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A NIGHT AWAY IN UPPER LAKE: THE TALLMAN EXPERIENCE, PART 1

Shannon Scudder, Guest Services Manager, sits at a couch in front of the large windows of the Tallman Hotel, looking at a guest book dated from the turn of the 20th century. 

“Look at the handwriting on this one,” she says, her finger resting halfway down the page.  “It’s lovely. I like to pull the original registries out and think about people staying in the hotel back then. These ledgers date back to 1906. What did these people do? What were their lives like? Did they have a good time here?”

A flourish of cursive rides outside the lines of the ledger, declaring J. H. Eller of Ukiah visited on February 11, 1914.  Winnie Riffe checked him into room 8.

Back then, there were eight rooms and only one bathroom.  Today, there are seventeen rooms, and, wonder of wonders, each comes with their own beds, sinks, and toilets, showers, and baths.

Sixteen years ago, Lynne and Bernie Butcher saw the dilapidated hotel, bought it and transformed it into a modern marvel with solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and charging stations for electric vehicles. However, each step of the way, they stayed true to the historical aspects of the building, augmenting and enhancing its original beauty. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the original Tallman Hotel and the restored rooms; they fit together seamlessly. The Butchers did the job so well that in 2008, The Tallman was added to the California Register of Historical Resources as a Point of Historical Interest.

“Now Rufus and Mary Tallman, who built the hotel, only had thirteen kids,” Shannon begins, showing us a photo of enough people for a football team, with a couple spares just in case someone got hurt. “When Rufus and Mary died, their estate got divided up.  Winnie, one of the daughters, got The Tallman. Later, when she married Henry “Hank” Riffe, they changed the name to the Riffe’s Hotel.”

Riffe’s Hotel – Courtesy Museums of Lake County

Shannon’s blue eyes light up. “Just last week, Winnie’s niece came by to visit.  She grew up in Upper Lake and used to work here in summers, cleaning the rooms upstairs.”

Shannon pauses, thinking over the conversation.  “Winnie used to make pancakes on a wooden stove, and her niece would have to get the wood to stoke it.” She pauses again, then smiles.

“She also said that she loved it when Upper Lake flooded because everyone could get a day off of school and take their boats down Main Street. Can you imagine boats floating down the street?”

Shopping in a flooded Upper Lake, 1955 – Courtesy Museums of Lake County

Then she jumps out of her chair, full of excitement.  “Winnie used to check people in right here.” She stands where the old reception desk used to be, and poses like she’s waiting to help a guest. “I can just imagine her standing here with the register, signing people in.”

~~~

The only flooding happening in Upper Lake now is over the sides of the ofuro, a Japanese soaking tub. On the private back deck of the four patio rooms sit these large, rectangular wooden tubs, two feet high and filled to the brim with 101-degree water that splashes over the side and onto the deck outdoors. The ofuru is part of the Japanese ritual of bathing, which means they’re meant not for cleaning, but rather to soak in the water, listen to the birds, and disappear for a few minutes or hours. Step out on to the private patio. It’s peaceful, quiet, a private oasis–there’s a stillness that lingers and doesn’t want to be broken. Rinse off in the outdoor shower, and pull the cover off the ofuro. Then slide in and cleanse your spirit.

The ofuro tub

~~~

Shannon, still standing behind the imaginary register, starts telling a story.

“Winnie’s niece told me she was a no-nonsense, get-to-work kind of lady,” she begins. Shannon’s hair, pulled back in a blonde bun, highlights the excitement in her eyes.  “Well, one day, I was busy working and noticed that one of the Tallman books had fallen over. We had our books over here then.” She paces over to another corner of the room. “I didn’t get to it right away and forgot about it. Then, about 3:30, there was no one in here. It was completely quiet. Suddenly, there was a sound, like this.” She grabs one of the Tallman books and drops it solidly on the hardwood floor.

BAM! 

A loud noise echoes through the lobby. “It made me jump!” Shannon laughs.  “I ran over to see what had happened. On the floor lay the book.  There was no way it could have fallen by itself.  And I felt something, like Winnie was looking over my shoulder, telling me to get to work.”  She claps her hands together a few times quickly, like someone wanting something done right away.  “I could feel her saying, ‘Put that book back, Missy.’ It wasn’t a ghost or some spirit.  I could just feel her keeping me on task.”

The hotel lobby, before restoration – Photo Courtesy Tallman Hotel
The hotel lobby, after restoration.

~~~

It’s Sunday evening.  After a long soak in the ofuro, it’s time to sit on the front porch with a bottle of Dancing Crow Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from the room’s refrigerator. Tonight, as on most Sunday nights, The Majide Trio has set up on the veranda, and the three-piece jazz combo creates a happy, nostalgic atmosphere.  You relax in the chair, watching the upright bass move with each note. People sit under the trees on the patio, eating dinner. Some pop up on the veranda and dance for a song or two.

A gentle jazz tune wafts from the band.  The wine’s bright flavors fill in the gaps.  It’s summer, when the heat of the day has broken, and everyone’s lethargy rises.  You see a chef plucking herbs from the garden outside the kitchen.

~~~

The paths of the hotel wind between the buildings, filled with grapevines, boxwoods, and trumpet vines. Everywhere appears like a photograph, regardless of where you look. 

Pairs of chairs appear here and there as you walk the bricked path, strategically placed retreats waiting for someone to settle down with a book.

“This rose is one of my favorites,” Shannon says, leaning over to sniff a cream-colored bud wrapped in layers of petals.  She stops for a second, inhaling deeply, then pops back upright.

“And there’s another one that smells great over here,” she continues, walking through the arbor and around the corner.  “You need to smell this one.”

~~~

After dinner at the Blue Wing (which you will read about in part two), the day has finally moved towards twilight.  You take a glass of wine from the saloon and head back to the room. 

The room has been meticulously designed, with high, paneled ceilings and chandeliers, custom wallpapered walls, and mosaic tiles in the bathrooms. Reds, blues, and yellows fill the color palette, bright and happy.

It’s been a long evening, full of hard work drinking wine, listening to music, and eating. The king-sized bed looks tempting, but perhaps there’s the ofuro. . .

To learn more about the Tallman Hotel or to book a room, visit their website.  If you want to learn more about the history of the Tallman and its meticulous renovation, head to the Courthouse Museum in Lakeport or read the book Gaye Allen wrote, which is available in the hotel lobby. 

Trudy Wakefield

Trudy is the owner and editor for The Bloom. The Bloom's dedicated to showcasing all the good parts of life. If it's good news, you'll probably find it here.

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