a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No feeding the mice at this historic hotel

Lobby, originally uploaded by xinapray.

ASHFORD, Wash. – First-time guests at Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier might expect an exquisite lodge with chic amenities.

But they won't be disappointed if their idea of paradise is an old, isolated hotel that lacks phones or televisions in its guest rooms, where rodents are known to make occasional visits.

"People come here and they think they are coming to a resort," said Pam Newlun, manager of the 92-year-old inn at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

"They ask for the pools, hot tubs. The big question: 'Is there a place to plug in my computer?'" said Newlun, admitting the answer to that query isn't one those with addictions to computers want to hear. Cell phones don't even work at the hotel, 100 miles east of Seattle and high in the clouds beside an active volcano.

Paradise Inn is constructed of Alaskan cedar salvaged from a forest fire in the mountain in 1885 and hauled by horse-drawn wagon to the base of the glacier. It is among 191 hotels and resorts that are members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Hotels of America program.

People choose to stay in hotels listed with the program because they have an appreciation for well-preserved architecture and want to stay in a room with ambiance. They also seek out hotels in historic settings, said Mary Billingsley, the program's public relations director.

The National Park Service is dedicated to preserving the 235,625-acre Mount Rainier, 97 percent of which is designated as wilderness in the 104-year-old park. Hikers can be arrested if they are caught wandering off trails and trampling on grass, which damages the park's precious ecosystem.

Guest Services of Fairfax, Va., which manages Paradise Inn, is even prohibited from using poison or traps to kill mice, which are equally valuable to the food chain at the park.

Hotel guests are warned to keep food out of their rooms, or they may have an uninvited visit by one of the "many species of animals" that abound in the park.

"We are working hard with the park service to maintain the historic nature of this hotel," Newlun said.

This is a place where families gather at night around two massive stone fireplaces and play cards or board games. Or they can be found outside, at the base of Mount Rainier's famous glacier, hiking or snow-shoeing in June when as many as 8 feet of snow can be found on the ground.

Park employees take turns in the lodge playing soothing music on a piano that was hand-hewn from native pine trees not long after the hotel opened.

Walt Disney reportedly honeymooned at the inn, which also was visited by President Truman. He tickled the ivories on the piano and had dinner in the hotel, Newlun said.

Most of the member hotels have interesting stories to tell about famous guests, even those who some claim have refused to leave.

The mysterious "Pink Lady" has been sighted at The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, N.C. Some believe she is the ghost of a young woman dressed in pink who fell to her death in the hotel atrium 80 years ago. One guest as recently as two years ago said his hair stood on end and he felt a tug on his ear when he walked alone in the atrium, Billingsley says.

There is another tale about "romance gone awry" that is still told at Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. The scandal involved a married resident, Isabelle "Sassy" Springer, and her new boyfriend, who shot her old boyfriend and two others in the hotel in 1911.

The 77-year-old and finely appointed Mayflower Park Hotel is known for romance and relaxation, having earned the distinction of being the "best getaway hotel" in the Seattle area. The 171-room hotel prides itself on having restored its deep porcelain bathtubs in all-white bathrooms dating to 1927. These tubs have old-style rubber corks hanging from chains attached to the faucets.

"The hotel's tubs are nearly twice the depth of a standard hotel tub, which makes them perfect for a relaxing after-work or after-shopping soak," said Paul Ishii, the hotel's general manager.

The Mayflower has advertised "rub a dub, dub" packages aimed at treating the body and soul. The packages include a loofa sponge and luxury bath salts.

The hotels affiliated with the National Trust come in all shapes and sizes and at a wide range of costs for a night's rest.

The American Hotel in Sag, Harbor, N.Y., has just eight rooms, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York boasts 1,380.

A night at the Paradise can cost as little as $79 for a room without a bathroom. Someone wanting a suite at The Plaza in New York, however, would need to shell out $15,000 for a night.

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