Thursday, May 23, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 30

The Hotel Monteleone and Writers for New Orleans                                                                                                                                                                                                 The tale of the beautiful Hotel Monteleone began in the city—and far away, in Sicily. That’s where  Antonio Monteleone was born. He’d heard great stories about America and the
American dream and decided he wanted to come to this country. He settled in New Orleans—considered to be America’s most European city, which of course, since it had been under French rule, Spanish rule, and American rule—not to mention that those nationalities had been joined by the Brits and others who had wandered in. Antonio arrived sometime around 1880. He opened a cobbler’s shop on Rue Royale and prospered.

                He loved his new city.

                So, when a hotel became available in 1886 in the Vieux Carre that he loved so much, he bought it. It was on the corner of Royal and Iberville and had 64 rooms.  He did well with his hotel. He soon bought a nearby hotel, the Commercial Hotel. By 1903, he was adding more rooms.

                When he passed away, his son added even more rooms. Neither financial panic nor storms nor any other hindrance, natural or other, swayed the grand hotel. After his son, his son’s son took over—and that’s what has happened to this day.

                After the “summer of storms” had gone through NOLA and the levees broke and disaster struck the city, there were hard times. Somehow—and it still boggles my mind—we could drop newscasters on bridges—and food and water all over the world—but still had a hard time saving way too many of our American people. But NOLA is a tough old grand dame. I was there the weekend before Katrina struck Miami and then moved on across the Gulf and I returned to the city as soon as I could after the disaster. It was a wretched summer; right after Katrina, Rita and Wilma came on through.

                The people of the city were strong. But it was while I was with a friend who owned one of the carriage companies that Writers for New Orleans was born. She told me how grateful residents were for the people of our country—not governments or parties, but the people. And still, what they needed was not handouts after the worse, but work. To get back to work, the carriage drivers, hoteliers, bar owners, musicians, artists—all—needed tourists back in the city. And she mentioned, “You’re a writer; maybe you could get some writers to come.”

                Ah, yes. We could put together a conference. So, okay, a writer’s conference. What kind of a writer’s conference? What would make people come?

                Okay . . . any kind of writers! Fiction, non-fiction, mystery, horror, sci-fi . . . poetry.

                What if we couldn’t get enough writers?

                Well, then, we’d just have to have readers.

                And what if that wasn’t enough?

                Hm. We’d try to throw a few good parties!

                So, with Connie Perry and my carriage-driving friend, Writers for New Orleans came into being. Having decided that we were going to have a conference, we needed a place.  And that place needed to be a local hotel. Sheraton was going to take care of Sheraton just as Marriott would take care of Marriott—nothing against the chain hotels; I love many. But we wanted a local hotel.

                I had just lost my sister, Vickie, the summer before.  She’s the one who had come to Jazz Fest as long as I could remember. She loved the Monteleone.

                We headed there. 

                And we’ve there for eight years.

I love the Monteleone. I love that it’s been owned by a single family for so many years, and I love that the employees there are people I see again and again. I heard great stories from those I worked with about the assistance given to the employees when they were devastated after the storm—they were, if strapped when the hotel was closed, handed checks for electric and other necessities. I have loved their banquet crews and the management we work with. Every year, it’s really like coming home.

Rather sad, but when we went there, I wasn’t aware of the hotel’s literary credentials. (You think I might have gotten this when I realized there were rooms available such as the “Tennessee Williams Suite” and the “Eudora Welty Suite.” The hotel is one of only two others in the country—those being the Algonquin and the Plaza in NYC—recognized as
“Literary Landmark Hotels” by the by the Friends of the Library Association.

Tennessee Williams did indeed stay here; 214 Royal was his favorite address in the city. William Faulkner wrote here. Truman Capote liked to tease that he was born at the hotel. Actually, his mom made it to the hospital, but she had been staying at the hotel.

There’s so much to love. The lobby is beautiful and ornate. Entering from the street, if you make an immediate right, you’ll be at the Carousel Bar. The carousel was installed in 1949. The bar itself came about because performers—like Louis Prima!—enjoyed meeting friends and enjoying a cocktail after performing.

The pool is on the roof. It’s a lovely place to go, sit, soak in the sun, cool off from the sun, and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. There are meeting rooms—like the
Riverview—that look over the Mighty Mississippi. There are ballrooms that are truly beautifully designed and decorated.

And the food—even for banquets!—is delicious.

When people come here, they never want to leave. Aha! That leads to another draw. The hotel is haunted. (Naturally, right?) Several paranormal groups have carried out investigations here and found definite “haunted” activity. An employee died here of natural causes and he’s still around, walking the halls, checking up on the guests. Sometimes, you can hear children’s laughter in the hallways, even though there are no children. While these merry lads and lasses did not die here, it’s speculated that they had such a great time while staying at the Monteleone, that they returned to play.

If you’re interested, we stick to our original plan—Writers for New Orleans happens yearly at the Hotel Monteleone at 214 Royal Street. It’s for all writers, all readers—and/or friends who just want to tag along for fun. Our registration fee is strictly kept at cost—the idea remains to bring people into this incredible city so that they can fall in love, too—and so that more and more people can understand how unique and precious New Orleans is to our very unique and precious country!

Of course, any time you come, you might want to stay at the Monteleone. And if you can’t stay, at least pop in for a cocktail or soda at the Carousel Bar and see the beautiful lobby. Privately, family-owned for over a hundred years—if it weren’t for the fantastic beauty and incredible beauty, that alone would be a reason to come!

1 comment:

Cat Shipton said...

Thanks for this series. I was in New Orleans through March and April of this year. I had a ball... Although I stumbled across your list late in my proved a great checklist and inspiration for future visits.