Posted by: acooksca | 10/25/2009

A Haunting in Paso Robles

Midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in the rolling hills of the Central Coast , lies the historic hot springs

Paso Robles  Inn

Paso Robles Inn

town of Paso Robles . Every now and then we stay overnight in Paso, as the locals know it, enjoying the feel of the place. It’s a smart little town with a rural heart, an agri-chic wine district and a bon a fide haunted hotel, the Paso Robles Inn.
 
A few years ago, my husband Bruce and I checked into room number 1008, one of the rooms with a private thermal bath. The drive down Highway 101 is long and a thermal bath sounded relaxing. After a soak we casually leafed through a book on the history of the hotel and discovered that room 1007, next door to us, has a long record of being haunted.
 
Everyone is pretty sure who this room-bound spirit is. Although he never bothers the guests he appears troubled…repeatedly using the phone to connect with the local police station by dialing 911. Seventy years ago a tragedy at that room turned one who should have been a hero into an unquiet soul.
 
In pre-mission times the local Salinan Indians knew the thermal hot springs and mud pools that are a natural feature in what is now downtown Paso. In the late 1700s Spanish expeditions ventured through the valley and reported bears wallowing in the pools. The fathers of nearby Mission San Miguel and their congregations found relief from various ailments in the warmth of the sulfurous waters and mud.
 
 Following the mission era El Paso de Robles became a favorite stop on the North-South stage line. Bath houses and small hotels rose next to the thermal pools. With each new decade the bathing facilities and accommodations were improved. In 1891 the magnificent Paso Robles Hotel opened featuring a seven-acre garden, golf course, library, beauty salon and barber shop, billiard and lounging rooms as well as 32 private bathing rooms and a forty foot plunge pool. The Grand Ballroom hosted lavish parties, attracting a well-to-do clientele as interested in the vibrant social scene as in the therapeutic waters.
 
Through the three-story entryway of elegant sandstone arches passed notable guests such as President Theodore Roosevelt. Hollywood stars Clark Gable, Bob Hope and Douglass Fairbanks escaped to the seclusion of Paso Robles.  Major league teams found Paso perfect for spring training. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox stayed at the hotel, soaking tired muscles in the baths.
 
In December of 1940 tragedy struck the renowned hotel. Fire broke out in a second story room and was discovered by a night clerk, J. H. Hemsley. Hemsley raised the alarm, startling sleeping guests to rush to their safety. The fire was spectacular, engulfing the hotel and destroying everything except the Grand Ballroom. All guests and employees were saved, except Hemsley who died in the hotel, perhaps still trying to raise the alarm.
 
Today’s Paso Robles Inn was completed shortly after the fire. The design was new for 1941, a Garden-Inn Hotel, designed to accommodate motorists. It seems that the blaze Hemsley discovered 70 years ago began where room 1007 now stands.
 
As I read the history and listened intently to the wall separating our room from 1007, Bruce said it was hard to believe that this isn’t a hoax. On way to eat dinner in the hotel’s fine dining room, The Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse, we passed by the front desk. Bruce stopped to check on the viability of the haunting. “Oh yeah…” said the desk clerk non-chalantly, “whether or not a guest is in room 1007, 911 calls come in. We have checked wiring for tampering, changed the phone itself, set up an employee to monitor… these calls just happen. Once, the head of maintenance was inspecting the room when the phone light went on. He picked up phone but got cut off and the other line rang the police with a 911 while he was standing there!”
 
We asked the clerk how recently this had happened. “Here’s the phone log… let’s see… three days ago a 911 call went out from that room and the police responded. They have to. And they charge the hotel $100 every time they do! There are guests who come in asking to stay in that room so the police always knock politely before entering.”

After finishing our dinner we returned to our room feeling a little pleased with our next door neighbor. Hotel fires do happen. It’s always reassuring to know there is someone nearby constantly watching and ready to raise the alarm.
 

Resources:

Paso Robles Inn: http://pasoroblesinn1.reachlocal.net/

City website with history of Paso: http://www.prcity.com/about/history.asp

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