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Sue Kruse
The Grand Californian
The Pen Reveals What The Head & Heart Hold. Share The Knowledge That Yearns To Be Told

That Dear Readers, is what is known as an epigram and after spending three glorious days at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, my head is swimming with them. What is an epigram and why would it have anything to do with the Grand Californian? Read on Dear Readers and you shall learn.

The Grand Californian
The Grand Californian

I have, over the past two years, watch rise from the dust of the former Disneyland parking lot, what is about to be born as the newest Disney theme park. And, with a new theme park comes a new place to stay. Up until this time there has been no hotel built specifically by Disney for the Disneyland guests to enjoy. That has all changed with Disney’s Grand Californian. To say that it is grand is indeed an understatement. It is more than grand, it is grand and glorious and when I had to leave, I felt as if I needed to be pried away. Never have I been so happy to spend so much money for a hotel room.

To describe for you just what it is like to stay at the Grand Californian, I must give you a little art history lesson first. You see, Dear Readers, when the Imagineers began to design the Grand Californian, they focused their attentions on designs that would be appropriate to the theme of California. When they chose the style of architecture that would best fit with the new park, they turned to the Arts and Crafts movement that was popular from the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Henry Greene provided architectural inspiration. William Morris, Gustave Stickley and Eldred Hubble provided visual inspiration.

Immerse Yourself In Knowledge & Be Filled With Life

The founding father of the Arts and Crafts movement was an Englishman whose name was William Morris (1834-1896). A Victorian designer and radical socialist, he is best known for his textile and wallpaper designs. Perhaps, Dear Readers, that is a name unfamiliar to you, but I’m willing to bet that most of you have seen his work somewhere. Characterized by the use of elements of nature, his swirling leaves and berries were a direct response to the hard edge and austerity of the Industrial Revolution. To walk upon his carpets was to walk upon the forest floor.


William Morris

William Morris was not only active in the arts, but in letters as well. In addition to poetry he also penned articles of a socialist nature. In 1890 he established a publishing house called Kelmscott Press which he used to publish his poems and thoughts. Kelmscott Press also issued editions of the classics illustrated with Morris’ designs, notably The Kelmscott Chaucer, published in 1896.

As William Morris’ designs and philosophies gained admiration, his fame grew. Around the late 1800s an American named Elbert Hubbard decided to take walking tour of England during which, he briefly met William Morris. Hubbard developed a keen interest in Morris’ Kelmscott Press and as a result, started writing a series of biographical studies, which he tried to have published when he returned home to East Aurora, New York. Unsuccessful in his attempts, Hubbard decided to form his own publishing company, which he named the Roycroft Press, to print his Little Journeys.

A postcard view of the camp where Little Journeys was written
A postcard view of the camp where Little Journeys was written

Little Journeys was a success and soon folks started coming to see Hubbard’s print shop. In fact, so many folks came that Hubbard had to build a hotel. He needed furniture for the hotel so he hired local craftsmen to make simple furniture to his design specifications. The furniture was a hit too and soon folks were clamoring to buy it. Before long, an entire manufacturing community had been born. The Roycroft Community was established by Hubbard in 1895. In addition to furniture, the Roycrofters skills also encompassed leathersmithing, bookbinding, and metalsmithing.

In terms of our story, Dear Readers, perhaps Elbert Hubbard’s most important contribution was a book he published entitled 1001 Epigrams. An epigram is simply a short witty poem or saying. As the title suggests, Hubbard assembled 1001 epigrams for every day living. If you read one a day, it would have kept you supplied with inspirational thoughts for nearly three years.

In my stay at the hotel, I very much enjoyed the gentle wisdom of the epigrams sprinkled liberally all around the Grand Californian. You will find them in the lounge, in the restaurant, when your bed is turned down, and on every scrap of paper issued from the hotel. For me, it almost became a game to collect them. Unfortunately at this time, 1001 Epigrams is out of print, but as I was told, the Grand Californian is trying to get copies to sell and hopes to have the book available by this summer. In the meantime, you can visit the Roycrofter's community online for a list of them.

All Art Is But Imitation Of Nature

We still have a couple of important folks to discuss before we can move on to a description of the hotel, Frank Lloyd Wright and the brothers, Charles and Henry Greene.

Charles (1868-1957) and Henry (1870-1954) Greene were born in Brighton, Ohio (now part of Cincinnati). Their father decided they should become architects and enrolled them in the school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Attending between the years of 1886 and 1888, they studied classical architecture styles, which they found a little stifling. After a two-year apprenticeship, the brothers formed their own architectural firm of Greene and Greene. In 1893 on their way west to join their parents in the little country town of Pasadena, they stopped off for a visit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. This little side trip proved fortuitous in that it was the brother’s first exposure to examples of Japanese architecture, which would later prove to be a major influence on their designs.

The Gamble House
The Gamble House

Architecturally speaking, Greene and Greene are known for what is referred to as the Ultimate Bungalow, the most famous of which is the Gamble House in Pasadena, California. The house was commissioned in 1908 by David and Mary Gamble (of Proctor and Gamble fame) and is now owned by the USC School of Architecture. If you are looking for an interesting side trip on your vacation to the Disneyland Resort and you want to see a real example of the architectural inspiration for the hotel you’re staying in, take a tour of the Gamble House. It’s nestled in a part of Pasadena near the Rose Bowl that is simply stunning in its beauty. The old, tree-lined street and majestic house seem as if they are miles away from the heart of a major city, which was pretty much the point of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Everything integrated with the landscape. Rather than feel as though it was a big wart plunked down amongst the trees (as so much architecture does today), it became one with the land and all flowed together. Which brings us to architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the master of Organic Architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867. He lived to the ripe old age of 91 when he died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1959. In his younger years, Wright’s family had migratory tendencies. He lived in Rhode Island, Iowa, and Massachusetts as well as Wisconsin with summers spent on his Uncle’s farm. This countryside travel had an impact on his work as an architect. In his autobiography, Wright mentions learning every feature of the land and feeling as much a part of it as the trees and birds.

In 1888, Wright worked for the Chicago firm of Adler and Sullivan as a draftsman. Working directly under Louis Sullivan, he learned two ideas that he employed and refined in his later work, form follows function and American architecture should be based on American themes, not tradition or European styles. When Sullivan learned Wright had been accepting commissions on the side, he and Wright abruptly parted company and Wright formed his own architectural firm.

Fallingwater
Fallingwater

Wright’s designs are characterized by the use of native materials, the relationship of the architecture to the site and woodwork that was stained, but never painted. Wright often designed all the furnishings for his houses as well, to provide a total integration of house and landscape. Perhaps his most famous house is Fallingwater. Built on a waterfall in 1936 in a rural part of Pennsylvania, it seems to grow up out of the landscape rather than dominate it and follows to the letter Wright’s idea of organic architecture. Not far from the Disneyland Resort an interesting example of Wright’s Organic architecture can be found, Hollyhock House. It was built between 1919 and 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall not far from Hollywood.

Our friends We Greet With Hand & Heart

When I was watching this hotel go up, I once said that for an expensive hotel I thought it was rather plain. I was a little off base with that remark. As I pulled up to the guard gate the first thing that struck me was, that up close, the hotel is not plain but has the elegant simplicity of a classic California bungalow. It very much reminded me of the Gamble House in Pasadena, which I think is one of the most beautiful architectural examples of the Arts and Crafts period.

Entry
Entry

I was directed to pull up to the entrance to the hotel. Waiting for my every command under the entry’s portecochère was an entire cadre of Bellmen. The door of my car was opened for me and I was greeted by Michael. Never have I been treated so royally. Michael took care of my every need, unloading my luggage, handing my car over to the valet, escorting me to the front desk of the hotel and personally making sure that I was in the good hands of Janet who was to check me in. All the while I was addressed by name (the staff at the guard gate cleverly insert a slip of paper with the guest’s name on it on the windshield of the car) and this added to the feeling of being very welcome.

Let me backtrack a little here, Dear Readers, and tell you about the entrance to the hotel. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Disney use of forced perspective. It is employed in Disneyland on Main Street where the first floor of each building is larger in scale than the second and the second is larger than the third. The effect is that the buildings do not dwarf Sleeping Beauty Castle, but lead the eye up to it. Forced perspective works for the entrance of the hotel as well. The height of the entry’s towering portecochère (an architectural term for the roof that protects the driveway at the entrance to a house) lowers as you get to the doors. Inside the entry, the roof is lower still. Just inside by the bell desk, the roof begins to raise again and then it strikes you. The Grand Hall. This forced perspective approach has the effect of making the Grand Hall seem even more towering than it actually is.

Grand Hall
The Grand Hall

In addition to the forced perspective, the entry doors are part of the drama. The outer door is a beautiful leaded glass assemblage that parts in the middle as you approach. It depicts a scene in the forest. If you look closer, you realize it’s not just any forest, it’s Grizzly Peak. The inside door is a wood and opaque glass version of a Japanese Shoji screen. Once again, it seemed as though the influence came from the Gamble House, as this type of element is very prevalent there. And, can I tell you how beautiful the entry is? What a way to start your stay!

Janet checked me in, gave a brief rundown on the hotel’s amenities, confirmed my reservation for the Napa Rose and I was on my way to my room on the fifth floor. Michael offered to help with my luggage, but since I had but one small bag, it seemed rather silly to make the bell staff wait on me (even though that’s what they are there for). I cannot emphasize enough how helpful and charming both Michael and Janet were. I think it was the most pleasant entrée into a hotel that I have ever had.

Hospitality Through And through. Time spent In Earnest

The room

Before I discuss the rest of the hotel let’s talk about the room. I wish I was still there. The view was mesmerizing. The room was comfortable and well thought out. The décor follows the theme of Arts and Crafts and all the furnishings are in the Mission style. The room I stayed in had two queen sized beds with beautiful glass and metal lamps overhead (easily accessed by a dimmer switch so you can read in bed and not have to move much to switch them off). There was a small table with two chairs and a cabinet housing a television and a refrigerator bar (that was well stocked).

Photo (with foldable crib insert) of what is provided in your closet
Photo (with foldable crib insert) of what is provided in your closet

The large closet had mirrored doors and opened to reveal two plush bathrobes, plus white padded coat hangers. To me, that was a very thoughtful inclusion. In the corner of the closet was a portable baby bed, an ironing board and an iron. Again, another thoughtful detail to not have to call housekeeping and request those items. As for the bathrobes, I always love having one available because bringing my own takes up too much room in the suitcase. Of note also, is that the staff will bring additional robes should you require them as well as child sized robes. The epigram placed with the robes was a nice thought too... Wrap Yourself in Simple Pleasures.

Bath
Bathroom

The bathroom has a few nice touches of its own. The one I most appreciated was a mirror. Usually the lighting in hotel rooms is not too conducive to putting on makeup. I have often wished I had a mirror that I could manipulate and adjust to the light to apply my makeup. At the Grand Californian, they took care of that for me with a large round mirror that pulls out from the wall and adjusts to whatever angle you desire. There was an array of toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotion of good quality. I’m now coveting my little bottles. Also present was a small coffee maker, another important thing to me. I like to relax with a good cup a tea. This particular coffee maker steeped tea as well as brewed coffee.

When I’m vacationing (and this was a vacation for me) decadent bubble baths filled to the brim with steamy hot water and bubbles for days are a priority. A few candles are nice too. Usually the bathroom is so industrial though that such pampering isn’t always easy to achieve. Not so at the Grand Californian. The tub was the perfect size to stretch out in and had a small ledge that candles could be placed upon. I very much enjoyed a few long soaks in the tub with a good book.

Call Upon Your Friends & Harmony Will Ring True

The view
The view

In the evening, a few friends came up to see the room and we all ordered room service. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, we sat on the porch and stared into the lights of Paradise Pier. What a view! I’m not quite sure what the regular rate for the room is, I was there on a special rate, but what ever it is, it’s worth every penny just to sit and gaze down upon the Paradise Pier section of Disney’s California Adventure. One would think, upon first glance, that this side of the hotel would be a bad choice to stay in due to the noise factor. When the door to the balcony was open, you could indeed, hear the screams from Mulholland Madness and the carnival music of Paradise Pier. The room was so well sound proofed though that when the door was shut, it was as if the outside world did not exist. During my stay, I talked to a woman staying in a room directly over the Monorail track and she too, attested to the fact that it was whisper quiet and had a hard time believing the Monorail was traveling under her room at regular intervals.

As for room service at the hotel, it was first rate. I enjoyed a three egg fritatta that was made with several kinds of tomatoes and shitaki mushrooms. Better than that though was the lemon meringue tart with it’s mile high meringue and raspberry coulis.


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Staying at the Grand

 MORE INFO

You can take MousePlanet's photo tour of the hotel, including room views


Interested in some of the influences behind the Grand Californian? Here are some links you may find of interest. (All of them open new windows so you won't lose your place on the site here.)

William Morris - a brief biography

The Web Page of the Roycrofters

A web listing of some of the Hubbard 1001 Epigrams

The Gamble House

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Western Pennsylvania Foundation - Fallingwater

PBS site on Fallingwater

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