Architecture Stories: The Other Hotel California

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For years I have noticed the sign of this old hotel towering in the Oakland sky. Was this the Hotel California that the band The Eagles sang about? The building on the cover of the album was actually the Beverly Hills Hotel and was not even related to the album. After doing some research I found out a couple of very odd things concerning that song involving Satanism and absolute craziness.

 

First some thought it had to do with Hotel California in the Baja Peninsula but the Eagles never stayed nor wrote music there.  Rumours have been circulating for years that it had to do with the Camarillo State Mental Hospital which housed many psychiatric patients until 1997. The rumour circulated the most was that people thought the shadowy figure with outstretched arms on the cover was Satan worshipper Anton LaVey who bought an old church in San Francisco in the 70’s. It had been again discussed that the Eagles were heavily involved in the occult and were the disciples of LaVey and everyone had dubbed his church Hotel California.

 

According to Snopes Don Henley originally said the song was about the “loss of innocence”. On November 25, 2007 Henley appeared on the TV news show 60 Minutes, and he was immediately asked what the song meant.

 

Henley replied: “It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.”

 


 

So what about the Hotel California which sits in a dark underbelly in Oakland? Was there some song written about it also? Oakland’s most visible landmark opened in 1930 and was the hot spot for entertainment and leisure. This hotel was also deeply connected to the construction of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, which opened in November 1936.

 

Many of these early stories fail to mention that this was a whites-only hotel, a space where people of color were not welcome. As one resident recalls, “when you walked by, you held your head down and didn’t even look into the window.”

 

 

 

 

By the 1950s, the California Hotel became what was known as a “cultural institution”. Based on marks left in concrete from the early 1970s, we know that Sly Stone and Big Mama Thorton were regular visitors to these venues, as well as Oakland greats such as Eugene Blacknell, Charles Brown, and Roger Collins.

 

 “The California Hotel served as one of the premier African-American entertainment spots in the East Bay in the 1950s and 1960s.  Dancer Ruth Beckford performed at the hotel’s Zanzibar Club, as well as such rhythm and blues singers as Little Richard, Sam Cooke and gospel great Mahalia Jackson.”

 

In the same rooms some of the greats stayed in low income residents of the California Hotel in Oakland received notice in 2008 that they would be required to vacate the building by July 15 of that year. The 250 residents, many disabled, some with families, all low-income, were given three weeks’ notice that they would have to find new affordable housing.

Nearly three years later, the hotel, is being over seen by appointed powers court-appointed trustee Anne Omura, executive director of the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland. As a first step toward improving the hotel, Omura used the money left over from paying the utility bills to hire the Jay-Phares Corporation (JPC), an Oakland-based property management and consulting firm, to run and rehabilitate the hotel. Because the tenants took charge they were not forced out in the street with a little help from people that cared.

 

As Jay said,

“Make it up; believe in it, do it, as that’s what life is all about.”

Just like the other Hotel California, the Eagles made it up, did it and believed in it as that what was life was about.

“Welcome to the Hotel California!”

Want to see more? Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

2 responses »

  1. Do you have or know of any photos available of the hotel in the 1950’s? I’m looking for the people who visited and socialized there during that time.

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