The Holladay House parlor fireplace is a little bit of a celebrity around here. During its long life, it’s witnessed a lot a history–and created a little of its own. Like making the cut as one of USA TODAY’s Top 40 Hotel Fireplaces in the US. Or providing an elegant backdrop to the beginning of many long, happy marriages. Or even participating in a tragic scene in which one Shadow Elswick, aged about three years, caught her whiskers on fire in a moment of cat foolhardery.
………OK, so Shadow hasn’t actually caught her whiskers on fire (yet). Still, if she keeps poking her face into the fireplace when the flames are doing their thing, the kitty who greets you at the inn could be a sadder, wiser, and less bewhiskered girl than she is today.
That being said, the bit about the USA Today is true, which means that the Holladay House fireplace falls in with fireplaces found at places like, ahem, The Ritz-Carlton. In the world of pyromania, I think that makes us part of the cool crowd (or, you know, since it’s a fireplace, the “not-cool” crowd. But whatever.)
The part about the weddings is true as well. Over a hundred couples have said their vows in front of the parlor fireplace over the years, exchanging their rings in the glow of the candlelit mantle. Still others have curled up on the parlor sofas nearby, drinking locally brewed coffee and fine wines, playing board games, and catching up with old friends in the warm comfort of home-away-from-home.
So, let’s talk about the fireplace. What makes it special-er than your average run-of-the-mill firepit? Where did it come from? Why does it matter? And (depending on your age and the time of year) is it Santa-friendly?
The fireplace is made of Port d’Oro marble, which was once, per the wisdom of The New American Cyclopedia of 1861, “the most popular and the best known foreign
marble in all parts of the United States.” The gold-veined black marble was mined in Porto Venere, Italy—probably on the island of Palmaria. It was then imported to the US, where an Orange County family looking to give their home a facelift decided to (seriously) upgrade their parlor fireplace. (Local architectural historian Anne Miller believes that the original wooden fireplace was moved upstairs into what is now the John Madison Chapman Suite, where it’s still functional today.)
The family who splurged was probably the Chapman family (who preceded the Holladays in house-ownership.) There’s a certain aura of mystery around when this splurge occurred, because no one can pin down an exact “when” for that. Still, Sam’s research reveals that most of the Port d’Oro marble fireplaces around the country (and in Orange) were installed in the mid-nineteenth century, placing the fireplace’s birth at sometime approximately between 1840 and 1860. And it’s still in fabulous shape, notwithstanding its advanced age. (Actually, Sharon shares that the biggest part of the “restoration” they had to complete upon moving in involved a 3-hour task of pulling candy wrappers out of the grate.)
As for Santa? Well, let’s just say that Sharon’s cookies have lured him back year after year, and if he’s coming in through the back door now rather than risking scratching the black marble with his sled keys, you didn’t hear it here.