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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


GAR'S FIRST RATE—In 2011, I started my commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by visiting the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park for a battlefield tour (1195 Baltimore Pike,, where you can plan your tour by selecting from several options: a Licensed Battlefield Guide bus tour; a personalized Licensed Battlefield Guide car tour; or a self-guided audio CD tour, available in the Museum Bookstore.

Pick the personalized car tour and ask for licensed battlefield guide Gar Phillips, a master historic storyteller. Gar will take you to the important sites of the three-day battle. He will steer you (literally in your car) to the untold and equally significant stories of that bloody battle that left behind more than 51,000 soldiers who were killed, wounded, captured or missing.

I thought I knew a lot about Gettysburg, but after listening to Gar as he drove our rented car, those two hours inspired me to learn even more.  His insight pointed me toward  countless hours of rewarding personal Gettysburg research.

Gar’s tour pointed out where the battles were fought and explained many of the historic marker that dot the preserved battlefield. I also learned a new definition of courage by reading the plaque on a statue commemorating the 1st Minnesota, a band of 280 unsung federals, soldiers, who are credited for stalling two attacking rebel brigades and helping to save Day Two’s battle from becoming a Southern victory.

Also, worth visiting is the village of Gettysburg with its quaint restaurants and historic hotels and buildings. Many of the original buildings still bear bullet holes from the battle. South of town is the Gettysburg Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave his immortal Gettysburg Address.

Photo: Gar Phillips with Pillar to Post blog founder and editor Tom Shess. Gar and Tom are standing NW of Gettysburg at Oak Ridge. He is pointing to the west where along the Chambersburg Pike, General Lee’s vanguard approached to start the battle on July 1, 1863.

Upcoming: Gettysburg Blog Week

Thursday: Unsung Battlefield Heroes.

Friday: Homework Before you Go. Books and Websites that inspire.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


WHERE TO STAY--Getting to Gettysburg, PA from San Diego takes some planning. What worked for us is taking Southwest Airlines and four hours later arrive at Baltimore/Washington Airport (BWI).
From the National car rental desk we drove I-83 toward Harrisburg PA, where we checked into the City House Bed & Breakfast, 915 North Front St., Harrisburg, PA, 717/903-2489. A young couple remodeled a fading Federalist style home into a classy, buttoned down B&B. This B&B is a cross between historic rustic inns and a modern hotel. I also wanted to see the wide Susquehanna River, which did its part in 1863 by stopping a Confederate raiding party intent on harassing Harrisburg, a major Union capitol.

A day before, the famed Battle of Gettysburg, a Union militia located in nearby Columbia, PA, burned the wooden bridge crossing the Susquehanna stopping a Rebel raiding party intent on reaching Harrisburg. The original pilings of that covered bridge remain in the river next to a new bridge.

The next morning we left Harrisburg and drove 45 minutes to Gettysburg, where we arrived in time to tour the town and take a remarkable personal guided tour of the Battlefield. More on that “must-take” tour in tomorrow’s blog.
That night, we had a choice of staying at the Gettysburg Hotel or a B&B in nearby Oxford, PA that was another Federalist style brick home. We chose to stay at the Barker House Bed & Breakfast, 10 Lincoln Way West, New Oxford, PA, 717/624-9066. Located seven miles from Gettysburg, the Inn is a comfortable alternative from the very touristy feel to modern day accommodations in Gettysburg.

Built in 1794, the Barker House is a freeze-frame of the décor so prominent in homes of antebellum America. It was a delightful stay. Now, that I was hooked by Civil War lore, I had to find the drawing room, where Confederate General John Gordon met with his officers prior to their march to the Susquehanna. Gordon troops were the ones halted by then torched the Susquehanna bridge.

New Oxford is quaint and has professional quality antique stores and well worth visit.
We spent the late afternoon and evening in Gettysburg, where we dined at the Dobbin House Tavern (, a fine Colonial period inn that I’ve added to my list of great steaks (others:, San Diego and Chicago’s

Gettysburg has excellent visitor support on the Internet, especially, a comprehensive website that answered all our questions.

Images: Photos by Phyllis Shess. Interior view: Barker House B&B, New Oxford, PA; Exterior view: City House B&B, Harrisburg.


Wednesday: Gar Phillips, Battlefield Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Thursday: Unsung Battlefield Heroes.

Friday: Homework Before you Go. Books and Websites that inspire.

Monday, November 28, 2011


TOUCHING HISTORY—Recent interest in the U.S. Civil War has been fueled by local and national events of remembrance, which began in April as our nation marked the 150th anniversary of the first shot of that bitter war. Also sparking attention will be media articles over the next three years spotlighting the retrospective. Yesterday, for example, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a large syndicated travel page article on the do’s and don’ts of visiting historical sites like Gettysburg.

Today’s post--longer than usual--for a blog will be typical of Pillar to Post’s historic travel guidelines. How to get there and where to stay will be touched upon, but also important are discussions on why Gettysburg became such a watershed event in the history of our nation.

Generally speaking, the significance of the Civil War (1861-65) was that it resolved at that time the debate whether states rights overruled national rights. The war ended the open rebellion of seceding states, which were willing to fight to the death because they were threatened by the loss of political control to maintain their ways of life. The rebels had resorted to violence (war) because they no longer could accept compromise.

By mid-point in the war, January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had been pushed to the wall. The war was at a stalemate because the Union Army was in the midst of “on-the-job” training. Up until New Year’s Day 1863, Lincoln did not have an overwhelming mandate in the North to free the slaves. At that point, even Lincoln believed he had slim chances of winning a second term.

Faced with so much “friendly” fire he boldly issued the Emancipation Proclamation thus forever ending slavery in this nation. If he wasn’t going to be re-elected Lincoln would at least leave a lasting legacy by officially freeing the slaves. Lincoln truly had nothing to lose?

The Emancipation infuriated the Rebels. They could no longer hide behind the veil of states rights. If they continued the war, the confederates were now openly fighting to preserve the use of slave labor.

The rebels up until that point had been content to fight defensively and let the Union Army attack them. They hoped the Union would tire of the war and go away. Now, with Emancipation issues at hand, the Confederates realized that if they wanted to preserve their way of life—it had to be all out victory or nothing. With one stroke of the pen, Lincoln ended further compromises on slavery issues. Many historians believe that was the day God switched sides.

Now, the South had to go on the offensive for the first time in the war. They eyed invading the North and capture a major city like Harrisburg (minimum) or Philadelphia (maximum) and in doing so they would deliver a crippling blow to the Union Army.

The South believed by hostaging Philadelphia, for example, that feat would galvanize anti-war sentiment forcing Lincoln to end the war by allowing the Confederacy to exist as a separate nation. Rebel General Robert E. Lee banked on that victory to bring European allies into his camp. Victorious as they had been before Gettysburg, the South was sorely in need of manpower and materiel that European alliances would provide.

The village of Gettysburg, PA-- at the hub of seven major roads—stood in the way of the rebel invasion. The village was where the two major armies ran finally ran into each other. To present day military and political scholars and history buffs, the ensuing three-day battle and its post-war ramifications remain at the crossroads of world fascination with the U.S. Civil War.

The previous paragraph ends this blog’s political discussion of the War Between the States. For the rest of the week, this space will publish travel notes on visiting Gettysburg.

Tuesday: Where to Stay. Add historic lodging to the experience.

Wednesday: Gar Phillips, Battlefield Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Thursday: Unsung Battlefield Heroes.

Friday: Homework Before you Go. Books and Websites that inspire.

Photo by Phyllis Shess: Blog author consults with the President outside the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park

Sunday, November 27, 2011


BLOG ROAD TRIP— Today this blog is going on its first week-long road trip visiting Gettysburg, the town and its great battlefields as a salute to our country’s ongoing 150th anniversary remembrance of the War Between the States. These upcoming Gettysburg-themed essays are intended—in a small way—to encourage historical tourism to Gettysburg and to rekindle the discussion of an amazing transitional (albeit bloody) time in our history.

Mid-way through that war, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. Both sides—Confederate and Union-pushed all their chips to the pot. Both sides had to win. By suffering 51,000 casualties that battle (Fri. thru Sun, July 1-3) became the greatest poker game in U.S. military history. No three-day weekend has ever been so bloody.

From a historic standpoint the outcome at Gettysburg during 1863 steeled our nation into becoming a leading military power in the world based on manpower and advanced technology. More importantly it ended human slavery and put to rest the notion that our country can be divided.

Also, by re-examining Gettysburg as a social phenomena, we can be reminded that the rancor that divided us 150 years ago needs to be re-addressed because blue vs. gray of 1863 seems a lot like blue vs. red of 2012.

Tomorrow: Greatest Poker Game: The Stakes. This quick essay acts as a backgrounder to your trip to Gettysburg. It encapsulates why Gettysburg happened in the first place.

Tuesday: Where to Stay. Add historic lodging to the experience.

Wednesday: Gar Phillips, Battlefield Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Thursday: Unsung Battlefield Heroes.

Friday: Homework Before you Go. Books and Websites that inspire.

Photo by Phyllis Shess: Blog author sharing a moment at the Confederate side, where on July 3, 1863, 12,000 Rebels, the pride of the Army of Northern Virginia led, in part by General George Pickett, charged from that spot toward the Union lines, a mile away across the meadow.

The companion image shows where the Union troops led by General George G. Meade waited for the Confederate attack, which included the fated Pickett’s Charge.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


LOCAL TEA FAVORITES--A family hobby while on vacation or business travel is to find at least one tearoom per visit. Favs so far: Willard Hotel in DC; Raffles Hotel, Singapore; the Empress Hotel, Victoria, BC and recently the Wm. Penn Hotel, Pittsburgh. Closer to home you’ll find us searching for the perfect pot of tea at the following San Diego area spots.

West: Tea-Upon Chatsworth—Visited last Sunday afternoon. Paris tea rules. Cozy place for traditional afternoon tea. 2180 Chatsworth Blvd, 619/858-2848,, $29 ea., Thurs thru Sun, 11 am-5 pm. Comment: Engaging hostess and the combination of décor and menu never disappoints.

East: The Aubrey Rose Tea Room--Located at 8362 La Mesa Blvd. is now serving its Christmas menu; seasonal hours are Wed thru Sun., 619/461-4832; Lady Anne Tea $25.95 each. Comment: Always reminds me of typical cozy tea rooms in Victoria, BC. Décor is Aunt Bea frilly (male viewpoint). Busy. Fun.

South: Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe & Afternoon Tea offers an authentic British afternoon tea; reservations are required; children welcome, seven days a week, $20 per person, 619/683-2748. Small venue: 3719 India Street, South of West Washington, near I-5, Comment: Patio service. Bring sweater to be safe. Next to UK foodie shop. Exhaustive menu.

North: Grand Del Mar Lobby Tea—Exquisite tea and service but more modern in presentation. Tea nook is off the lobby of a busy and architecturally splendid 5-star hotel. Enjoy tea and be wowed by the holiday décor. Nov. 26 through Dec. 30 – Wed to Sun only, 2 to 4 p.m. Starts @ $42 per person. Reservations suggested at 858/314-1988. Comment: Hotel tea rooms often have fine and wider range of bubblies. After the holidays regular tea service is Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Images courtesy: Grand Hotel (Champagne) and Tea on Chatsworth (group)

Friday, November 25, 2011


Hallidie Building in downtown San Francisco
is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  
Built in 1918 by architect Willis Polk.  
It is named in honor of cable car pioneer
Andrew Hallidie.  It is deemed the first
building in the U.S. to have glass outer walls.   
Photo: public domain
ARCHITECTURAL TOURIST--As an airline inflight magazine writer I had 48 hours to research a city before flying back home. In the days before Google and Google maps, the best way to learn the ins and outs of a city was to take the usual double decker city tour. That tour wasn’t necessarily to discover hidden gems, but mainly to get your local bearings. City tour buses work for me today as well.

Next, I’d meet up with a local travel reporter that I had arranged to meet earlier. A quick breakfast gave me two pieces of information. I now had a local writer that I could depend on to send my editor travel stories in the future and the writer gave me enough “locals-only” tips to fill my article.

Because most travelers today don’t have media access, a nice tip to your hotel concierge will likely gather just as many gems as I would have found. And, if your hotel doesn’t have a concierge, well what can I say? No concierge reminds me of my father’s definition of “wilderness roughing” (drum roll) and that would be anyplace where he couldn’t hail a cab to take him to the nearest comfortable pub.

One question to ask your concierge is: who offers city walking tours? A recent trip to San Francisco, I was tipped by the Handerly Hotel concierge ( about professional tour guide Rick Evans, who operates a one-man tour operation.

Bottom line: I gave Rick’s daily Architectural Financial District Walking Tour ($20 each) five stars. I viewed three buildings that the AIA considers among the 100 most important anywhere.

Of the 38 persons on (Thursday afternoon) the tour, eight were there via gift certificates. Stick with this blog in the next few weeks and I’ll share some of the highlights of this worthy city tour. Or, just go to

Thursday, November 24, 2011


THANKS DAY—Today, the attached image is of the street where our grandkids are safely being raised by two terrific parents. That street near San Francisco is where the boys and girls in my life play catch, take walks and depart from to go to the yogurt store.

Decked out in its fall colors, Masefield Drive doesn’t look like Wrigley Field or Harry Potter’s Number 4, Privet Lane, but if you use your imagination it does.

Seeing that photo makes it easy for me to say thank you for being blessed with such wonderful family and friends. Thanks, team, not just for today but for always.

Two thoughts for Thanksgiving Day:

"God bless us every one!"
--Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol.

“…Being kind is more important than being right.”
--CBS TV’s Andy Rooney.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


HOME SWEET HOME--As a former travel writer I get asked what is my favorite city? Tough question because there’s no real answer. Careers aside, San Diego wins because it’s like living on a trendy cul de sac. You have mountains to the east, a foreign country to the south, plus the ocean is on the west and to the north 30,000 U.S. Marines are based at Camp Pendleton to protect us from those sprawly Orange County-types.

Southern Californians don’t incur huge amounts of weather related expenses. Few of us own snow boots, tire chains, snow shovels or tanks for heating oil. Hurricanes, tornados, blizzards or bugs seldom cancel outdoor events. And, flying insects never spoil those balmy, romantic nights in San Diego—unless you call low flying Navy jets pests.

As the eighth largest city in America, it is easy to navigate by car because of the centralized freeways and the airport is located in the heart of the city. Admit it, we’ve been in worse rush hours in other cities. And, we don’t have gridlock to and fro to the airport: Hello, Houston, Denver and JFK.

Because, we live within engine roar distance of SD Int’l we can be at the airport in ten minutes. And, if I really wanted to be near snow, I can wait until the rainy season hits and travel 50 plus miles East to Julian to the 6,000 ft. tall Laguna or Cuyamaca mountains. And, snow, like routy inlaws is something you can leave when you’ve had enough.

Also, Mexico is 17 miles south of my door step. Don’t go there, you ask? If you have an ounce of adventure you will visit Tijuana if only for the marvelous cuisine. And, there are 70 miles of beaches along the Pacific Ocean from San Onefre to Imperial Beach. From my home, I can be pushing sands between my toes at Coronado Beach, next to the Hotel Del Coronado in 15 minutes.

San Diego is forever young. That’s there are so many major colleges in the area. And, speaking of co-eds, more bikinis are sold in San Diego than ear muffs, flannel underwear or ice scrapers for frozen windshields. And for you golf nuts, you can play one 18 hole golf course per day in San Diego and it will take four months to play them all.

Lastly, San Diego is the city you leave to go make it big elsewhere, then beat it back to live in. Yes, America’s largest small town has flaws but none of them so bad you can’t live with ‘em.

Fine Print:
--Based on an article I wrote for Old House Journal and readapted for this blog.
--Surf image: 1965 tandem couple, courtesy San Diego History Center, www.San
Public can purchase old or historic photo reprints from History Center’s million image photo archives 619/696-0199.
--Also, if you enjoy reading snippets on San Diego history, please see my monthly column “Back Page”
In San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


PROOF IN THE PUDDING--When it comes to blasting apart a diet I can resist anything but temptation. And, my sweet tooth sirens’ song has always been bread pudding! West Coaster, the year old print newszine and web page media effort is about to print in its December issue featuring a Karl Strauss Brewery recipe “Bread Pudding with Drunken Raisins and Caramel Sauce.” Editors are offering us a sneak peek in time for Thanksgiving. Tasty. West Coaster’s holiday issue will be at its usual 200 location distribution points soon after Turkey Day. See West Coaster’s website for map of newsstand sites.

Click for the recipe:

Recipe: Karl Strauss Brewery Executive Chef Gunter Emathinger with the brewery’s R&D Coordinator Corey Rapp.
Image from West Coaster,

Monday, November 21, 2011


CRAFTSMAN CHRONICLES—Gift hinting season is here for the connoisseur of craftsman bungalows. There’s the easy way out by sending someone a magazine subscription to American Bungalow ( or, but you did that last year. For free, there’s always West Coast Craftsman, the bungalow news section inside every issue of my favorite community newspaper:
This year, try shopping at museum shops that feature ideas for the history buff on your list. High on my list is a brand new Morris chair in oak and leather by California contemporary Arts & Crafts designer Warren Hile. You’ll find a nice selection of Hile furnishings at the Pasadena-area Craftsman Home,, 510 655/6503 and closer to home at Craftsman Revival, 985 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, 858-259-5811.
This year, I’m good with Xmas cards but for next year I’m shopping early for my Charles Rennie Mackintosh holiday card assortment at the Marston House Museum Store, 3525 7th Ave,, 619/297-9327. Then, it’s off for a double egg nog latte to cash out my last remaining

Photo credits:
Warren Hile Morris Chair courtesy of The Craftsman Home
Macintosh holiday cards, SOHO/Marston House Museum

Sunday, November 20, 2011


RAINY DAY MUSINGS—Seeing the pictured Cal Trans image of the progress being made on the $7 billion and counting SF Bay Bridge rebuild, reminded me that for five years I made a workaday commute across the original span. No picnic. Memories, unlike rush hour, flood back faster than bumper-to-bumper traffic. Then, I was editor of San Francisco Magazine, a failing city magazine that I was hired to infuse much higher circulation numbers on to its books so the owner could resell it—pronto.

My first week on the job, columnists from the dailies skewered me for being a Southern Cal guy taking over a "don't ever call it Frisco" magazine. Odd of them, I thought because the columnists came from New York and Chico, CA respectively.

A couple of PR events later, I later met one of the columnists and remarked why the dig?
“Kid, I gotta fill space—nothing personal,” came his reply over a cocktail glass.

I never did mention I was living on the Oakland side of the Bay while
editing SF Mag. Great city. Tough crowd.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


NORTH PARK MIX--The buzz at Bar Park last night was focused on the opening of Wang’s, a new Asian restaurant in what originally was the J.C. Penney department store (built 1942). Bar Pink, a good neighbor was hosting a fundraiser for the North Park Toyland Parade. Soon after, Todd Gloria facebooked that he had been on-site at Wang’s earlier. He, like so many North Parkers, praised the heavens--and Wang’s GM/partner Tom Eads--for taking the leap of faith in opening a restaurant in such a huge (40,000 sf) space. Can’t miss the big red signage at 3029 University Ave at Ray Street, 619-291-7500. Wang’s has a sibling restaurant in Palm Springs. If you beat me there let me know your favorite dish. Photo credit: District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria.

Friday, November 18, 2011


TRACKING TROLLEYS—There are two groups working to put vintage streetcars back on track in San Diego. Group one: If you glance to the right side of the blogpage you’ll see a YouTube clip that references my monthly history page in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles. Video is by Martin Mann and that’s MTS chair Harry Mathis in front of a recent streetcar addition to San Diego. The No. 529 runs only Sat: 10-2 pm and Sun: 9-12 pm. Cash only Fee: $2 and $1 for seniors. Metropolitan Transit System is mulling future plans to link other trolleys from downtown to Zoo and beaches:
Group two: No. 125, the other trolley photo in this blog, is from the SD History Center and it appeared with my November SDHG column. That 1913 b/w photo has made the rounds, but it remains fascinating and reminds us many of the original tracks are still in place under our current city streets.
Century ago preparations were underway for San Diego to host the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in the then newly named Balboa Park. Never shy to seize an opportunity, magnate John D. Spreckels had his San Diego Electric Railway Co. commission the construction of two-dozen modern Class 1 streetcars (like No. 125) to make sure visitors arrived from downtown to the Expo in style. The innovative wider center of the car doors allowed on-and-off ease for larger crowds, especially those mode of day women wearing the short-lived but fashion rage called the Hobble skirt.
Today, a few of the Class 1’s have survived--and maybe, just maybe--come 2015, these vintage streetcars might retro out of retirement to once again deliver visitors to Balboa Park’s anticipated Panama-California Centennial. Volunteers needed:

Thursday, November 17, 2011


NORTH PARK LIVE--No one asked me, of course, but I have your weekend booked. You’re going to catch Guys & Dolls, a live Tony Award winning musical at the North Park Theatre either Friday, Saturday nights or a matinee on Sunday. Curtain is at 7 pm so, any pre-theatre dinner means you need to be at the Linkery, Urban Solace, The Ritual, Sea Rocket, Alexander’s or Smoking Goat restaurants as soon as possible. Street parking isn’t gonna happen so go directly to the well-lit parking garage (entrance on 29th St. opposite NP Theatre box office).

Après theatre, there’s nearby Claire de Lune coffee house and Heaven Sent Desserts at 30th & University. Craft beer lovers will head to Toronado at Lincoln and 30th or cocktails next door from theatre at West Coast Tavern.
The original Guys & Dolls premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on November 24, 1950. George S. Kaufman directed it and starred Robert Alda, Sam Levene, Isabel Bigley, and Vivian Blaine. The musical ran for 1,200 performances, winning five 1951 Tony Awards, including the award for Best Musical.

This weekend’s cast is from St. Augustine, the all-boys high school in North Park. They’re very, very good and for $12 per ticket make a retro night of it and come as Mr. & Mrs. Nathan Detroit. And, thanks Saints for helping keep North Park Theatre alive as a live stage venue.


INNER FLASHBACKS—Where in our human experience does artistic inspiration arise? In the case of San Diego artist Fred Gemmell the genesis of the theme of his current work wasn’t really clicking until he saw the movie Avatar. “Jungle scenery dominated the film and the more I looked it dawned on me that same jungle was appearing in my work,” said Gemmell, who is also a star interior designer and runs an architectural firm, Matrix Design Studio in the Miramar area of San Diego.

The texture of his art is filled with lush jungle colors. The large impressionistic imagery in Gemmell’s work happen to be jagged tree and leaf shapes interrupted by serpentine shapes and jagged lines of brilliant light. “After Avatar I realized my artistic inspiration came from my childhood. I spent my pre-teen years with my U.S. parents in Panama. The vast Central American jungle was in my back yard. The colors and patterns were with me everyday,” he told this blog in a recent interview, “The bold straight lines are birds flashing across my sightline but I’m only seeing the colors: same with the light filtering through the canopy of jungle growth.”

Fred Gemmell’s work is often in exhibition at Jett Gallery, 989 West Kalmia St., San Diego., 619/231-2466.

Image: Cygamy by Fred Gemmell

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


SHINING STARS--As a young travel magazine editor, the wide-eyed glamor of getting paid to visit and write articles on destinations near and far wore off a couple of years into my career. But, I remember perking up when I realized the hotel I had been booked into had a 5-Star rating. Most often the Mobil Travel Guide doled out those stars of quality service.

Fast forward, Forbes now publishes Mobil’s respected guide. This week, the big news in hospitality circles is The Grand Del Mar has achieved a Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star award, making it the first hotel in greater San Diego to land 5-Stars from Forbes and the only property in California to earn three Forbes 2012 5-Star awards for lodging, spa and dining. The new 5-Star award for lodging adds the resort to a roster of 57 hotels and resorts throughout the world to hold this Forbes designation.

The Mediterranean style Grand Del Mar is now one of just five properties in the nation with three Forbes Five-Star awards. Other U.S. properties include The Cloister at Sea Island in Georgia; Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas; The Umstead Hotel & Spa in North Carolina; and The Broadmoor in Colorado

But in the galaxy of choices how do 5-Stars pay off? If we have earned or are lucky enough to afford the best, the stars save time. Time is money. For those of us, who have special events in our lives that we earnestly wish to come off as close to perfect as possible that’s when those stars come in handy. Five-Star resorts don’t take days off. Expect consistent quality service day in and day out.

In my career, I’ve witnessed budget stars, imploding stars, plastic stars along with 5-Stars, and for my money I thank those real stars from Forbes, nee Mobil, for setting a hallmark that simply won’t allow disappointment.

Footnotes: All interior design at is by Warren Sheets Design, Inc. and architecture, Altevers and Associates. President Tom Voss’s team deserves huge kudos. Read how Forbes Travel Guide compiles its Star ratings by clicking on to

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


WRIGHT ANSWER--What does a beautifully appointed San Francisco gallery dealing in fine Asian antiques have in common with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City? Easy answer: architect Frank Lloyd Wright built them. The Guggenheim’s circular masterpiece was completed in 1959. Wright’s V.C. Morris Gift Shop opened in 1949 at 140 Maiden Lane (east of Union Square). Current owners of Xanadu Gallery remodeled the sole Wright building in downtown San Francisco a few years ago.

The Xanadu redux belongs in the tenant improvement hall of fame for restoring the oft-changed shop to its Wrightian roots. On a recent visit, the Xanadu staff couldn’t have been more chatty and accommodating to a couple of architectural tourists.

They pointed out how Wright refused to design traditional store windows. Instead the all brick exterior lures visitors inside with its ever-intriguing main entry shaped more like mouse door. And just like Wright sited his Fallingwater residence over a woody brook, this time the old master stole the show by creating an ascending circular ramp linking the circular main and mezzanine levels.

The circular space allows Xanadu to display Asian antiquities in an unending and uncrowded parade. Plus, the project gave Wright his first chance to construct an interior spiral ramp ten years before Guggenheim.

Xanadu Gallery, 415/392-9999;

For more on Frank Lloyd Wright and Fallingwater go to Tom Shess/Pillar to Post Blog for Dec. 18, 2011

Photo Credits: Black/white image Library of Congress; gallery main floor image by Phyllis Shess and interior ramp image courtesy of Xanadu Gallery.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Bungalow Chronicles—I was delighted to find accent furnishings in the Amish countryside in southern Pennsylvania. Forgive the somewhat under exposed image, but I was so thrilled to find this butcher block island in a Craftsman style that I forgot my photo skills. This island piece will fit beautifully in any craftsman bungalow. This particular shop is in Intercourse, PA, where we found many original pieces that were low priced and finely crafted. The problem, however is shipping. It’s darn hard to get that buffet to our home in San Diego via horse and buggy. Also, ask your Amish shopkeeper if the piece you’re interested in was fashioned in USA.

Lapp’s Coach Shop
3572 West Newport Rd
Intercourse, PA 17534

Top of the Tank is an occasional series on life in historic North Park, one of the nation's most diverse and architecturally significant neighborhoods with special emphasis on the Arts & Crafts Era (1890-1920).