Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dinner and a Show: the Grove Park Inn Entertainment (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second of two posts by Anna Peitzman, a Special Collections intern enrolled in the Library and Information Studies Master's program at UNC Greensboro.  Anna has been processing the Bloomberg, Patton, and Grimes Biltmore Industries Collection, which contains records from the early years of the Grove Park Inn. 

In the Grove Park Inn series of the Bloomberg, Patton, and Grimes Biltmore Industries Colllection at UNC Asheville, there are numerous items of correspondence between the inn and various performers, mostly organists, from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. Grove Park Inn held two recitals per day, one at 2:30 pm for an hour and again at 8:30 pm for an hour and a half. Thirty minutes of the evening concert was dedicated to the showing of “motion picture shows”, as they were referred to in 1918, although on Sunday evenings, the recital portion of the evening show was extended to a full hour and a half. 

In 1918, Grove Park Inn paid their organists $50 per week or $900 per year for a resident organist, and by 1927 they were paying $75 per week. The inn had an in-house organist but also was in the business of lining up guest organists for a couple weeks or months at a time to allow their organist to take vacations and to attract their desired clientele with famous musicians. The inn framed the visiting organists’ time as a vacation and allowed them to bring family members to also stay at the inn. On March 21, 1917, Seely wrote a letter to his friend, Mr. Edwin White, in which he talks about their spring concerts and asked Edwin to join for five or six weeks: they used a saxophone, five banjos, several guitars, and of course a piano for the inn’s dances.

Above is a photo of the South Organ in the Big Room at Grove Park Inn, which includes the orchestral and solo organs, harp, heckelphone and string stops. Behind the organ is a masonry chamber that is 18 feet high and divided in the center. 

Below is the North Organ in the Big Room at Grove Park Inn. The organ is a Mason Hamlin Grand Piano and contains the pedal organ and relays. Behind it is a concrete and stone cavity, 14 feet deep, 21 feet wide, and two stories high, containing the great and small organs. 

Not only was Grove Park particular about their food in attracting guests, but they worked to attract a certain class of people (predominantly rich, famous, and powerful white men) and retain entertainers and entertainment deemed worthy of those guests. They were particularly interested in attracting organists for their twice a day recitals. These organists would sometimes stay at the hotel for a month or two at a time, an opportunity that allowed the musicians and entertainers an opportunity to rub elbows with a variety of the wealthy, influential guests. Below is Cecil Arden, a famous opera singer that the inn was very interested in having perform. 

In 1916, 100 people from Redpath Chautauqua, an adult education movement that conducted lecture circuits, toured between Chicago, Illinois and Jacksonville Florida. They stopped at the Grove Park Inn for a week to give a combination of lectures and musical entertainment. On the seventh and final evening, they were accompanied by the Grand Chicago Opera Company for the evening recital. 

Entertainment, however, does come at a cost. In the early twentieth century, Grove Park Inn bought music from various companies to play at their recitals. 

On August 18, 1921, Fred Seely wrote a letter to Mr. C. Edwin White, director of White’s Orchestra in Rhode Island, in which he referred to the financial strain that war time had put on the inn. On March 1, 1923 a letter was written to Miss Beatrice Wainwright of Washington, D.C., in which Seely mentioned that no recitals would be given in which they could use her services, partially due to them having a permanent entertainer and most likely lack of funds to extend their performances beyond the in-house entertainer. It was later in 1927 that Fred Seely lost charge over Grove Park Inn after the death of Edwin Grove. In a letter from June 1937, he writes that is has been ten years since he was in charge.  

While Grove Park Inn has undoubtedly seen ups and downs throughout its history, and certainly changes in ownership, it is running and well today, and still much renowned. To delve more deeply into its history, we welcome you to visit Special Collections at UNC Asheville during appointed reading room times or schedule an appointment. 

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