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The Carlton Hotel


Still visible above a bagel shop, a drug store and a take-out pizza parlor, the Carleton Hotel on the corner of Telegraph and Durant provided rooms for students, faculty and university guests. The poet Witter Bynner was quite pleased with his simple accommodations. “Here I am —” he wrote, “located not on an aesthetic and embowered hilltop, but in a brick hotel in the heart of town. After looking assiduously around, I decided that, for the present at any rate, a central location and the advantages of a hotel outweighed the importance of a romantic view. That I can climb to when I want it. And the climb does not become my bounden occupation several times a day. My two rooms and bath are presentable and comfortable and are, moreover, no dearer than less space and less convenience would be in the outlying places I’ve looked at.... The beauty of the place is unspeakable. It catches my breath.”

Bynner turned his rooms into an Aesthetic Movement retreat, a shrine to the mysterious Orient in two rooms above Telegraph Avenue. Here — six feet tall, with a rich baritone voice — he greeted guests wrapped in a silk kimono, in a cloud of plum-blossom incense. Undergraduates who met with Bynner in the Carlton Hotel wrote of the exotic experience. Eda Lou Walton was both dazzled and intimidated:

Your Chinese den is green and white
And red, lit with a golden light,
And everyone I know has been
Made welcome by your genial grin
To pass an hour’s pleasant flight.

The walls hang oriental silks, bedight
With painted figures dimly bright,
Who nod at memories within
Your Chinese den.

An ancient muse has cupped her chin
And hid behind your manikin.
Although she keeps well out of sight,
Yet like the grey moth of the night,
She burns her wings for incense in
Your Chinese den.
Five years before Bynner’s residency, the Carleton Hotel hosted another famous literary figure, Rupert Brooke, the best known of the British War Poets.


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