PEACE THROUGH TRAVEL AND WORLD CELEBRATIONS LISTINGS
Riehlife: I was really impressed by a sign in the Carlton lobby that listed holidays all around the world and the slogan “Peace through travel.” Could you tell us more about this?
Theo McKinney: Thank you for that! Keeping these world celebrations posted was my idea actually, and, just like the “green” idea and our global theme, it was really a no-brainer to realize that national/cultural celebrations are something that people around the world share. I make up the list weekly, mainly using http://www.earthcalendar.com/ as a reference.
When I saw how seemingly disparate countries were often celebrating the same historical reference point-dates, it really seemed like a fascinating detail that everyone should be given the opportunity to see, compare and marvel at.
“Peace through travel” was the working motto chosen for The Carlton during the development stage, and it stuck because it made such a great raison d’etre. Opening amid the throes of a controversial war, it was exactly the message that the world needs just as much now as it did then.
TRULY INTERNATIONAL, NOT JUST PRETENDING
Riehlife: With this sort of lifestyle cluster of holdings by the boutique hotel group Joie De Vivre there is by definition a degree of artifice. It seems to me at some of the hotels that they become akin to art installations arranged for the effect on the audience, the customers.
What I really liked about the Carlton was that it was that thing it presented itself to be: an international hotel. It was not just pretending for effect.
The first night when I came over to scout out my move the next day I met and had a wonderful conversation with a couple from Kenya. The next day I heard German, French, and Spanish spoken. It seemed to be a popular destination for Europeans. This diversity made me feel at home, drawing on my world traveler days. Could you tell us more about the Carlton as an international resting place and communal gathering place?
Theo: That international mood you are talking about is what makes San Francisco the tourist magnet that it is; that is precisely the reason I love living here.
When Joie De Vivre took over management and set down to decide how to do the remodel, they studied our guest profile. We have been 65%-85% international ever since I started working at the Carlton back in 1988. Add to that the fact that the owner’s home is the consulate for Nepal and that he’s a avid photographer (the photos throughout the hotel are his). Then add San Francisco’s reputation as the birthplace of the United Nations. It all just made gorgeous, eclectic, sense.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Because I did. Watching this kind of endless serendipity unfolding before one’s very eyes every single day is a very life-affirming experience. The whole Carlton approach for me (and for our guests, I think), is exactly that: In a crazy world, something is finally making sense in a positive way.
After scouring through the details, (such as the celebration list) it makes even more sense! It makes it a pleasure to report to work each day: when all else is going bonkers, the relentlessly happy environment of the Carlton…actually makes sense.
MIDDLE EASTERN DESIGN INFLUENCE AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD OUT THE FRONT DOOR
Riehlife: The Carlton has a sort of “Meet me at the Kasbah” feeling to me with its semi-circle red velvet curtains just inside the doorway and other design touches throughout the building. I was impressed at its willingness to go Moroccan/Middle Eastern/Asian. The next morning I had breakfast down the street at a marvelous Moroccan coffee shop. Could you tell us what went into the decision to go in this direction for the hotel interior design? Did it have anything to do with the neighborhood at all?
Theo: In addition to our international theme and slogan “Peace through Travel” the neighborhood had everything to do with these decisions too, because the guest experience does not stop at the front door.
The neighborhood is an integral part of the sensation and you can either pretend it’s not there, or you can celebrate it. Through us, Joie de Vivre hotels decided to celebrate it.
Interesting note: after 9/11, there was indeed a huge influx of Arabic-origin peoples into San Francisco. (I fear this was because they were being threatened everywhere else in the country.) Personally, I was proud of San Francisco for giving these kind people a place where they could belong again; that’s what San Francisco is all about, after all.
The name of our restaurant gave me chills when I found out that “Saha” meant “to your health” (the perfect message of goodwill, circa 2003) and since the menu is clearly healthful, yet exotic, and rare in SF, I knew it would be a hit because Middle Eastern food is wonderful anyway; honestly, I was proud of Joie De Vivre for taking the chance on it.
CARLTON’S UNCANNY EARLY EARTHQUAKE DESIGN & HISTORY
Reihlife: The Carlton has a rich San Francisco history. Could you tell us a little about this—from when it was first built to how it became a haven after the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake? I was over in the East Bay for that one. Were you in the Bay Area then as well? Of course you are quite young.
Theo: “Quite young”? I think I love you all over again!
The night of Oct 17, 1989, most hotels emptied out. We, on the other hand, were sold out because all of the US Corp of Engineers stayed at the Carlton. Of course, the first building they inspected was the Carlton (they’re no fools!) and their inspection revealed the fact that the Carlton itself was designed specifically to withstand earthquakes by having a flexible steel foundation, atop which was built the concrete structure. (This, in 1927!)
They also explained why the hallways get narrower as one descends from the top floor down to the basement: it causes something of a “pyramid effect” which gives the building uncanny stability during a seismic event (clever monkeys!)
Interestingly, just the day before the quake of 1989 (true story) my shift was changed from 3pm-11pm to 7am-3pm because a co-worker couldn’t consistently make it to work on time that early.
Long story short, when I should’ve been at work, I was already at home, watching TV in my circa 1898 Fillmore St. apartment, (there was a crack on my wall from 1906, the landlord was happy to point out when I moved in) and I was in the pleasant company of my beloved cat, and my two very best friends in the world who were hanging out with me at the time of the quake. (It was a double parlor living room, and I was even lying in the doorway, so I didn’t even have to move during those 15 seconds!) From my personal viewpoint, if such a seismic event had to happen, it was spoon fed to me with sugar on it. See that? “Serendipity”.