Looking Forward to the Grove Park Inn

Leigh Ann and I live on a small farm seven miles southeast of Asheville, where I spend a part of many afternoons wrestling with Mother Nature over who gets control of how much of our steep hillsides and thicket-encrusted creek banks. We love our chickadees and towhees, so I’m careful to leave them plenty of wild raspberries and strawberries, along with nesting areas guarded by prickly brambles to protect them from our three patrolling cats. I guard my own mornings just as diligently, rising early to crouch over my keyboard, pecking out sentences on whatever project consumes me, over-stimulated with steaming mugs of thick, home-brewed Starbucks coffee.

My nearest neighbors are real farmers, with neat rows of corn, tomatoes, and kale. One of my purposes in life is to provide them with humorous stories to share with their families over dinner. Sometimes, depending on what I am doing, they just stop and sit in their pickup trucks and watch me, speculating, no doubt, whether or not I’ll survive my next step, or just end up in the nearest urgent care center.

And then, just to confuse them, I’ll trade my work boots for a real pair of shoes and my weed-eater for my briefcase and head off for the Grove Park Inn. This past week I was there twice, giving talks for out-of-town groups interested in learning more about the history of the famed hotel.

And it is quite a history: William Jennings Bryan on opening night in 1913, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison following in 1918, a long list of popular entertainers during the Roaring Twenties, Scott and Zelda in 1936, then FDR and Eleanor, Ike and Mamie, Barack and Michelle, and, of course, the mysterious Pink Lady.

They all came, and they each left behind a story.

We, too, began leaving our own mark on the history of the Grove Park Inn. Beginning in 1988, our annual February pilgrimage up Asheville’s Sunset Mountain convinced the owners, managers, and staff of the importance of the inn’s Arts and Crafts heritage, from the Roycroft furniture and Copper Shop’s lighting fixtures to the Heywood-Wakefield wicker rockers and the Great Hall’s twin granite fireplaces, each large enough to park a car inside the firebox.

Over the course of these past 29 years we, too, have watched history take place at the Grove Park Inn. Most recently the hotel has gone through a succession of owners, general managers, and staff following the death in 2009 of 91-year-old Elaine Sammons, ending the Sammons’ family reign that began soon after Harry Truman left the White House. The low point came when a real estate investment firm purchased the resort in 2012 with the stated goal of strengthening the bottom line before executing a major flip. Their first step was to fire every employee, then require them to endure a series of cattle calls at temporary interview tables lined up on the indoor tennis courts. Many of my friends and long-time employees simply said, “No, thanks,” and went to work for other Asheville hotels.

Fortunately, stability returned a few years ago when the Omni Hotels rescued the hotel from the downward spiral in employee morale. They quietly and efficiently completed unfinished remodeling projects and began rebuilding the hotel’s staff. Indicative of the new attitude was one of my first interactions with the new general manager. He listened patiently as I explained how we basically take over the entire hotel during the third weekend of February, reserving every meeting room for Small Group Discussions and workshops, both ballrooms for shows and seminars, and the Great Hall day and night as our social center and break room.

After I finally finished, he leaned back, eyed me seriously, and announced, “Okay. We’ll watch how it goes — then we’ll talk about any changes we need to make.”

Two weeks went by after the close of the next Arts and Crafts Conference, and I hadn’t heard anything back, so I picked up the phone and asked when he wanted to meet.

“No need to,” was his reply. “Unless you want to grab a beer together.”

Now that’s a vote of confidence.

Until next Monday,

Think February at the Grove Park Inn!


For updated information, please go to http://www.Arts-CraftsConference.com – and check our the pre-conference workshops and the annual Craftsman Farms Thursday night party!

Middle: Instructor Frank Glapa and his metalsmithing pre-conference workshop.