Back in the 1920s, when El Camino Real was the main thoroughfare between Hollywood and William Randolph Hearst’s castle, the Santa Maria Inn was a popular stopping-off spot for Hollywood’s glitterati making the trek.
The Inn, in the city of Santa Maria, was originally constructed as a 24-room English-style hotel in 1917. Later additions brought it to its current total of 166 rooms.
The hotel proudly publishes an impressive list of past guests which contains over 100 names, including President Herbert Hoover, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, and Shirley Temple. Cecil B. DeMille stayed here while filming his epic silent film The Ten Commandments nearby in 1923.
But the one famous guest who is said to have liked the accommodations so much that he never bothered checking out, is Rudolph Valentino.
Valentino, who died suddenly in August 1926 from a ruptured appendix, once stayed in Room 221, and if the reports made by several guests since that time are to be believed – he never left. He is said to enjoy reclining on the bed and knocking on the walls.
If true, it makes Valentino a very well-traveled spectre, since he has regularly been spotted making personal appearances at former homes in Benedict Canyon and Oxnard, and occasionally at Stage 5 and the Costume Department of Paramount Studios.
Room 221 seems to be a gathering place for otherworldly presences. A former sea captain and his mistress have supposedly taken up residence there as well. The woman, who was reported to be murdered, has been seen floating at the foot of the bed. Once, a housekeeper who was making the bed in the room got so frightened by an icy touch to her shoulder that she fled the premises never to return.
Guests in other rooms have also encountered “bumps in the night.” One man missed being struck by a light bulb that flew out of a socket. Another woke to discover a ghostly party of guests in 1800’s clothing gathered at the foot of her bed.
The staff at the Inn tell tales of clocks wildly spinning, furniture mysteriously stacked up in closed rooms, doors on ovens spontaneously slamming, and a piano (not a player piano) that comes to life behind locked doors when no one is around. One housekeeper was seen being followed by a mysterious balloon all around the second floor.
I’m not sure if the Santa Maria Inn is truly haunted, or if ghosts even exist. In matters of the afterlife, my mind is reinforced by a strong sense of skepticism.
But that doesn’t stop me from being curious. Who knows? Maybe on my next trip up the coast I’ll get the nerve to spend the night in Room 221. I’ve always wanted to meet Valentino.