The grand and elegant Hotel Bon-Air has never lived up to the hopes and expectations of its owner. Margaret and John Manlove built the hotel in late 1901 and opened the following spring. Advertised as a “large summer boarding house”, the Bon-Air also had several cabins, cabins and tents on the property for guests who preferred a more rustic vacation experience.
The land on which the hotel sat is the current site of the MarinHealth Medical Center in Greenbrae. At that time the area was known as Escalle, taking its name from the famous resort, vineyard and railway station named after its owner, Jean Escalle, just across Corte Madera Creek near Larkspur.
The early years were the most successful for the Bon-Air, as newspapers reported that the hotel hosted “fashionable guests” and held benefits for local charities where dining, dancing and live entertainment vaudeville were on the menu. The Manloves paid to have a road built across the swamp from Escalle and built a drawbridge over Corte Madera Creek, which facilitated transportation to and from their settlement. The hotel also participated in the “illuminated water carnival” of 1906, when thousands of people came to watch boats parade along the creek, lit entirely by Japanese lanterns. The Escalle vineyard, nearby houses, and all the arches along the creek were similarly illuminated, and visitors ended the evening festivities with dinner and dancing at the hotel.
In 1908, Margaret Manlove became the owner of a new hotel in San Francisco, the Cadillac, on Eddy and Leavenworth streets. With her energies split between the two, she started looking for other people to rent the Marin Hotel. In 1912, the Bon-Air was managed by several other hoteliers when Alfred Kreough and John Webster entered into a 10-year lease. Within weeks, the two were literally at each other’s throats, with Kreough swearing an assault warrant on his partner and newspapers reporting that the frequent friction between the two was “necessarily damaging the station’s popularity”. .
Before their partnership dissolved, the newly built saltwater pool leaked and had to be drained and re-cemented. The following year, when 200 opening night guests were seated for dinner, Marin County Deputy Sheriff Oscar Emerald raided the hotel and took away most of the movable furniture, including the bar, executing a court order for non-payment of a $2,000 debt. Shortly after, the hotel had its liquor license revoked for serving minors at a 4th of July celebration.
In 1914 the Bank and Trust Co., of Tomales, having already seized the property, sold the furnishings and the hotel closed permanently. The bank sold the property for $20,000 in 1918 to Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna of the Catholic Diocese, whose 700-acre property adjoined the land. Caretakers lived on the grounds when the hotel caught fire and burned down in the early 1920s.
History Watch is written by Scott Fletcher, a volunteer at the Marin History Museum, marinehistory.org. Images included in History Watch are available for purchase by calling 415-382-1182 or emailing [email protected]