Point Clear has always provided a quality of life that allows it to stand on its own, but the Grand Hotel makes it famous. As a kid, whenever I was outside the state and an adult stranger asked me where I was from, I proudly told them, “Point Clear, Alabama.”
Typically, this had no effect on their expression. Then I added, “On the coast where the Grand Hotel is.” That usually did the trick. They’d likely heard of it or even been there.
Built by F. H. Chamberlain in 1847, the “Hotel” was originally constructed as a two-story building with 40 rooms. Not long after it opened, it was used as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. Despite numerous fires, hurricanes, expansion projects and changes in ownership, the Grand – with its beautiful heritage oaks, immaculate lawns and Bay views – has been known since its founding as the “Queen of Southern Resorts.”
Growing up by the Grand
In summer, the morning calm is typically broken when the east breeze swings into a southwest wind. The fish have stopped biting and the Stauter boats are gone from Zundel’s pilings. Waves roll onto the beachfront. The cicadas begin their electric thrum in the wet heat. And before noon, a trickle of the locals begins to move toward the Hotel.
It’s an easy walk or bicycle ride if you live on the Boardwalk. Even easier for the kids who live in Lakewood. If you were like me, living south of Stone Springs, you only had to journey by boat and park in the marina.
The Hotel has always made an effort to include the community. We felt it was as much our resort as anyone else’s. And on any summer day, it seemed there were as many locals roaming its grounds as true guests. The giant pool, rumored to be the largest man-made pool in the South, was the biggest draw. If you were a kid in Point Clear looking to meet up with everyone else over for the summer, the pool was the place to go.
Parked out front were the first Porsches and Ferraris we had ever touched. Many of us got our first swimming lessons inside the fence. It was my first experience with a high-dive board. And as we strutted poolside with our hotel towels, the same ones they gave out to the guests, it was our time to feel like one of the “rich” people.
Along with its social benefits, the pool also provided many of us with our first jobs. Some of the local teenagers worked as lifeguards or grounds help. I was fortunate to get work at an early age. When I was 10, I talked the snack bar attendant into employment as the fly killer. She gave me a washcloth and I slapped flies and collected them in a paper cup. My flies were valued at 10 cents apiece. When I had a dollar’s worth, I cashed them in for lemonade.
When the health inspector eliminated my position as fly killer, I didn’t take it too hard. Unemployed again, I went back to doing what most of the other kids my age were doing at the Hotel: making friends and mischief.
We soon tired of smuggling live crabs from the Bay to the pool and expanded our activities outside the fence and onto the main grounds. There were giant largemouth bass in the lagoon that needed catching and ducks and geese that needed chasing. Guests were always surprised to answer their door to a room service tray heaped with a rotting, fly-covered channel catfish we’d found washed up on the beach. The first time we snuck into the lobby and stood in line for high tea, they shooed us out. It didn’t take us long to realize that all a person needs for fancy cookies is a shirt, shoes and shorts that aren’t dripping wet.
We knew the security guards by name – or at least by names we gave them: Cranky Pants, Sunglasses and Barney. They patrolled in golf carts and weren’t as fast on their feet as we were. Even if they were to catch us, it was rumored they just called your parents to come get you. I was never caught. Looking back, I wonder if anyone was ever caught. Maybe local kids making mischief is part of the allure of the Hotel, an establishment so deeply woven into the fabric of its community that the lines between guests and locals are blurred.
text by watt key • illustration courtesy of The grand hotel