Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For Stunning Views In Santa Monica

They didn't call it the Roaring Twenties for nothing. California was prospering along with the rest of the nation. Hollywood was making advancements in film. And Santa Monica was abuzz with the opening of the La Monica Ballroom on the Santa Monica Pier in 1924.

That wasn't the only excitement in Santa Monica. Brothers E.A. "Jack" and T.D. Harter had picked an ideal location for a high society beach club, Club Casa del Mar. Even before the club was open, people were excited to join — so much so that the brothers fenced off a small area, erected tents, and invited future members to grill on the beach and host picnic lunches during construction.

It would take two more years before the club building would open (and $2 million), but its membership was already well established. Its roster read like a who's who of Los Angeles, hosting dinners, luncheons, tea times, and bridge parties amidst lavish floral displays of orchids, gardenias and lilies of the valley.

Club Casa del Mar thrived as the most successful beach club in California. 

Even after the Roaring Twenties had ended and the nation fell under the grip of the Great Depression, Club Casa del Mar continued to thrive. For some, it was considered one of the last bastions of better times, with its special events, lavish bridge groups, yacht members, and volleyball teams.

It reign as a premier club might have lasted longer, despite the setbacks caused with the construction of a major highway in the 1930s, but the building was claimed by the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of World War II. For the next four years, the once lavish club became a recreation center for enlisted men.

After the war, the building was too well worn (and without the benefit of member dues) to rescue. Even when T. D. Harter came out of retirement in 1959 to save the failing property, it was too late. It closed a few years later.

The revival of the Casa del Mar as a beach resort on the Santa Monica coastline. 

Although the property had undergone several transformations from a drug rehabilitation center in the 1960s to a nutrition and health care facility in the 1970s, it wasn't until the the Edward Hospitality Group Corporation (Etc.) purchased the property in 1997 that it could be returned to its former glory.

The hotel reopened in 1999. Today, Hotel Casa del Mar feels more like a beach club than a resort.

A large part of the transformation has to do with the emphasis on social activities. The hotel is home is the eco-friendly Sea Wellness Spa. Executive Chef Jason Bowlin has created several outstanding menus for Catch (including one that is gluten free). The pool has a beautiful beachfront facing. And the library like the lobby has high back leather chairs, with the lobby lounge hosting live entertainment nightly.

But even more exciting for guests, or even locals, is that Chef Bowlin doesn't confine himself to the kitchen. He joins a private instructor almost every day to teach people how to surf in Santa Monica. The packages are reasonable, about $350 for two for locals. For guests, surf lessons can be added as part of the room rate. And without the chef (and lunch), lessons start at around $120.

The rooms inside Hotel Casa del Mar carry some semblance of a long-lost era. The 1920s Renaissance revival styles are back, mostly a mix of modern and classic accommodations. Even if is a partial, the ocean views are especially stunning.

The bathrooms are appointed with Italian marble and hydrothermal tubs. White Italian linens make up the four-poster beds. Most are 400 square feet, which might seem small for the rates. If you can, upgrade to the 540-square-foot one bedroom, with a small living room. However, don't upgrade unless you keep the view too.

The Hotel Casa Del Mar Hits The Beach At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There are two ways to look at the location. Casa del Mar, much like its sister property Shutters, is right on the Santa Monica beach, with Venice Beach starting a little less than a mile away. There are plenty of more convenient places to stay on the north side of the pier, but all of them are on the cliff overlooking the ocean.

There is certainly an energy here that you won't find elsewhere. The social environment Etc has been trying to create here over the last few years is starting to pay off. It makes for a swanky but friendly feel. Likewise enjoyable are the room rates. They range from $550 to $900 depending on the season and length of stay, forcing you to hunt or wait for better rates, which sometimes drop to $350 to $450 per night for a standard room, depending on the season and the view.

There are plenty of hot spots in the area, like Chez Jazz (where Sinatra once hung out), Mariscos Guilllen La Playita (for great taco and seafood cocktails), and the Buffalo Club (a divey little supper club). But mostly, it's all about the beach. For flights to Los Angeles, save up to 60 percent from Fare Buzz, which is also running Spring Break specials.
blog comments powered by Disqus