The Claremont Hotel has towered over the city of Berkeley since it opened in 1915. The hotel’s tennis courts hosted legendary players like Bill Tilden, Henry Vines, Don Budge and his frequent doubles partner, M. Eugene Smith, who went on to found the history department at Cal Poly.
In our family, it has one other claim to fame. It was where Liz and Dan’s wedding dinner didn’t happen 50 years ago.
Liz and I were married in the chapel at Berkeley’s Newman Hall on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1963. We had planned a modest wedding reception. The cake, some hot hors d’oeuvres, cheeses and breads bought from Safeway and an inexpensive Scandinavian-style wine punch probably cost us $175.
Our wedding was at the noon Mass. Normally that Mass wasn’t well attended on Thanksgiving. But this was just six days after the tragic events in Dallas. All of the Masses were crowded. Many of those who came knew me from my working with the Friday evening seminars at Newman. Our reception became a “loaves and fishes” affair.
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Afterward, some of us were still hungry. A Marin county psychiatrist, Dr. John Priesinger, who worked as a volunteer with Liz’s father, Bud Ogren, in writing appeals for a man on San Quentin’s Death Row, suggested that we go to the Claremont Hotel for dinner.
My parents and sister, Liz’s parents and grandmother and three brothers and sister went into the Claremont with Dr. Priesinger and his wife. We all sat down at a long table in the elegant but nearly empty dining room. Liz’s father said that he would pick up the check.
Since it was Thanksgiving, the Claremont only served a full course dinner for $5.95 per person. Bud was an Associate Professor at Loyola Law School. There were 18 people to feed.
After quietly debating for 20 minutes, Liz looked at her father, said “Daddy, this is too much for you to pay.”
And we all left. Our “honeymoon hotel,” the Richelieu on Van Ness at Sutter in San Francisco, was near at least 50 good restaurants, mostly closed on Thanksgiving.
We had our wedding dinner at a small Foster’s English Muffins cafeteria across Sutter Street from the Richelieu. The limited menu was really a blessing since we were too tired to make any decisions. Minced ham with scrambled eggs and muffins with marmalade made a more than adequate wedding feast.
By 2011, we could occasionally afford to stay at the Claremont when visiting family in Berkeley. Happy days!
The events less than a week before our wedding touched Liz and me in many ways. Most especially since Liz and I had met at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. I was chair of a group of students urging the renomination of two-time nominee Adlai Stevenson. Liz’s family was supporting John F. Kennedy as a new hope for America.
That hope seemed sadly diminished on Nov. 22, 1963.
But the following year, President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the first of two transformative civil rights bills along with Medicare. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Medicare, which passed with a one-vote margin in the Senate, changed the face of America.
We always like to say “every vote counts.” Ever since their passage, we have shared Abraham Lincoln’s conviction that Americans must come together in an open political process.
One month before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln told Congress that is the means by which “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”