Yesterday, I had an interesting time traveling to see things I had seen dozens of times before. Except this time, I really saw them.
I have led my car club on dozens of drives through the Sacramento River Delta. I have told people that this area is completely different from the city.
Call it laid-back.
And in 10 minutes you can leave one urbane world to the beginning of this world.
Anyway along the river there is an old (for us) art-deco styled hotel called the Ryde Hotel. It has a fascinating Hollywood connection together with the Grand Island Mansion 2.5 miles away.
The Hollywood stars of the 20s and 30s used to stay at the mansion and party at the Ryde.
Which in itself I found amazing since we are 400 miles from Los Angeles.
But then, if so many stars were willing to take an evening train from the Glendale train station to San Luis Obispo, and then endure a 40 mile ride on dirt roads to a ranch, I guess a bit of distance didn’t keep them from a good time.
I had heard for years that there was a “Speakeasy Room” at the Ryde, and if you were nice, the people at the front desk would show you where it is.
Never got around to seeing it.
Prohibition was an interesting time. All through the 20th century (and a bit before) there was a movement building to make illegal the sale of alcoholic beverages in the US. In fact, the U.S. Navy’s prohibition of alcohol on ships is a direct result of that era.
Woodrow Wilson, when running for President, wanted some of that Temperance vote, so he made sure that Josephus Daniels would be part of his administration. A strict believer in the evils of alcohol, when made Secretary of the Navy he made sure that all alcohol was banned from his ships.
A policy which, need I remind you, remains in force to this day.
This is where the saying “A cup of Joe” originated.
Anyway when Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919, not everyone was happy. The Speakeasy was born. Fortunes were made in the illegal importation of that demon alcohol, including the Kennedy family in Boston. The famous Chicago and New York gangsters made their fortunes on this by bringing in booze.
I had always imagined a speakeasy as a little, smoky room where you had to know somebody who knew somebody. Then go to the door, knock 3 times and with the magic code, “ask for Vito“.
Apparently, there were many elaborate speakeasys.
So anyway, my friend and I are wandering around the Ryde and I am, all this time, wondering where their speakeasy was. As I had been for 20 years.
Then I suddenly had an epiphany. I was staring right at it. This door had some stories to tell.
We went through that portal and saw a large dance floor, dining area, and bar.
I didn’t even have to know the secret code.