Litchfield’s — a Sign of the Past

by Marilyn L. Geary

Whitey Litchfield in front of the Bermuda Palms. Marin Daily Independent, January 10, 1959.

The Litchfield sign at 737 East Francisco Blvd looms large near Highway 101. In the 1950s, the big bands who played at Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms loomed larger: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and their orchestras made the Bermuda Palms a leading Bay Area night spot.

Built by millionaire construction magnate Irving “Whitey” Litchfield in the late 1940s as a “hobby,” Litchfield advertised his motel as “California’s Las Vegas, a complete hotel resort: luxury swimming pool, color television, nightly dancing and clean, sun-drenched rooms for less than $10 a night.” The 99-cent Sunday brunch attracted families from throughout the county.

One of the first developers in the San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, Litchfield expanded his motel with the Flamingo Ballroom, Camelia Dining Room, Bali Hai Cocktail Lounge, Mural Room for private dining and Continental Room for conventions.

The Place to Go

Harold Lezzeni, who worked for Litchfield as a part-time bartender, recalls, “It was high class. It was the place to go in Marin County. A lot of people from San Francisco would come over to see big name entertainment and first-class strippers like Lili St. Cyr.”

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Bermuda Palms was a favorite spot for celebrities and community gatherings. In 1954 Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum stayed while filming “Blood Alley” at China Camp. Governor Goodwin Knight spoke at a Republican dinner in 1954. That same year the Novato Rotary Club saw its beginnings at the Bermuda Palms at a dinner hosted by the San Rafael Rotary.

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.

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