Our region had such a devastating wildfire season last year that when early summer showed itself to be even drier and more potentially combustible than last year, nearly every city manager canceled the Fourth of July Independence Day fireworks. The chance of a spark getting blown onto dry grass and starting the next fire was too great. Sales of fireworks to individuals was also canceled, and no families were allowed to set them off in their driveways like usual.
A very few cities had safe conditions, such as a lake or river over which to present the show, and were able to continue. I went online to search for any in the town of Hillsboro, and found that yes, fireworks would be returning after the pandemic and held on July 3. I booked us a room in nearby Forest Grove for the 3rd. It wasn’t until the day before that I realized the article I read referred to Hillsboro, Ohio not Hillsboro, Oregon. Ha ha ha!! Definitely too far of a drive. There would be no fireworks for us.
Instead we made the utmost of our lodging. We were both staying for the very first time at a McMenamins hotel. McMenamins is a local chain of bars and restaurants. The organization buys decrepit historic buildings then fixes them up and turns them into places to eat and drink. McMenamins began as a brewery with some now loved local beers, then they had great success with ciders, and recently turned to spirits, which I have not yet sampled. So of course they sell their own product in their bars! Sometimes the rescued buildings are large, with rooms, and they become hotels. But not really hotels in that an emphasis is put on staying on the premises, having fun, playing games, exploring, being adventurous and outgoing.
We stayed at the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon. This beautiful building was built in 1922 by the Freemasons to be a home for poor, sick, and elderly Masons and their families. McMenamins bought it in 1999. Now there are 90 guest rooms all named after someone, and the interior walls are decorated to teach the guests about that person. We stayed in the “Glen and Allie Long” room. Their summarized life story was painted on the walls inside the room, and we read about their long love and their history with the old Masons home. Every guest we met that weekend was in a good mood. It’s as though we all made a commitment to embrace the attitude of fun and forgiveness. No one got impatient when breakfast service was slow, no one got embarrassed while walking the halls in bathrobes (this place has shared showers and toilets – uncommon in the U.S.), no one judged. Dogs were welcome and curled up beneath tables and children ran through the gardens with no grownups in sight.
There are multiple floors, including an “attic” and a basement, and guests are encouraged to go everywhere, appreciating the art in every corner, on ceilings, even painted onto pipes. There are sculptures and mosaics and painted designs and quotes and hung art and hung articles and a lot of artwork for upcoming music shows because some McMenamins host concerts. There is also a theatre, but we couldn’t watch the movie because our recent extraordinary heat wave actually heated the equipment so much that it was damaged! Surrounding the place are large, wonderful gardens, big enough to play frisbee, with lots of quiet shady places with benches or more sculpture. There is a heated soaking pool and we reserved a soak in the morning because afternoon temps were around 100 degrees (38 C). (That temperature was a residual of the extraordinary heat wave we had here in the PNW. It has since cooled down to normal.) There is a legend of a ghost who lives in the Lodge, called the Lavender Lady. In the basement there is a spa. There are little bars scattered all over the grounds and tucked away at the end of hallways, so you can stop in and refresh whenever you like. Oregon has a law in which any establishment that sells alcohol must also sell food of some kind, so at a McMenamins you are never far from a snack!
Staff on the premises were consistently wonderful: friendly, open, gregarious. Like the staff at Disneyland, they come up to you with beaming smiles and ask how they can make your stay more enjoyable. (In fact, one of the guests who used the large soaking pool with us the next morning said, “McMenamins hotels are like Disneyland for grown ups!”) If you have no ideas, staff suggest them. One person with a toolbelt who looked like a handyman came across Pedro and me alone in a hallway. “Have you found the secret rooms?” he asked. When we answered in the negative, he told us there are three, all accessed from the attic. We promptly returned to the attic and looked for subtle cracks in walls and pushed on paintings and tapped at painted metal panels until finally, we found one! We saw that on the outside of the hidden door, the top of the wainscoting was worn from hundreds of fingers pressing the wall to open the door. After exploring that small room, we then searched for more worn wooden trim on the walls, and found a secret passage.
There are also passports and clues! Real-looking passport books that silly fans like me can carry around and get stamped every time we visit a new McMenamins. There are prizes if you fill a page with stamps, or fill the book with stamps. I just want the stamps. I can’t explain it: I love the games where you can collect stamps. They had self-stamp stations at all the points of interest in Japan, and they delighted me. Same with McMenamins. Sometimes you get a stamp just for appearing at a place. Often you must solve a puzzle once given a clue. The puzzles are designed to push people back into the establishment to gaze at the walls covered in art, or to notice something clever.
It’s a good thing we had no fireworks to watch, because we spent the entire evening prowling the halls and stubbornly refusing to give up even though the clues were challenging. The only thing we did give up on was the third secret room. We never found it. Guess we’ll have to go back one day.