By Alan Brylawski
The picture of Point Lookout Hotel that was carried in the November issue of The Chesapeake brought back poignant memories that I have really tried to put out of my mind. The last time I visited the Hotel, She reminded me of a skull looking with sightless eyes across the waters of the Bay. I say ‘She,’ because to me She was once a lovely old lady sitting there beside the beach smiling at the sea gulls and fishermen as they passed in their boats.
Today there is nothing left of what was there. She has been vandalized beyond description. They have stripped Her of everything, from Her furniture to Her kitchen equipment, to Her very doors – even to Her windows, so that now She is a mere hulk of herself and slowly deteriorating – soon to be just a memory.
I try not to think about Her this way, but instead, remember the happy times when She was alive with the sound of people laughing and enjoying what She had to offer. It is my hope that maybe my poor excuse for writing will somehow impart to you some understanding and feel for what I perceived Her to be.
She was not the first hotel built on Point Lookout, and she is not as old as she would seem, having been built just after the First World War.
I first visited the hotel sometime around 1937-38, and thought She was grand with Her wide double staircase leading to the upstairs from the great oaken-curved desk. I have since learned that business-wise, She was in hard times and had been since the steamboats had stopped calling.
The Second World War was a shot in the arm for Her! During the construction of Patuxent Naval Air Station many a workman was billeted there, since housing in St. Mary’s County was practically non-existent prior to building what is now the Lexington Park Hotel, and the houses known as Lexington Park (more commonly called ‘the flat tops’.)
Those years were the last years in which the Hotel was run year round. As pretty and pleasant as it is down on the Point in Summer, it is just as desolate and cold during the Winter months when the North East wind whips across the Bay, carrying cold and dampness that can cut to the bone. If there is anyone you know that lived in the Hotel during those years, I would love to hear from them.
Following the Second World War, She had a number of managers who attempted to run Her successfully, ending up with what was called the ‘army’ just prior to my abortive attempt. Now in reality, it was an arm of the Pentagon who operated the facility as an ‘R & R’ for the poor overworked ‘Brass.’
Being an enlisted man, with my face in the mud during the War while people I didn’t know tried to do me bodily harm, it never dawned on me that anyone in the Pentagon needed ‘rest and recreation.’ I had always thought that the Pentagon WAS ‘R & R!’ I guess we poor misguided types just never knew the hardships of having a nine to five job, and being forced to live in or near the Capital of these United States!!
In some fairness to the military owners – they did improve the Old Girl while She was under their command. They installed a sprinkler system, put storm windows on each window, erected a helicopter pad behind the swimming pool (something every little hotel needs,) and saw to it that it was kept in as good of shape as possible. Something I tried to emulate, albeit, with far fewer funds than they had.
The Army-Pentagon decided to sell the facility, because, (we have been told) the ‘Brass’ came down less and less, primarily because there was no golf course near-by! The poor devils had to drive twenty-one miles to the Pax River Naval installation to play golf!! And then after an exhausting time on the links, drive another bone shattering twenty-one miles back!! To the best of my knowledge, during that period, no civilian or enlisted men (other than those working for the facility) were allowed on the grounds.
I will not attempt to give you a full history of the old Hotel, rather instead, I will tell you some of the things that transpired while I was the manager, and give you an understanding of why it is closed.
How did I become manager of the Hotel? Good question!! Because, I knew as much about managing a Hotel as I do about constructing an atom bomb! But Boy!! Did I learn!!
Some business friends from Washington D.C. were persuaded (by me!) to put in a bid for the Hotel, it being up for sale by closed bid. Unfortunately, my friends were the high bidders! (They still own it, to their sorrow.) It was at a lunch meeting we had in The Roost (where else) that they informed me that they had found the man they wanted to manage the Hotel. When I asked who it was, they told me that he was:
1. Hard working (that became prophetic),
2. That he was honest (he has always been),
3. He had a good head on his shoulders if he took this job, he had to be nuts.)
I said GREAT, and WHO is he? AND THEY POINTED TO ME!!! Now I am a sucker for a challenge – and WOW was this one. So I said yes without a second thought (or talking it over with my wife – and the miracle is, is that she is still with me.)
I told my friends (?) that I did not know diddle from squat about running a hotel and they responded, “One way to learn is to go down there and do it!” And so down I went, taking my wife and our two children with me. We explored what was to be our spring and summer home-away-from-home for the next few years. And what fun that was!!
I had a bunch of keys and nothing else. I did not have a clue as to where the fuse boxes were (and if I found them, I had no idea of what they controlled!) I did not know how to turn on the water – where was the hot water heater anyway? What we did find that day was a lovely old building with a furnished living room – no, I don’t mean a lobby – it was too homey to be a lobby, with its great fireplace, its deep comfortable wicker furniture, its lone television set, its woven rugs, and its polished well-worn wooden floor.
The lobby was around the corner, between the living room, and the dining room that could accommodate a couple of hundred diners with no problem (except mine). The lobby consisted of the great oaken-curved desk nestled between two staircases that met behind the desk and then swept up to the first floor of rooms.
Next to the dining room on the Bay side was a large cocktail room with an elongated bar piercing the center of the room. All of these were connected by a wide screened veranda starting on the far side of the hotel (where the driveway allowed you to unload and enter the living room.) From there it swept to the Bay and across the face of the Hotel to the cocktail lounge.
Directly behind the dining room was, first, a butler’s pantry, and then a huge well-equipped kitchen, and behind that was a walk-in store-room with freezers and assorted shelves.
Upstairs were fifty (count them) bedrooms of various sizes and shapes. Three had private baths; some rooms had adjoining baths (each bath serving two bedrooms) and some rooms (mostly on the third floor) having no baths – using instead, the two large baths (one for men and one for ladies) at the end of the hall.
The entire Hotel was completely furnished. I was thrilled! Our two sons were unimpressed until they saw the huge 110 feet long, 50 feet wide, 13 feet deep, swimming pool. Jean, my wife, wanted to go home! Sorry, Jean!
On the other side of the swimming pool was a long low building facing the Bay. It contained the bath houses for the pool, a porch that wrapped around the building, a snack bar with grill etc., a dining room (which nobody used, as they liked to eat on the porch, and look out on the Bay,) and a game room.
All in all, it was a lot to explore that first day. Now the job facing us was to get the Hotel ready for operation, hire the personnel, advertise, and then sit back and watch the people and the money roll in!!
I guess I will always be a dreamer – ‘til next time! From The Chesapeake Tales & Scales