A Special Guest at The West Beach Inn
On my recent trip to Santa Barbara I had the pleasure of spending the night at the West Beach Inn courtesy of Coast Hotels. It was the first leg of my #GreatCoastRoadTrip and I was excited to be in Santa Barbara and staying at this unique hotel. Why? Not for it’s convenient location to the beach, large rooms, or manicured grounds. No. The free deluxe breakfast and evening wine and cheese certainly are nice touches but that isn’t what won me over. Ditto to the free parking and complimentary Wi-Fi.
So with this many great features what made West Beach Inn so special to me?
A past tenant.
Madam Gildea to be exact.
The Unique Past of the West Beach Inn
While giving me a tour of the massive Master Suite at the West Beach Inn, hotel manager Teresa gave me some insight on the history of the property and the past owners, Mr. and Mrs. Gildea. An interesting couple, Madam Gildea worked for the USO during WWII entertaining the troops before moving to Saudi Arabia with her husband who was there to build railroads. They then moved to Santa Barbara where they were prominent in the development of the city. Their legacy still stands today. During the oil spill of 1969, the Gildea’s were instrumental in the cleanup efforts and became pioneers in environmental issues. Mr.Gildea opened the areas very first recycling center, which at the time the rich were quick to snub the idea of separating their own garbage. Skafaw! Today if you don’t separate your trash you can expect a similar reaction. Oh, how times have changed.
After they sold the West Beach Inn in the early 80’s the new owners allowed a then widowed Madam Gildea to stay in the large suite above the lobby rent free. Little did they know that her stay would last over 25 years! That’s over two decades of hotel guests coming and going with this interesting lady living on the same property. It wasn’t until Christmas of 2005 at the ripe old age of 103 did she move out and move on.
The West Beach Inn Master Suite
Today Madam Gildea’s former living quarters have been converted to be the properties Master Suite – and what a master suite it is. 2,000 sq ft, plus an additional 600 sq ft of deck offers guests more than enough room to stretch out and relax. With 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large living room, dining room, in-suite washer and dryer, and a kitchen featuring stainless steel appliances visitors can truly enjoy Santa Barbra how Santa Barbra is supposed to be enjoyed – like a home away from home. Santa Barbara is, after all, a weekend getaway destination for California’s elite. Why not join them? With room to sleep up to 8 people, the master Suite at the West Beach Inn is also within reach for the budget minded traveler when teaming up with a group of friends on a fun getaway.
We left the Master Suite through the back door and onto the large private deck which overlooks the hotel’s manicured grounds. There Teresa told me about Madam Gildea’s love of plants and trees. Teresa pointed out ones that the Gildea’s had planted then took me down to a special tree in the middle of them all, a massive Silk Floss.
Believing in Something More at the West Beach Inn
If you are unfamiliar with the Silk Floss tree, as I was before my visit, it can best be described as a porcupine tree with its odd spikes spreading from limb to limb. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The spikes, which cover the trunk and branches, are a natural defense mechanism – something that inevitably made me wonder why all trees aren’t covered in spikes? Never the less, this tree is able to keep pests and, more specifically, birds, from being complete asses of guests. Yes, being uninviting is something the Silk Floss tree is very good at. Teresa vouched for this and said she rarely sees a bird perched on the spiky branches, that is of course except for that sad day in December 2005.
Shortly after Madam Gildae’s passing the Silk Floss tree, a tree by design is to keep animals off, was covered in black crows.
Now I’m not usually the type to believe in spirits and such – I cringe when Erin watches Paranormal Activity and I feel like Long Island Medium preys on the sad and desperate – but this just sounded too odd and too perfect to not second guess. The fact that Madam Gilda loved animals and birds in particular (she had a bird aviary in what is now the lobby of the hotel!) just might have made me a believer. When a murder of crows decides to hang out (loudly reminded Teresa) on a tree that has no place for a bird to perch on, on the morning of Madam Gildea’s passing, one can only feel something.
After a few minutes of disrupting guests and after the paramedics had left, the birds took off from the West Beach Inn and the Silk Floss all at once – taking Madam Gildae’s soul with them as Teresa likes to believe.
The hair on my arm stood tall as I listened to this story being told by Teresa. We were still at the base of the Silk Floss tree. I couldn’t help but run my hand over the spiky trunk of the tree and think about the time I found my guardian angel on the Coquihalla. This kind of experiences have started to work their way into my travels and can only feel like it is a good thing.
And if it is all just bunk? Well, it makes for good conversation but really, tell that to the goosebumps on my arms.