Bay. Drive up to the Space Sciences Building at the top of the hill behind the football stadium. Walk down to the front of the building. There are picnic tables and the best view of the Bay. You can see both bridges (Bay Bridge and Golden Gate), Alcatraz, the San Francisco skyline, and Berkeley below. Sunset is particularly beautiful since the view is directly to the west. Bob says this is a great spot to bring a date.
On the way back from the Space Science Building, you'll see the Botanical gardens. California's ideal growing climate is home to 44% of all species of plants, and you can see a bunch of them from all over the world in this manageable park. Bring a picnic and enjoy them in the Asian gardens, the Chinese herb garden or the Old Roses garden. The Gardens are part of the university system, and everything in the garden is part of a research project, so everything is car/643-2755.
Walking down this street, you'll get a big facefull of stereotypical Berkeley street artists, tarot card readers, head shops, and lots and lots of interesting and entertaining flyers for meetings for every kind of group you can imagine. Be sure to stop in Cody's Books, the famous and still independent bookstore. www.codysbooks.com. Want cheap, fantastic Indian food? Try Naan 'n' Curry, at Telegraph and Durant, just a few blocks from campus. Great for people watching, and remember that you have a wonderful, clean room and spa waiting for you back at The Claremont.
By Cymber Quinn and Bob Conn, Jetsetters Magazine Bay Area Correspondents.