My recent trip down to Musso & Frank and the link yesterday to my guidebook The Literary World of San Francisco remind me that I’ve been meaning to blurb the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel on Catalina Island for awhile now. I’ve been aware for years that the prolific Western writer lived on the island — if you read my book Willeford you’ll see that Charles Willeford had a schtick going in his writing about how Grey would donate the swordfish he’d reel in on his boat to the LA County Jail, to the point that the prisoners grew sick of swordfish.
I guess I first did a daytrip out to Catalina around ten years back — worth it for the boat ride, hanging out in the town of Avalon, and a visit to the theatre Wrigley of gum fame had erected. (A second trip reminded me that the artist who did the theatre murals was also connected with the 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon — art director or something like that.) And it’s hard to believe today that ships full of people would travel out to the island from LA to dance to now legendary Big Bands in the theatre ballroom.
But my favorite angle was seeing the Zane Grey home still standing, and operating as a hotel. I’ll visit any literary site open as a museum — from the Robert E. Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas to the attic in London where Dr. Sam: Johnson compiled his dictionary, the Brontë home, the birthplace of Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway’s house in Key West, Poe’s digs in Philly — I’ve got that jones. I’ll also stand outside literary sites that aren’t open for business and absorb the atmosphere.
So, I knew a return trip to Catalina had to include at least a night in the pueblo. As it turned out, I got the Desert Gold Room (all the guest rooms are named for various Grey books), which proved to be Grey’s writing studio (you can tell from the large wooden slab used as a mantlepiece in historic photos). Kind of a quick crash course in Zane Grey, you can look down on the sports fishing club of his day (and today, same building), the Tuna Club, where he got into an argument about records — they docked him for using stronger lines to haul in bigger catches.
Great views. Really great views.
Of course, I’m prejudiced in favor of places like this — but check out this review, which seems to me fair enough, and accurate. The blogger liked it, the fiance wanted a place with TV and cable.
Without really battering the old brain, offhand I can’t think of another major literary site that’s open as a hotel. And when I stopped there February last year, the place was being offered for sale — in the $13 million range, if you’ve got the change — either to continue as a business or change back to a private residence as in Grey’s era.
When I hit Musso & Frank after that visit, both Donald Sidney-Fryer and I ordered swordfish, in honor of Zane Grey (and Willeford).