The Mount Washington Hotel --
Elegance in a warm, grand style
This was no place to be by myself. No place for a woman to sit alone at a table for two on the edge of the dance floor of a dining room with pink columns and a pink glow over the entire room.
I was in the middle of the 1950s. Alone at dinner in Bretton Woods, N.H., at the grand white Mount Washington Hotel, with its sweeping wraparound porch, red rooftops and mountain views.
A five-piece tuxedoed orchestra played "Misty," complete with muted saxophone.
The waiter hovered solicitously: "Oh, let me get you bread that's warmer."
A father danced by with his tiny daughter, who wobbled on her tiptoes. A toddler boy in a miniature suit bounced around with a pirouetting toddler girl, her blond curls bobbing as she bowed dramatically to him. A middle-aged couple showed off Arthur Murray dancing class swivels. An older couple did the jitterbug.
I wondered where Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Joan Crawford, Thomas Edison, Alfred Hitchcock and Babe Ruth had sat when they stayed here -- not together, of course. And the delegates and reporters attending the 1944 Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference that set up the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- did they get to dance at dinner, too?
Enrique Herreros, the waiter, formal in black slacks, white tuxedo shirt and black bow tie, brought the salmon and whipped potatoes entree of my four-course, prix fixe 1950s hotel dinner, just as the orchestra started the evening's last song at 9 p.m.: "Gonna take a sentimental journey...."
"It's a wonderful place, isn't it?" Herreros asked, his pride mixed with a wistful tone. "They're working on the hotel," he said. "I hope they keep fixing it up. It's like in Italy. All of the buildings are falling down, but they're full of history and charm."
He said that on the wall in the service area upstairs there are signatures of waiters who worked here years ago. "No one wants to remove them."
Only the dining room is air-conditioned, and the hotel is not insulated for winter, so it's open only from late spring to early fall. The first guest in May gets to start up the lobby's grandfather clock, and the last guest in October shuts it down.
The 197-bedroom Mount Washington Hotel has been persevering graciously at the base of Mount Washington since 1902, when railroad and coal industrialist Joseph Stickney fulfilled his dream of building the grandest of all hotels. It's had a number of owners over the years and was rescued yet again in 1991 by a local group of friends who embraced the challenge of resurrecting the hotel. They are reviving the National Historic Landmark that's surrounded by 18,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest.
Like many places, the hotel is most impressive from far away. In the late afternoon sunlight, the white was almost blinding from the highway, where a half-dozen tourists had pulled over to take photos.
On the drive through the grounds, I passed four or five horses grazing in a pasture on one side, part of the 27-hole golf course on the other, and formal flower beds in front of the main 900-foot porch, which is wide enough to waltz around.
Inside, the Mount Washington seems more friendly than intimidating, the kind of place you'd visit with a great-aunt who never misses Miss Manners' column. There's new paint, new fabrics and only an occasional hint of a musty smell.
After dinner, I strolled down the enormously wide central hall. Floors creaked agreeably as I walked over the red-patterned carpet, under chandelier lights that washed everything in a golden hue.
Classical musicians were performing in the conservatory, where children were sitting on the floor, their elders in chairs in a semi-circle. A woman leaned her head on a man's shoulder. It was chilly outside, and there was a fire in the big stone fireplace.
A waiter in a red vest rushed down the hall with a drink on a tray. Men and women sat in armchairs and read or talked quietly.
A couple stood looking beyond the velvet rope across the doorway to the Gold Room, where the monetary documents were signed. The room is preserved as it was in 1944, with photographs of the historic event on the wall.
Two friends had said I must go to the Mount Washington Hotel while I was in New England. They had loved it. And that feeling of affection was prevalent among many of the guests I met there.
Alfred Doitch of Scarsdale, N.Y., was sitting in a wicker chair on the sprawling back porch that overlooks tennis courts and a swimming pool. He was reading a morning newspaper, breathing in the crisp mountain air.
"We're staying in what must have been servants' quarters," Doitch said. "It's old, but it's what I want. I don't want it to be modern here. I don't want opulence. The scenery is the opulence. It's magnificent."
Cathy Bedor, one of the seven friends who bought the hotel at a government foreclosure auction, are the first local owners since Stickney. They paid $3.15 million for the property and then began pouring more millions into the hotel.
They bought the hotel because they were afraid it was going to be torn down, Bedor said. She and her husband, Joel, are partners in the Mount Washington Cog Railway down the road. "We knew if something happened to the hotel, it would affect the entire area."
"What we're trying to do is be a friendly grand hotel, without any stuffiness. People can bring children, and they can wear blue blazers and walk down that staircase...."
She smiled, then excused herself to do some more work.
By Millie Ball
Newhouse News Service