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Fresh Events in Iconic Venues

Meeting and event sites rich in history get attendees chatting before, during, and after the gathering

By Lizzy Sherman

The Limewood Private Dining Room  at the Claremont Club & Spa in Berkeley
The Limewood Private Dining Room at the Claremont Club & Spa in Berkeley || Courtesy of Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel

Choosing the right setting for your event not only sets the tone but also helps create a memorable experience. And there’s a reason why some venues have stood the test of time as unforgettable backdrops for standout soirees. These venues offer modern event services while paying homage to the rich histories that helped them etch their mark on California history. These establishments have been through it all—ownership changes, presidential terms, wars, recessions, and cinematic and musical eras.

While the architectural trends might change, there is a timelessness to historic venues that instantly transports you to bygone eras while the spaces hold their own in the present. From hotels that were once the residences of Hollywood legends to venues that have hosted royalty and rock stars, these unique venues have still got it.

Gilded Age Heritage

During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, wealthy Americans in California lived large and built extravagant properties. The impressive details of these properties continue to make them incredible event destinations. One notable 19th-century property full of intrigue lies in the state’s Silicon Valley to the north—the Winchester Mystery House.

Throughout California history, heading west has often been equated with making a new start. Such was the case for eccentric Repeating Arms fortune heiress Sarah Winchester (formerly Sarah Lockwood Pardee). Allegedly, after the deaths of her daughter and husband, a psychic medium advised Pardee to leave her home in Connecticut and move west. Once out West, Winchester transformed an eight-room 1880s farmhouse into a bizarre, yet beautiful 24,000-square-foot, 160-room Victorian mansion now known as Winchester Mystery House. Whether hosting an event in the Grand Ballroom that inspired the one in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, opting for the rustic Estate Carriage House, or selecting Winchester’s original Greenhouse, the mysterious and supposedly haunted venue is sure to give attendees something to talk about.

Elegant lobby at The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in Los Angeles
Elegant lobby at The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in Los Angeles || Courtesy of The Hollywood Roosevelt

Another Gilded Age venue of interest was opened in 1888 by two businessmen: the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado near San Diego. The venue is a grand destination resort, historically attracting wealthy clientele who have sometimes stayed for months at a time. Over the years, the hotel has attracted events attended by presidents, royalty, and movie stars. The destination’s beautiful Victorian architecture earned a starring role in the classic Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like it Hot.” While the stunning Crown Room is perhaps the hotel’s most famous event space, other options include the Power Plant, built in 1887, and the Ice House. There is also 150,000 square feet of outdoor space available for booking. “We have the sun setting just as guests are out on our beach starting their reception, and it’s magical,” says Danielle Boyles, the Hotel del Coronado’s commercial director.

The Progressive Era

The Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era of the early 1900s, a time of great city growth. After the 1906 earthquake that largely destroyed the city of San Francisco, building construction boomed in the city. If planners are looking at the Bay Area for their event, consider these two venues filled with storied pasts.

The Great American Music Hall has hosted some of the most celebrated performers of the last century, from music great Duke Ellington to comedian and actor Robin Williams. Built in 1907, the venue went by other names in its early days, but became The Great American Music Hall in 1972, attracting acts like Journey and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. “One really cool feature about renting this space is that the same green rooms used by our legendary performers are available to you,” says Evita Salazar, private event manager at the music hall. “We have a beautiful marquee outside that is available as an add-on.”

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose
Winchester Mystery House in San Jose || Courtesy of Winchester Mystery House LLC

Across San Francisco Bay is the 108-year-old Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel. The venue was refreshed in 2018, but still retains its historic charm. The hotel has hosted many distinguished visitors over the years, including former first lady Michelle Obama, who gave a speech in 2011 in the venue’s Empire Ballroom for her husband’s reelection campaign. “From an intimate dinner party in the secluded Secret Garden to a dazzling gala in the Skyline Room, which boasts sweeping bay views through floor-to-ceiling glass, the Claremont offers an option for every occasion,” says Fairmont Director of Public Relations Michelle Heston.

Penthouse Suite at Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai
Penthouse Suite at Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai || Courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn

Hollywood’s Golden Era

In the 1920s, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was popular in Southern
California and starlets hid away at exclusive hotels and resorts designed in that style. The design is marked by elements such as the use of smooth plaster walls and chimney finishes, low-pitched clay tile, flat roofs, and terracotta or cast concrete ornaments. These three properties continue to reign as favorite celebrity getaways and in-demand event destinations.

Built in 1927, the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt is located on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Legends of the silver screen Clark Gable and Carole Lombard resided at the hotel in the 1930s. Marilyn Monroe lived there in the late ’40s in a suite that overlooked the Tropicana Pool. Today, that pool features a David Hockney mural. “We offer our guests the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in an environment that melds rich history with trendsetting cuisine and amenities,” says Nina Dela Fuente, director of sales and marketing at the Roosevelt. “Our meeting and event spaces have been home to some of the most sought-after events in Los Angeles.”

Morgan’s in The Desert restaurant at La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, in La Quinta
Morgan’s in The Desert restaurant at La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, in La Quinta || Courtesy of La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton

La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, has earned a reputation as a favorite destination for the rich and famous since opening in 1926. Golden Age actors Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and their friends often retreated from Hollywood for a change of scenery, heading southeast to the La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, south of Palm Springs. They appreciated the elegance, exclusivity, and privacy the destination offered. The resort was originally designed around three courtyards. Today, the 20 original casitas have expanded to include 778 accommodations, nine golf courses, 21 tennis courts, eight pickleball courts, and 41 pools. “There’s a very special magic that La Quinta Resort & Club evokes, a brilliant marriage between the past and present,” says Trish Gill, senior sales manager at Eventis Destination Services, a local destination management company that has arranged past events at the resort. “Its many on-site venues allow Eventis an opportunity to draw from 35-plus years of experience and create unique, locally focused event experiences right on-site.”

Opened in 1923 by Edward Drummond Libbey, Ojai Valley Inn provided the enchanting backdrop for Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s 1937 film “Lost Horizon.” In the 1940s, the destination was a military training center for the U.S. Army and a rest facility for the U.S. Navy. “Ojai Valley Inn is a unique destination for meetings set on 220 sprawling acres in the Topatopa Mountains with extraordinary event spaces including The Farmhouse and the recently renovated Casa Elar,” says Chris Kandziora, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “For groups looking to spend time outdoors, Ojai Valley Inn offers year-round activities including golf on our award-winning course, tennis, fishing, and more.”

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