The Coral Gables

In February 1969, the building, which for 50 years had been known as the Hotel Chippewa, was purchased by a Lansing man and became the Coral Gables. After a little over a decade, the Gables closed due to bankruptcy.

In February 1969, the building, which for 50 years had been known as the Hotel Chippewa, was purchased by a Lansing man and became the Coral Gables. After a little over a decade, the Gables closed due to bankruptcy.

The following is the fourth part in a series of articles on the history of the building commonly remembered as the Hotel Chippewa. Subsequent parts will follow in the coming weeks.

There are times during our lives when we may hear an older generation speak the semi-sarcastic words to us, “Well…that was a little before your time.” The phrase is normally uttered after they reference something that happened prior to our minds being aware of said event taking place. While the statement in question is true, it often leaves the younger generation feeling like they’ve missed out on something important.

After changing ownership multiple times since it opened as the Dunham House in 1878, the building, which from 1917 to 1969 had been known as the Hotel Chippewa, switched hands once again with the new owner christening it the Coral Gables. For the next ten years, the Coral Gables bequeathed many memories to Manistee citizens and visitors alike. Nevertheless, by late 1979 the doors of the once-popular hotel were closed indefinitely, leaving in its wake an empty, silent structure.

Employed at the Coral Gables throughout the mid-1960s to its closing was longtime Manistee resident Joyce Anderson who, with her son Paul and two daughters (Carol and Kay) and with the help of her dedicated husband, made going to work a family affair.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure to sit down with Joyce and Paul on a cold, snowy morning at the museum. Talking with them, I got the sense that even though the hotel may be long gone, it is still alive, albeit in a less physical sense than it was before.

By the spring of 1968, Charles Krizan, who had owned and operated The Pines Chop House on M-55 for several years, had taken possession of the Hotel Chippewa, naming it “Mister Charlie’s Chippewa Hotel.” However, his tenure operating the hotel was short lived as by the following year the complex was sold to Thomas Johnson, a Lansing-based man who was the owner and president of a number of hotel establishments across the state that went by the moniker Coral Gables.

Beginning her employ at the hotel while it was still under the Mister Charlie’s banner, Joyce was mainly tasked with office work odds and ends and continued to do so for the next several years after Johnson changed it to the Coral Gables.

“A few years after Tom Johnson took over, they kept shoving stuff at me so most of the time I took care of parties and hosted at noon and things like that and then I got a payroll girl to do the payroll and then eventually after Mike Bauman left they made me manager but they didn’t raise my pay or anything,” said Joyce with a chuckle.

Over those years, Joyce’s children not only became known around the workplace but they also became a part of the workforce, as daughters Carol and Kay and son Paul all began working at the Gables in one way or another. While Joyce’s husband helped out wherever he was needed, Carol worked as a desk clerk and Kay a waitress. Meanwhile, Paul began his actual employment at the Coral Gables when he became the bar manager in May of 1977.

“I started hanging out there as soon as she started working there. But she called me up in May 1977 and they just fired the bar manager and she wanted to know if I could work the door but…that eventually led to stocking, scheduling, and just a little bit of everything, which led me to becoming the bar manager.”

Over the years, as folks have come into the museum and chatted about the Coral Gables, people of a certain age often get an excited look in their eyes when they talk about how it was “the” place to be in Manistee. Listening to Paul, I could have sworn that I noticed that same nostalgic look in his eyes.

“That was the 70s and it was the height of the baby boomers turning 21 or 18,” he said.

“When the Gables took over, they eventually set up Jake Skala and a guy by the name of Tim to run the bar. So there was live music five nights a week and it was the hottest spot in Ludington and Manistee. The clientele for the bar definitely became a younger crowd because the drinking age dropped to 18 so it switched from a Holiday Inn atmosphere to a little more rock and roll.”

Paul also recalls the busy nights that the show bar would be full of people.

“Every Wednesday was flaming hog night and they would offer drink specials and Wednesday was possibly the biggest night. They would also occasionally bring in some quasi-national acts like ‘Herman’s Hermits’ or, they don’t mean anything today, but occasionally there was some hot band from Ann Arbor or Lansing.”

In addition to the show bar, the banquet rooms and the restaurant “Il Forno” attracted numerous customers and local organizations (Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, etc.) for meetings as well as birthday parties and the occasional pool party.

“All the banks, Morton Salt, and PCA had their Christmas parties there. It was really something. I had to do everything for the banquets and when the night came I had to make sure that everyone was on their toes,” recalls Joyce.

While the Coral Gables was a popular night spot and gathering place for teenagers and adults, the rooms of the hotel played a function, although a much smaller one, in the proceedings of the overall hotel complex.

“When Johnson took over, he remodeled about 10 rooms that were really nice but overall there really wasn’t that much of a hotel business. During Coho Season the rooms might fill up. But Tuesday night we had salesmen. There were a few residents and a couple of salaried employees that lived there and we got pretty full in the summer season,” said Joyce.

During the course of our conversation, Joyce and Paul both discussed the other people that were employed at the Gables when they were there.

“We had a big payroll over those years,” said Joyce. “I’m guessing, but I think it was 69 people or close to that.

Added Paul, “The people that passed through those doors as employees were just a roundhouse of Manistee people from back in that day. I was thinking about this earlier today but it’s surprising and sad to me the people who worked there over the years but are no longer with us, people I knew like Mike Baumann and Pat Gielczyk.”

Although business had slowed, the Coral Gables continued along until the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 28, 1979, when the landmark building was forced to close due to bankruptcy.

“It got to be where they couldn’t pay payroll tax withholding. I don’t think it was a catastrophic situation. The place had been slipping and I don’t think it ever really made money. I don’t know whether it was considered a disappointment to the Coral Gables or if they made their return on their money but as the years went by it went down a little bit and then when the 18 year old drinking age changed back to 21 in 1978, that was just one more hit. Tom had died and the hotel was getting very old and it just finally got to the point that the Coral Gables said enough,” said Paul.

Every now and again, when we begin a new job or enter into a new association of some sort, we’re clueless as to how much an effect it will have on our lives. When I asked mother and son if they had one last thing to say about their tenure at the Coral Gables, they both responded in appreciation of the building that had been their “home” for many years.

“I met my wife there before I started and then when I started she was working in the dining room and then the next thing you know we’re a couple and we still are,” Paul said with a laugh.

“It was just a fun place to work and I really loved every minute of it. Today, you’d be surprised how many people stop me on the street and say, ‘Hello, Mrs. Anderson’. I don’t remember them because they have grown up but it’s just nice to see them,” said Joyce.

A few days later, as I drove past the empty lot where the hotel used to stand, my thoughts turned to that snowy morning conversation with Joyce and Paul at the museum. Though I felt grateful for the opportunity to chat with them and hear their recollections of the Coral Gables, I couldn’t help but be a little envious of their memories because it appears that I missed out on a really fun era in Manistee history. But in reality, after talking with the Andersons, I was feeling nostalgic for a place I had never actually known. I guess that’s just the way it is when something happens a little before your time.

 

 

 

 

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