Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mae West: Byron Hot Springs

During the 1930s, MAE WEST took a breather from movie-making and relaxed at a luxurious West Coast oasis — — an elite enclave shaded by mature oleanders and Egyptian palms, fastidious landscaping that gave the 1912 Byron Hot Springs Hotel a lush tropical ambience.
• • According to California historians, during the early twentieth century, San Francisco power brokers, Hollywood stars, and sports figures flocked to this resort paradise to indulge in recreation and the healthful mineralized springs. They relaxed on the lawn or stretched out on shaded verandas. Available to guests like Mae were golf, tennis, croquet, baseball, shuffleboard, and billiards.
• • This extraordinary 160-acre property, a few miles east of San Francisco, featured (at various times) three grand hotels, a Queen-Anne cottage called the Mead Mansion, a hospital, and several guest cottages. Visitors restored their health and well being through hydropathic “cures,” mud baths, restorative spring waters, swims and strolls through the exotic gardens. The resort was called the “Carlsbad of the West” after the famed European health spa.
• • Though now dilapidated, closed to the public, and under renovation, this once exotic hide-away in Contra Costa County, California has a curious history that has kept a small group of devotees paying attention to the property. During World War II, this spa was sold to the military and transformed into a top-secret prisoner interrogation center called Camp Tracy.
• • Army Major Alex Corbin — — author of the book “The History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Interrogation” — — recently took a small tour group through there. He discussed the former resort, whose natural sulfur springs and mud baths had appealed to high-earning Hollywoodites such as Mae West, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, and other stars during the 1930s, and how the acreage was put to a more clandestine use during the 1940s, which is to say gently wresting military secrets from Japanese seamen and soldiers in an operation so under-cover that its existence had been completely unknown to outsiders until a few years ago.

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