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Thursday, 25 June 2015

From the historic to the hypothetical, with a brief motel stop alongthe way

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph shows the Chittenden Hotel in Columbus Ohio. I have no idea what it was like inside but appears to have been a  large establishment that was demolished in 1979. I can't claim to have stayed in many grand hotels, and really they are not my style in any event, but the prompt reminded me of two that I've had the pleasure of visiting. Here are a couple of relevant memories, together with some references to the history of the hotels.

The Australia Hotel in Castlereagh St Sydney was very much a grand hotel in its time. I stayed there on the night of 9 December 1969, just eighteen months before it closed for good and was demolished to make way for a 35 storey skyscraper known as the MLC Centre. I had never stayed anywhere like it before, and was most impressed, although it wasn't a planned stay, as the following article explains. I was one of the group of school students aged between 16 and 17 who had been awarded exchange scholarships by the Goethe Institute and were headed to what was then West Germany for three months. Our families had farewelled us and we were among the 72 passengers aboard a Boing 707 that was flying over the middle of Australia, when part of a wheel belonging to our plane was found on the tarmac back in Sydney. As reported in the article below, the pilot made the decision to turn back, rather than attempt a night landing in Djakarta. This was my first independent trip without family, and could well have been my last, but thankfully my number wasn't up that day, and I'm here to tell the tale. Our plane landed safely and as the article relates, we were put up at the Australia and the Menzies, another prestigious city establishment. We departed afresh the next day, with no further problems. I see from a scrapbook I put together afterwards that there were a lot of stops en route. After Djakarta the plane landed for refuelling in Singapore, Bangkok and Karachi, and we then enjoyed a five day stopover in Rome before flying into a snowy Frankfurt. From there we went our separate ways to meet up with our host families. The Felix family with whom I was billeted lived in Solingen, a centre for knife and cutlery manufacture, between Cologne and Dusseldorf, and I had a wonderful time there.


 Incidentally, Lufthansa and a number of other European airlines no longer fly out of Australia, finding it more economical to code share the first leg with other airlines such as Qantas.

I didn't take any photographs of the Australia Hotel at the time or even manage to pick up a postcard. Being a rather naive 17 year old I knew nothing about the hotel or its history and was probably a little overwhelmed in all the circumstances, and after all, our trip hadn't really gone anywhere, but I do remember sharing a room with one or two other girls. Our group and chaperones had dinner and breakfast together in a very large and well-appointed dining room, which was probably the Winter Garden, and I vaguely recall being astonished by the grand sweeping staircase. These and other features are described in this Wikipedia article.

 Here is an old photograph of the Australia, courtesy of the web site of the State Library of NSW.

The Australia Hotel c.1910


A photograph of the Australia Hotel, from the souvenir program of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1932.

 You can read about the hotel's history and see other photographs of it and of various celebrity guests who stayed there in its heyday here on the Sydney Architecture web site. The hotel was opened in 1891 and the actress Sarah Berhardt arrived with 100 pieces of luggage to perform at the opening. Over the years it was the setting for countless formal company and official dinners, launches, fashion parades and other important events. In 1949 the ballroom was the site of the first successful demonstration of television in Australia. Here is a quote from the Royal Australian Historical Society:

 Sydney's premier hotel for many years, the 'Australia' 
         was one of an international standard of comfort and service. 

         Sarah Bernhardt registered as the first guest on the first day 

of opening. One lady stayed there for 31 years.
Apart from the accommodation for guests, rooms
were also provided for their servants including the
children's nurses who had their own dining room with their charges.

This photograph from Wikipedia shows how the hotel entrance must have appeared when I was there, complete with a demolition notice posted on one of those substantial marble columns.  They look so solid but sadly their days were numbered. Sydney's heritage buildings were woefully decimated during a commercial development boom during the 1970s.  The Royal Australian Historical Society placed one of its historic green plaques on the site where the Australia Hotel stood, but sadly that plaque and quite a few others now appear to have gone missing. It doesn't show much respect for history by whoever is responsible for removing such plaques.



A current photo of the MLC Centre, the building that replaced the Australia Hotel. The entire hotel could have comfortably fitted within its forecourt. Both that area and the  MLC Tower are currently undergoing some kind of renovation work, but I doubt it's about to be torn down any time soon.

      The other grand hotel that I've been privileged to stay in was the Willard in Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. It was April 2005 and we had arrived around 6 a.m., because our flight from Los Angeles had been delayed some eight hours due to a bird strike, but after a few hours' sleep in a very comfortable bed we were revived and ready to look around the city. Over the next few days while my husband was attending a conference at the Willard, I was free to take in all the famous sights. 

I found this postcard for sale online, showing the Willard Hotel, c. 1936.

I took the following photograph from the top of the Old Post Office Tower, looking down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House, and it and the next photograph bear out the claim on the card that the Willard lies between the Capitol and the White House. The Willard is the white building second from right, with the flag on top. The White House is in amongst the trees, beyond the building with Grecian columned front.  Once again, I don't seem to have taken any other photographs of the hotel or have bought a postcard, but inside it was very richly furnished and ornately decorated.
        The view in the opposite direction, looking up Pennsylvania Ave towards the Capitol:

Despite the sumptuousness of our accommodation, I did have one small quibble during our four night stay.  Here in Australia a bar fridge is provided as standard equipment in every hotel and motel room. It may either come prestocked or be empty for guests' personal supplies. When I bought some milk and made room for it in the crowded 'fridge' in our room at the Willard, I was rather shocked to discover the next day that because I had unwittingly rearranged some of the stocked soft drinks, they had been instantly and automatically registered on our account. Clearly that electronically programmed drinks receptacle was not a bar fridge for the convenience of guests at all, but rather was only to encourage them to purchase drinks at inflated hotel prices!  Happily the charge was reversed after I apologised for my error in not having read the fine print. 

I can recommend a very interesting and informative online article with drawings and photographs relating the illustrious history of the Willard Hotel by Elizabeth Smith Brownstein. The first hotel was constructed on the site in the 1850s. The Willard was threatened with demolition on several occasions, and in 1968 it was closed without warning for 18 years, but unlike the Chittenden and the Australia Hotel, it was eventually saved from that fate. Extensive restoration, renovation and refurbishment in the late 1980s saw the Willard reopened and restored to its former glory.

Here's a quote from the Willard Intercontinental website, referring to some of its famous guests: 

A most celebrated historic Washington DC hotel, the Willard InterContinental Washington, has been the focal point for elegant dinners, meetings, and gala social events for more than 150 years. An institution, this grand Washington DC historic hotel has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King finished his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while a guest at the Willard. Other notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, Lord and Lady Napier, and countless others. Walt Whitman mentioned the hotel in his works; and Mark Twain penned two books here in the early 1900s. Throughout the ages, no phrase has raised eyebrows like “I’m staying at the Willard.”
The Banquet Room, photograph from Willard Hotel web site

Back home to more mundane life in suburban Melbourne, where this sign and the shell of the surrounding structure are all that remains of the original Oakleigh Motel, which in 1957 was the first motel to be built in Victoria. The sign is heritage protected but there is no longer any motel attached, just an unconnected new  residential unit development. Some people feel that the National Trust has failed in its duty here in not preserving the building intact, but I have my doubts as to whether we should protect things just because they were the first of their kind, when they possibly have no other architectural merit. You can judge for yourself from the second and third photographs from the Photosearch collection of the National Archives of Australia, showing the motel in operation in 1959. Motels like this are still very popular accommodation in this country as in the US, especially for travelling families and anyone reluctant to pay city hotel prices.



                         Finally, here is an example of what might be called a hypothetical hotel.

This looks like a hotel, doesn't it? But perhaps the fact that it is standing out on its own on the edge of a highway might raise a doubt, and in fact this is not somewhere you could check into. In reality it is just a giant folly, built to resemble a hotel. Click here to read a piece by its creator, artist Callum Morton.  At 20 metres high it's pretty realistic, and some of the windows even light up at night for its nonexistent occupants. It's constructed beside a 39 km tollway called Eastlink, which connects the north eastern Melbourne suburb of Donvale with the southern suburb of Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula. There are a number of other roadside scupltures to divert drivers on the otherwise fairly boring commute, including for example this giant bird pecking at a worm. 

                                                      Photograph from Visual City  website.

For more blogs on hotels and other matters, just check in to Sepia Saturday #285
 where you can dine out on a virtual smorgasbord of photographs and ideas, but no bar fridge provided, so it's BYO drinks! 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?



I went to Saturday morning classes to learn touch typing as a teenager but although I learnt the key placement by that method of putting your hands under a shield, I never really achieved any great speed - thankfully I did not have to type for a living, and now I couldn't survive without Spellcheck or the edit/delete function, and even then a lot of typos slip through. 

One of my grandfathers in NZ took up typing all his letters in his later years, which was great because it meant we could read what he had written, rather than having to puzzle over indecipherable handwriting.
 No photos of Granddad Morrison or any other family member typing however, and sad to say, these two photographs below are the only ones I have in my family collection of anything vaguely resembling a typewriter!  I made this cake for my mother Jean's 64th birthday in 1990 and took it up from Sydney to Wamberal on the New South Wales Central Coast, where she and my father lived. They had bought a house there after retiring from their jobs in Canberra and deciding that after 30 years there they wanted to move somewhere with a milder climate. I don't remember why I made Mum a special cake, perhaps it was just because I could, once she lived closer to us than Canberra, which was a four hour drive away, and I knew the children would enjoy it too. In the second photo which must have been taken by my father, Mum is about to cut us all a slice to have with our cups of tea or cordial. Her real typewriter was a nifty little yellow portable model and maybe one of her grandchildren suggested the idea of a typewriter cake. 

The cake design comes from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book, the party cake essential for Australian mothers in the 1980s and 90s. I've referred to it once or twice and have shown a few other creations I made from it over the years,  such as here for example. Here is a scan of the relevant page - very simple, especially as it and all the other cakes in the book just use packet mixes, and hardly very healthy, but they were only for birthdays, after all.  You could always make a proper cake with healthy ingredients if you preferred, but back then we weren't so concerned about all that kind of thing, and somehow the kids still survived!  The book was re-issued as a special vintage edition recently, and surprisingly the typewriter design is still included, despite the fact that today's kids probably have never seen the real thing. I guess it's still there for nostalgic reasons, like the old style telephone, whereas Mickey and Minnie have inexplicably been replaced by Wacky Wabbit and some cat called Ginger Nevil. I'm glad the typewriter is still there, because computer keyboards just don't have the same character. You have probably seen the amusing cartoon doing the rounds that depicts a woman who has just returned to office work after many years and who automatically hits the non-existent carriage return, with the result that the entire computer is cleared off her desk.

 My mother looked pretty good for 64, which is what I'll be next year. Will anyone make me a cake, I wonder, or perhaps sing me the title song of this blog, or the Beatles' version of Happy Birthday?

You can no doubt find more serious blogs about typewriting matters here at Sepia Saturday #284, probably complete with authentic sepia-toned photographs.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Tunnel vision?

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt shows a number of workers celebrating the completion of  a Irish tunnel. There's a shovel planted in between the men, but I don't think anyone is actually leaning on it, as workers often seem to do, but of course their job here is done.

Like most people, I've been through many tunnels both large and small over the years, and I thought perhaps I might have taken a photograph or two of some of the more notable ones, but I searched through my travel albums to no avail. I suppose when you go through tunnels you are either driving or on a train, and even if you are driving you generally don't get the chance to stop and take a photograph beforehand. These following two photographs are the best I could find, but they don't exactly show tunnels. The first shows one of the windows in the tunnel, built through massive rock formations in Zion National Park, Utah. We were driving from Bryce Canyon to Las Vegas in January 1996 and that is our rental car in the shot, so we must have stopped to get a photograph after emerging from the tunnel. I think you could also stop at the windows inside for breath-taking views.

The next photograph from December 2002 was taken from the train as it goes around a curve on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which runs from Cairns  up to Kuranda in Far North Queensland. There are many tunnels along the route and the head of the train could be about to disappear into one, if it hasn't already done so, but you'll just have to take my word for that, as it's not obvious from the photo.  It's well worth taking this trip both for its own sake and to wander around the hippy village of Kuranda, especially on market days.

I then thought I would have a quick flick through my mother's travel albums and bingo, I found the  photo below from a trip she and my father took in 1978, outside the Homer Tunnel on the South Island of NZ. The Homer tunnel leads to Milford Sound, famous for stunning alpine peaks, fiords and amazing waterfalls. It was named after one William H. Homer, an explorer who suggested the idea of a tunnel back in 1889 after discovering the Homer Saddle. The government didn't start building the tunnel until 1935 and after interruptions caused by World War 2 it was eventually completed in 1953. It provides the only land access to Milford Sound, although if you are intrepid you could walk in via the rather challenging Milford Track, which is 53.5 km long and requires about 4 days to hike.   The tunnel itself is wide enough for a car and a bus to pass, but not for two buses or campervans travelling in opposite directions. A tidal flow system operates generally, with most vehicles arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. In 2002 a tourist bus caught fire in the tunnel and its passengers and driver had to make their way out through pitch darkness and smoke to the eastern end of the tunnel, assisted only by headlights of vehicles waiting at the portal. Two people became disorientated and emerged at the Milford Sound end. Roof lighting and traffic lights were introduced in 2004 for the peak summer season only, but they don't operate in either winter or spring, due to the avalanche risk to waiting vehicles. The whole area is very prone to avalanches over the winter and the road is often closed as a result.

I've been to Milford Sound three times now, twice by road either by bus or car through this tunnel, and more recently by boat, while cruising around NZ with my late mother Jean in 2010.  The first time was in 1974, when my husband and I were on our honeymoon, which comprised two separate week long bus tours of both Islands, with a couple of days' break in Christchurch in between. It was quite a pleasant and hassle-free way to see the sights, and our North Island tour was with Newmans Tours, as in this photograph, but in the South we went with Tiki Tours. We haven't done any long bus tours since, but I recall also that in those days renting a car wasn't a possibility for 21 year olds, which is what we were back then. The tour included a day trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound, where you could take a ferry cruise to see the sights close up. According to the tour booklet I pasted into in a honeymoon scrapbook, the tunnel descends downwards for a distance of three quarters of a mile (1240 metres) and drops from 3000 ft to 2,600 ft above sea level.  You then drive  over seven miles through the valley before being able to glimpse the famous Mitre Peak, which rises steeply out of the waters of the Sound.

 We subsequently took the family through the tunnel to Milford in 1998. We had gone over to Queenstown for a skiing holiday in the September school holiday,  but it was late and had not been a very good season season and unfortunately some of the resorts were already closed, so we had a bit more time to sight see in the surrounding area than we had originally planned, which was fine by me as a non-skier, but the rest of the family weren't too happy about their on snow time being cut short. We took a ferry to visit an interesting underwater observatory located in one of the bays.  

 Click here to see a photograph taken outside the tunnel not long after work was begun in 1935.  Initially there were only five men working with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows. Like all tunnels, the result is an incredible engineering feat.

Here is a collage made up of a few photographs from the three Milford Sound visits, showing the spectacular scenery and wildlife, which includes crested penguins and fur seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  It's a very high rainfall area, but we were lucky to have sunny weather on the first two trips. By contrast, the day my mother and I visited in 2010 was damp and misty, but the cascading falls and mountains were still just as dramatic.  My mother Jean is gazing out in the top right hand photograph from 2010, with the newlyweds in the bottom corner from 1974, and our view in between of Mitre Peak. The family is perching on shore in 1998 between us and the penguins. They could be looking a bit disgruntled, probably due to the rather fierce sandflies, a drawback of the humid climate that you need to go well prepared for. Mitre Peak is also to be seen on the far left of the top picture. The boat sails very close to the bottom of some of the falls.

I haven't included a video clip for some time now, but can't resist, as this song "Don't Forget Your Shovel" by my all-time favourite Irish singer Christy Moore seems a perfect fit here. We've seen him sing it live at numerous concerts over the years, the last time being in London last year at Festival Hall.  It's only very short, don't miss it!

Postscript : This excerpt from Christy Moore's autobiography may explain his song a little more:

For more tunnel vision, switch on your headlights now and navigate your way out to Sepia Saturday # 283

Friday, 5 June 2015

Monopoly, scrabble, cryptic crosswords, puzzles, you name it ...

Still away until this coming Monday, but here are a couple of photos relating to board games, and Really I can't think of too many others that I might be able to find if I were home.

The first is a blurry photo taken in dim light with my old non- digital phone, showing us playing a game of monopoly at our beach unit, post Xmas 2012.  Our elder son and his fiancee are keen board and word game players. I can't remember who won, but very much doubt it was me.

Here is a photo said son took of the creative happy b'day cake he made a few months later for his fiancee Lissa's birthday, based on scrabble tiles. We weren't there to sample the cake, but we did enjoy the photo! It will be interesting to see what kind of wedding cake they decide to have.

For more Sepia Saturday posts this week, make your move now to