The West Point Inn & The Mountain Play

by Fred Runner

Garnett Holme surrounded by his players. Back row: left to right, Sid Schlessinger, Vin Duffy, Holme, Dan Totheroh, Harvey Hansen Front row: Fredrick Smith and Russ Stimmel, 1919. © Dan Totheroh

the 1920s, the West Point Inn was a hub of activity. Just like today, a flood of hikers came each weekend. But, no weekend was more busy than on the one weekend of the Mountain Play.

West Point Innkeepers, Martin, Melanie and their son Ralph came to West Point in 1919.

Seventy years later, Ralph Kliewe told me what it was like: “It was so busy we had to hire extra staff the week of the Mountain Play.

Ribbons worn by Mt. Play Association members, 1913–1922. Anne T. Kent Room Collection.
Young Ralph Kliewe and his mother, Melanie, are ready for a busy time at the West Point Inn (circa 1920.) This is likely Mountain Play day, when hundreds came by train to see the single annual production. © Nancy Skinner Collection

In those days the Mountain Play actors and director stayed at the Inn. They came by train on Saturday, dropped their things at the Inn and headed for the theatre for rehearsal. Later, they returned to the Inn for dinner. It’s easy to imagine a boisterous evening beside the fire with great tales, song and Shakespearean theatrics.

In the morning, the actors would have breakfast and depart for the theatre. Then the trains would begin arriving. As people stepped from the train, Inn staff would take orders for “fresh” chicken dinners.

In the days before refrigeration, there were lots of chickens running around West Point, providing fresh eggs in the morning and chicken for dinner at night.

After the show, playgoers would stream past the Inn. But those that had made reservations enjoyed dinner at the West Point on tables covered in starched linen and cut glass vases holding a sprig of fern.

Crookedest Railway route to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. West Point Inn and Pacific Ocean in the distance, circa 1909 © Anne T. Kent California Room.

The Inn hummed as guests discussed the play.

At 8:45, the last train departed West Point, carrying the dinner guests and the last of the audience back to Mill Valley.

And suddenly, except for the sound of washing dishes, the Inn was quiet again.

Editor’s Note: Please join historian and author, Fred Runner, and the Anne T. Kent California Room, on Thursday, June 20, 2013, for a special presentation in celebration of the centennial of the Mountain Play, 1913–2013. The audio-visual presentation starts at 12 noon in Room 330 of the Marin County Civic Center. Fred will be bringing copies of his book, The Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway, to sell and sign following the presentation. We look forward to seeing you on the 20th!

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

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