Photo Linda Seccaspina 2012 Oakland
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.”
A jazz band plays as visitors check out the lobby during the remodeling celebration at the California Hotel on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The hotel is no longer in severe disrepair after a 3-year makeover by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation with help from federal and local grants. The hotel was once a venue for jazz, blues and mambo stars including Billie Holiday and Ray Charles, and was a beacon for black travelers blocked from lodging elsewhere. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
So what about the Hotel California which sits in a dark underbelly in Oakland? Was there some song written about it also? The California Hotel was built in 1929 and operated as a commercial hotel. 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.
It was one of the few hotels where blacks could stay and black musicians could express their art. For nearly three decades, beginning in 1936, many blacks relied on “The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide” to help them decide where they could travel during an era of racial division. The hotel’s ballroom was also famous for the celebrities who played there. From the ‘20s through 1971, the site boosted a “who’s who” reputation, drawing jazz and blues greats who ranged from Fats Domino to Ike & Tina Turner as well as fans who came to listen and dance.
“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!”
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