Originally built in 1887 during the height of the Victorian Period, the hotel was non-conformist even then. This gleaming white lady was built in Classic Greek Revival style entirely of Michigan white pine. It now is one of only twelve large wood-frame hotels left in the U.S. (in 1904 there were 1,200). Consisting of 385 rooms (no two being the same), this is no "cookie-cutter" hotel. The Grand Hotel is not only a National Historic Landmark but is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel is only open six months of the year, from early May to late October. (Mackinac Island gets an average 111.8” of snow annually and transportation to and around the island in winter is pretty limited.)
July, 2011: I was giddy with excitement at my first glimpse of the hotel from Shepler's Ferry. It was a long-awaited dream ever since I first saw it in the movie Somewhere In Time in 1980. It took me 31 years, but I'm almost there!
I really arrived in style by taking their grand carriage – excitement increasing with every step of the horses' hoofs – I was hanging out the window like a little puppy!
This was the road where in 1972 Richard first sighted this grand lady where he met his true, timeless love, Elise, via time travel back to 1912. But he drove a 70's model Fiat 124 Spyder and according to the History of Mackinac Island: Where Horse is King, since 1935, "the operation of any motor vehicle of any kind within the area of Mackinac Island State Park is hereby prohibited. A limited number of public utility vehicles are excepted and in the 1960s, under public pressure, the State Park created limited access to snowmobiles during the winter months."
You enter on this road from the east side
The Portico provides the red carpet treatment up the stairs to the hotel entrance.
View of front – west side
I'm finally here – on the Grand Porch of the Grand Hotel – the longest porch in the world! I walked each 660 feet of it during my visits here – just couldn't get enough. With 100 rocking chairs, the views from here are some of the most expansive and gorgeous I've ever seen.
A nice, big game of chess anyone?
Once I could tear myself away from the porch, I went inside. After entering lobby, here's the view to the left
Elegant yet comfortable seating on both sides
The interior decor was by Dorothy Draper. In 1923, she established the first interior design company in the United States, something unheard of at the time, as well as it being considered daring for a woman to go into business for herself. Her goal was to “shock without clashing,” thinking “Americans are too afraid of color.” When Carlton Varney took over the company, he wanted every color from the hotel's garden brought into the hotel and banned the use of the color beige. There are 264 individual wallpapers and 22 custom mixed paint colors. "Like us or not, you’ll remember us."
Lobby view looking right
At the end of this hall is the Main Dining Room. For a truly luxurious luncheon, treat yourself to the buffet. Bet you can't take even just one bite of everything offered and not be stuffed!
I was sure glad that I did! See my Malia's Miles blog post. a Grand Luncheon Buffet – about that delicious experience.
When I was ready for dessert again, I stopped at Carleton's Tea Store for their signature dessert, the Pecan Ball. Here I met guest Marian from Illinois, here with family for the 2011 Yacht Race to Mackinac. Having spent time in 5-star hotels in London, Paris and Hong Kong, she thinks the rooms here are unique and décor exciting, but also finds it homey and comfortable. “It met and exceeded my expectations. The beds are luxurious, the greens, huge violets, wallpaper, even ceilings are decorated and everything ties in. The hotel has romance and we don’t have enough of that in our lives anymore – we’re drawn to it and can’t help it.”
On my second visit, it was still hard to tear myself away from that porch! The Grand's famous Front Porch flowers include 2,500 geraniums – the hotel's trademark flower – in 260 planting boxes with seven tons of potting soil. More than 5,200 geraniums can be seen in all its flower beds combined.
But during all visits, I did spend time on the grounds, paths, and roads around the hotel. I blogged about that on Mackinac Island – My First Time.
But just the grounds and gardens of the hotel alone were worthy of a day's exploration at least.
Besides a suite bearing her name, the 220', half million gallon heated pool is named after the famous actress and synchronized swimming expert, Esther Williams. She and Jimmy Durante starred in the first film that used the Grand Hotel as location, the 1947 movie “This Time for Keeps.”
I was thrilled to come across this plaque which marks the spot in Somewhere in Time where Richard finally found his Elise. I'm even more obsessed with that movie and this hotel after visiting this island, if that were possible!
Some other articles I found interesting:
Grand Hotel Continues a Grand Tradition, Legacy (Detroit Free Press – April 2010)
About Dan Musser, III (President): “As a child, he donned his Sunday best to walk its halls. As a teen, he worked at the tennis courts, front desk, bellhop stand, kitchen, in reservations, housekeeping and the bar. As a young man, he became its president. To him, the Grand Hotel is not just part of history. It's his history.” The hotel has been in his family for three generations. "I feel like we're not the owners, we're the caretakers."
When he was 16 and working in the kitchen, he spent the summer of 1979 gazing at actress Jane Seymour, who was at the hotel filming the movie "Somewhere in Time." (Even though critics berated it harshly upon release, the movie now is a true cult classic and has a huge following, with a devoted fan base that meets at Grand Hotel each October during the Somewhere in Time Weekend.)
Regarding the hotel’s dress policy that require ladies to be in a dress, skirt & blouse or pantsuit and gentlemen to wear a coat and necktie after 6:30 p.m.: "I think there is a niche for what we do. We won't be changing that formality. My dad always said it doesn't cost us much to ask that a guest put on a coat and tie, but it changes the whole experience dramatically. You walk into our dining room and see 800 people nicely dressed, it's a happening. It's something special. …We want live music. We want fresh flowers. We want dancing in the dining room. We want a served meal. We want all those things expected of an old carriage trade hotel like us."
Hunt’s Guide to the Upper Peninsula: Architectural historian Kathryn Eckert, seldom inclined to hyperbole, wrote in Buildings of Michigan, "The Grand Hotel exceeds all superlatives ever written to describe its stately majesty and festive quality … [Its] classical columned façade is one of the most enduring images of Mackinac Island."
Grand Hotel is so much a tourist destination in its own right that the hotel charges a $10 entrance fee ($5 for children 5-11), partly to reduce the numbers of daytime tourists.
Also, “Dealing with the structural challenges of the vast old hotel and its new additions are ever-challenging, especially when its original façade and interiors must be preserved. The hotel's latest accomplishment is having the entire hotel awarded Michigan's highest level of green lodging for a round of improvements that put a special, patented air-conditioning system in every room. It recirculates the heat generated to heat the swimming pool, and uses the water for the golf course. Each unit is contained within each room, to avoid duct work.”
While avid about maintaining its special historical aspect, I love that they also support and incorporate modern green technology!
I also appreciated the attitude of Executive Vice President, Ken Hayward, who blogged in August, 2009: “I have worked at Grand Hotel just over 24 years now. It’s the only real job I have ever had. The Mussers teach us to be humble, work hard and to serve our guests as best we can. While they line the walls of the lower lobby of the hotel with prestigious designations and awards we have received, rarely do they call attention to all they have accomplished.”
I say no award, no matter how prestigious, means more than that just purely magical feeling I got when I caught sight of her and actually walked through her doors.
Don't miss the chance for a tour by Concierge and Historian Bob Tagatz and check out his blog post, "A Look Back at the Grand Hotel’s 125 Years of Rich History."
"Bob's own passion for historic wood hotels of the 19th century is what drew him here from his native Florida. In an age when convention centers are heavily subsidized at great cost to taxpayers, the Grand Hotel remains without a net, in private hands, solvent and expanding — a point Bob… the ultimate fan of old wood hotels, loves to make." (Quotes from Hunt's Guide.) Also, The History of the Grand Hotel of Mackinac Island is a two minute YouTube video with interview of Bob with scenes of the hotel and Mackinac Island.
"For resorts, a pretty place with clean rooms and good food is not enough. Heart, soul and spirit is needed – we create a theatrical experience and sell memories – that's what we do."
I really enjoyed his lecture and tour of the Historic West Bluff Homes. Three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), he gives a public history lecture at 10 or 10:30 a.m. (Groups can arrange private lectures.)
Malia's Miles Blog Posts:
Michigan Miles Pages:
Mackinac Island Scenes (Inns, homes)
I also did a Facebook album about the Grand Hotel, with more pictures and comments.
I'd love to hear your own experiences about places I've been - and what you think are "must-sees" - and I really value any suggestions and feedback from readers, so please let me have your 2 cents in Comments below: