Saying goodbye is never easy and this week I felt some real sadness upon learning that The Chase Hotel in Palm Springs had been sold to a group of developers. During our early years here in Canada we spent no less than three Christmas holidays in one of the nicest family hotels I have ever visited, and here’s the story.
It was a chance encounter for sure. Irene and I had spent weeks googling for a nice place to stay over Christmas in the desert resort, knowing that with two very young kids we needed access to a lot of things and ideally a kitchen. So somehow we hit The Chase during our online search and booked two adjoining rooms with kitchen in the heart of the old city of Palm Springs, better known as the ‘Movie Colony’. It was an older motel - famously frequented by Doris Day in the 1950s - small and nicely renovated with a decent pool and sizeable, like huge, rooms. We felt at home right away, in no small part because of the owner, Craig Blau and his super friendly staff. A retired fisherman from Oregon he and his wife had started looking for a home in Palm Springs, but ended up buying a hotel. By his own admission he had absolutely no knowledge of the hospitality business and that is probably exactly what made him such a great host, he ran the place as if it was his own home and treated each and every guest with the same open friendly attitude that you would extend to any houseguest. I did not get the impression Craig wanted to lose money on his hotel venture, but making the hotel hugely profitable was never of paramount importance or so it seemed. The hotel oozed calm, friendliness and warmth, much like the desert surrounding it.
A simple self-serve breakfast of fruit, juice and muffins (enabling our kids to walk down and have breakfast on their own if they wanted), oranges and grapefruits right from the poolside trees and late afternoon chocolate chip cookies were the signature treats at the Chase. And then the guests, a stable crowd as they kept coming back year-after-year, we made some good friends there and even a potential business deal emerged with a couple from Newport Beach who were devoted Chase frequenters. The kitchen in the room enabled us to make some great meals – our induction to the world of Trader Joe’s hails from the Chase days – and the BBQ at poolside was often used while we sipped away at quality cabernets that in Canada are too expensive too buy. And although we only brought kids, guests were allowed to bring their dogs and Craig would politely but firmly dismiss any potential guests that did not like dogs. If people wanted to bring their pets, fine.
Centrally located it was only a stroll to Palm Springs’ main drag, South Palm Canyon Drive with its shops and Sonny Bono statue. Yes, you could feel some of the old Hollywood influence and Craig was always keen to venture some background stories, like how our favourite Mexican restaurant around the corner was frequented by Suzanne Somers who, rumor had it, would never tip the waiters. And then there was the Palm Springs Art Museum just a few blocks away and the short drive to the Indian Canyons for some desert hiking. People always ask me what you can do in Palm Springs beside golfing and sitting next to the pool, but there is so much there, one could spend months exploring and living the desert life. The Chase somehow opened that door for us.
The pressure of development was always there and more than once the owners got offers or threats from neighboring developers to move The Chase somewhere else. I remember Craig telling me that he had some issues with a neighboring property owner who threatened to sue him as it was his “American right to develop anything he liked” next to Craig’s hotel. Craig remained unfazed and commented it was his American right to oppose that in any way he could. It highlighted his total calm and care to keep The Chase the way it was, simple, clean, friendly and above all unpretentious. The only thing that would really excite him was politics and I recall how he was embarrassed about Bush Jr. and the Iraq war and it makes me wonder what Craig is thinking right now that we have landed in the age of Trump.
As time moved on our Christmas holidays changed, in 2008 taking Craig’s own strong advice to go to Arizona, as its desert was so much nicer than the one that surrounds Palm Springs. Life moves on and we lost touch with The Chase. With Craig now well into his seventies it is going to be redeveloped and the fear is smaller rooms with your prefab mini-kitchenette because the new owners want you to eat in their new restaurant, of course. What’s worse, the hotel will lose its name and revert to its 1950s name, Holiday House Hotel. I remember sitting in the patio with Craig one day and asking him why they called the hotel ‘Chase’. He looked at me with a grin and pointed at his dog and said ‘we couldn’t come up with anything so we just named it after the dog’. And that was precisely how the hotel was, warm, fun with an ability to take life not all that seriously. The Chase Hotel, its owners and staff will be deeply missed.
Christmas, 2005. Nora and Maeve in their pajamas in the hotel's reception area with Craig on the right and the dog that gave the hotel its signature name. Forgot the name of the guy on the left.
Entrance to The Chase on West Arenas Road.