Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 3: Dull Moments and Restless Youth

June 21st, 1906 at 11:00 p.m. — Neptune Casino Grand Ballroom
Four hours into the night and the Credwell girls had practically fallen asleep where they sat. The night did not improve despite their best wishes. No young men asked them to dance, and none of their friends arrived. For Mary, at least, the night was the most boring she had experienced in years. The sounds from the orchestra continued, but even they seemed to be growing weary. Food had been served late, at eight o’clock, and it was so extravagant that neither of the Credwell girls enjoyed it. Sautéed lobsters with caviar and shrimp basted in a special sea water blend. Even some of the adults seemed overwhelmed and stuck to appetizers.

J.M. Credwell, Sr., May 1906 *
By eleven, most of the gentlemen had removed their overcoats and were three brandies beyond sober. The ladies, reclining at tables, were equally inebriated on gin and tonic or other cocktails. Nearby, a group of wealthy men boasted so loudly that everyone could hear them.  The wealth and grandeur of Santa Cruz were on display this night, and the girls were left wanting.

At a table at the other side of the dance hall, Swanton and around ten other wealthy men, including James Credwell, were seated in a din of smoke, the dim light barely illuminating their table. Hours of gambling and drinking had loosened up all the men, but the topic of remodeling the Casino continued.

“Mr. Banker,” Swanton slurred toward James. “I’ve grown quite tired of this Moorish luxury. Why on Earth did I even attempt the style? This place does not look like the Alhambra Palace of Cordoba—it looks like my grandmother’s wardrobe in New York!” 

The men chuckled and continued their game of poker. Swanton resumed his dialogue: “I wish for something more suited to the seas. I call this place Neptune, but there’s nothing Neptune about it!” Lowering his head, he spoke conspiratorially to the other men, “About a month ago, I had a conversation with my friend William Weeks. He’s an architect with an office up in San Francisco—the unburned part, of course. I asked him to draw up a plan for a new Casino and Plunge. Something more appropriate to suit this location.”

Leaning back, James smiled at Swanton. “We’re doing just fine, Mr. Swanton. I adore your passion and always have, but I love my money more. I see no profit in demolishing a two-year-old seaside palace like this. None at all.”

M.C. Hall, a prominent area businessman in his mid-30s, sat next to James and nodded his head in approval, saying “I have to agree with Mr. Credwell, Fred. This plan is bold but unnecessary and costly. I’m not sure if there is any way our meager local economy can support it.”

Another man, John Liebrandt, the former owner of the Plunge, also chimed in, “Indeed, and what would you do with the current buildings? The pool could use some remodeling, to be sure; it’s over ten years old. But what of the Casino? Would you demolish it? Move it? I don’t see the purpose in this scheme of yours, Fred.”

Local businessmen playing cards in a drawing room, c. 1905 *
“Fair enough, boys,” Swanton replied, exasperated. “I can see that there will be no pleasing you. I even pulled out my property insurance after the earthquake—if the Casino can survive that much shaking, it can survive anything. This building seems to be indestructible.”

“Well we can all hope, Mr. Swanton,” James concluded. “You may carry the ideas, but we have the money and we enjoy the Casino just the way it is: locally owned and a magnificent palace on the beach. Truly, we are the Atlantic City of the West Coast.”

“I will toast to that,” Leibrandt added, raising his glass. The other men raised theirs, Swanton lifting his reluctantly. “To success and profits for the Santa Cruz Beach Company!”

All the men shouted “Hear! Hear!” though Swanton mumbled it as he drank from his glass. For him, the party was over.

At a quarter after eleven, Patty took her sister by the hand and picked up their coats at the coat-check. Their mother had moved to a table near the stairwell and was discussing her role as a suffragette with some other women of similar age. On the other side of the room, they saw their father toasting with other gentlemen and resuming their game of cards. The girls left without saying goodbye to either parent.

Outside, the foggy evening had become a cold night. Wrapping their blankets rtghtly around themselves, Patty and Mary began the quarter-mile uphill walk back home. The Temperance League women had long departed, but laughter from the ballroom could still be heard two blocks away. By the time the girls passed Second Street, Mary was shivering. Their mother had not prepared them for a walk home, probably expecting the entire family to ride back together. Mary only had a light satin coat rather than a thicker, though less elegant, jacket. This wasn’t the first time that Patty’s parents had abandoned them at a party. Another event downtown three months earlier had caused the girls with their brother to walk back a mile in the rain.

When they finally arrived at the house on Third and Cliff, Patty sent her sister upstairs to get ready for bed. The two girls shared the same room but Patty always liked to read before she fell asleep. She usually did this in her father’s downstairs study. Upstairs, Mary took off her tight shoes and set her feet in some warm water for a few minutes. The warmth trickled all the way up her body.

Patty returned to settle into her bed twenty minutes later. Her sister was still awake, staring up at intricate crown molding around the ceiling. “Patty, are you going swimming in the morning?” Mary asked gently.

Patty and Mary's bedroom, showing Mary's bed, May 1906 *
“I was planning to go first thing, assuming I can wake up,” responded Patty with a slight air of indifference. This dance the two girls played was almost a nightly ritual.

“Do you think I could come along?”

“I suppose you can. Mother would be mad if I didn’t let you come along anyway. Are you going for the swimming or for Carl?” Patty asked, turning to face her sister with a slight grin.

“Swimming,” Mary replied, blushing and not looking at her sister.

“But you hate to swim, sis. Why would you want to go first thing in the morning with me?” Patty continued to egg her sister on.

“You know why...” Mary sighed, and looked sidelong at her sister, grinning.

“Yeah, you can go. Just no delay! I’m leaving at a quarter to eight and not a minute late!” Patty exclaimed.

“Then I will see you then,” Mary clipped back, turning back around and tucking herself into her sheets.

Patty looked up at the ceiling again, smiling to herself and noticing just how warm the sheets felt around her otherwise cold body. Hopefully, she mused to herself, tomorrow will be a much warmer day than tonight.

This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!

* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.

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