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It’s that day we love to love! Measured in bouquets of flowers, squares of chocolate and cards swarming with weapon-toting winged babies, Valentine’s Day is truly a holiday cherubbed by all. On the remote off-chance you needed another reason to enjoy the annual festival of love, the date also happens to double as the 98th anniversary of the opening of a former Santa Ana landmark, Saint Ann’s Inn; a 75-room Californian auberge and the subject of this week’s Valentine’s Day blog post.
In the early years of the 20th Century Santa Ana was a burgeoning Southern California county seat lacking in little, save for a first-rate hotel. As the need for a hotel became increasingly apparent, in the late 1910s R. L. Bisby—a relative by marriage of Santa Ana’s first mayor and a city resident with a finger in every imaginable pot—led the charge to create the first hotel the city could be proud of. The project became a large investment for many of the most prominent members of Santa Ana, but it represented a real opportunity to turn Santa Ana into a tourist hotspot and cement Santa Ana as the business capitol of Orange County as well as the political one. A curiously sterile plan for a colonial revival style building with contradictorily charming grounds was chosen. Plans for the building moved ahead and perhaps given the optimistic hope that love and romance would take place under the auspices of the cleverly named Saint Ann’s Inn—an anglicization of Santa Ana, for those on the in—a date of February 14th was set for the grand opening.
As is so often the case in romance, the inn’s beginnings were awkward but endearing: the opening night’s mood was well-set by a light rain not so uncharacteristic for this time of year—given the prohibition-era context of the event this would have been the least-dry aspect of the evening; speakers broached on such romantic subjects as the fiscal imperative for a prestigious Santa Anan hotel and Bolshevism as the seed of American anarchy, an intimate diatribe by former Michigan Senator William Alden Smith; the menu boasted locally-sourced ingredients under liberally-licensed French names; and most impressively, the entire February 14th event took place without one mention in writing of it having been Valentine’s Day. The Santa Ana Register article about the opening in the February 15, 1921 edition is a buoyant, but ultimately lonely Valentine’s-Day-mention-less raft in a veritable sea of stories on Cupid’s efforts.
The Ugly Truth
The movers and shakers behind Saint Ann’s Inn did not wallow in the missed opportunity. While the hotel never became the hotbed for tourist travel that the city’s wealthy financiers had banked on, it did develop quite a reputation for love. Santa Ana was a convenient distance away from Hollywood both in terms of travel time and pairs of prying eyes. The minds behind Saint Ann’s Inn also had the forethought to construct their hotel right across from the old Santa Ana Courthouse. The amalgamated result of these two factors being that it was a simple affair for a couple eloping from Los Angeles to pop on down to Santa Ana, procure a marriage certificate, and spend the weekend enjoying Orange County’s beaches, golf courses, or the cozy rooms of Saint Ann’s Inn. Tabloids of the era reported on at least one near-marriage between famous stars John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, and the hotel’s reputation as Hollywood’s honeymoon hotel was born.
Silver Linings Playbook
The history of St. Ann’s Inn was as tragically short-lived as a relationship between the star-crossed. The three-day waiting period for marriage licenses imposed by a 1927 “no gin marriage” law effectively killed the business the hotel received from runaway lovers. This strain was compounded by the advent of the Great Depression, and by the end of 1930—nine blissful years after opening—Saint Ann’s Inn was purchased by the city and had its final curtain call for its role in l’amour. The building did continue to serve an important function in Santa Ana, as the offices of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and as a newly converted annex for the courthouse. By the time the building was demolished in 1969 it had become near and dear to Santa Anans. To this day, many fondly remember the years Santa Ana’s Saint Ann’s Inn was a mecca for wayward lovebirds.
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