A Deep and Dark Discovery

It was a journey I had taken once before, nearly twenty years earlier, one that I both dreaded and looked forward to with anticipation.

A journey deep into the basement of the Grove Park Inn.

It had been nearly twenty years since I undertook the most recent inventory and appraisal of the Grove Park Inn’s collection of antiques, still considered the largest assemblage of Arts & Crafts furniture in the country. In 1913 the Roycroft Furniture Shop, the White Furniture Company and the Roycroft Copper Shop each hummed with activity as they pushed to make their July deadline for the opening of “the finest resort hotel in the world” perched on Sunset Mountain overlooking Asheville, North Carolina.

The Roycrofters’ list included 400 chairs for the dining room, six large corner servers, two massive sideboards, an eight-foot tall clock, some bedroom suites and an assortment of pieces for the Writing Room, the Ladies’ Lounge and other public areas. The White Furniture Company in nearby Mebane, which in 1907 had been awarded the gold medal at the Jamestown Furniture Exhibition as the “Best Manufacturer of American Furniture,” had taken on the task of completing all of the beds, nightstands, vanities, chairs, dressers and rocking chairs for 150 guest rooms.

The Inn opened to great fanfare on July 12, 1913, with Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan proclaiming, “Today we stand in this wonderful hotel, not built for a few, but for the multitudes that will come and go. I congratulate these men. They have built for the ages.”

(Of course, none of the actual workmen were there that night to hear him. This was a stag banquet reserved for 400 politicians and dignitaries.)

The ravages of time, a Great Depression and a change in decorating styles eventually took its toll on the Arts & Crafts furniture that had filled the rooms and lined the hallways since 1913. Numerous pieces disappeared, some mysteriously, others openly sold or given away. The majority remained in service in the guest rooms, as well as the massive Roycroft sideboards, servers and clocks no one seemed anxious to attempt to move.

And many went to the basement, awaiting repair or word of their Fate.

And when the basement became crowded, some were hauled to an even deeper, darker dungeon: the basement of the adjacent country club building on the Grove Park Inn grounds. It was there that Alex and I were working on our inventory and appraisal last Friday, gingerly picking our way around chairs, dressers and vanities – some original to the Inn, others representing half-hearted attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to replicate the Arts & Crafts look.

In the darkest, deepest closet in the basement, using my iPhone as a flashlight, I found what I immediately recognized as one of the original oak rocking chairs made by the White craftsmen in 1913. It had suffered some damage, and decades ago had been sent here to await repair. Then, in the darkness, it had been forgotten.

This rocking chair, however, bore an additional mark of service. On an ancient piece of brown tape a workman had scrawled the number “441.”

Room 441.

To anyone unfamiliar with the history of the Grove Park Inn, Room 441 is just another of the 150 rooms once filled with Arts & Crafts furniture and hundreds of thousands of guests. But to those who have delved into the history of this famous hotel, Room 441 has a special significance, for it was in Room 441 that for two long and painful years one of America’s most famous authors had lived – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And this was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s rocking chair. The chair that for two years he sat in and wrote, or, after dislocating his shoulder showing off for Zelda at a nearby swimming pool, dictated short stories to his stenographer while, according to her report, he drank countless bottles of beer to dull the pain.

The Fitzgerald rocker.

No longer forgotten, no longer discarded, it and the other Arts & Crafts furniture in the basement are already being moved out in preparation for their restoration and return to service. The management and staff at the Grove Park Inn are anxious to see the results of our inventory, appraisal and recommendations, for high on their list is the proper care and repair of the collection they have been entrusted with (provided they can get Alex to let go of it!).

The Fitzgerald rocker.

Pretty cool, eh?

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!