CHAPTER 3: A LEGACY THROUGH THE ERAS
In an operation that was hardly covert, the hotel's Bivouac Grill was converted into a speakeasy called the Plata Real Nightclub. There was music, dancing, and of course, there was booze secretly spirited into the hotel through the tunnels under downtown holding pipes for steam and salt water from the bay. In the earliest hours of Prohibition mornings, San Diego's finest citizens would stumble from the back doors and creep home. With Long at the helm, THE US GRANT was one of the most profitable places in town.
With pockets overflowing from profits, Long completed the hotel's famous lower level rooms, including the ornate new ballroom intended for private society, The Italianate Ballroom. This grand space included elaborate plaster work, a travertine floor and a hand-painted ceiling, much of it still existing in the room today (now known as the Crystal Ballroom).
In 1939, Long further improved profit margins, literally, by installing the largest radio towers on the West Coast on her roof. In an era where radio, not television, connected the nation with portals in every home and business, the new 11th floor space became the offices for radio station KFVW. It was a great coup when President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of his first radio addresses to the nation from the hotel.
Towards the end of World War II, the hotel went through another ownership change. During the 1950s, the famous Palm Court, the hotel's second floor Garden Terrace and gathering point for local society, was enclosed to create the Palm Pavilion, and the 9th floor Grand Ballroom was converted into 9th and 10th floor guestrooms (today, this area holds the hotel's twin Presidential bi-level suites). One of the most influential decisions, however, was to build a restaurant off the lobby on Fourth Avenue - the Grant Grill.
From the moment it opened its doors, the Grant Grill was a hit. It wasn't just the mock turtle soup (allegedly prepared with a generous two fingers of sherry) that kept the plush mahogany booths full. One of the restaurant's most enticing features came from an unparalleled bastion of masculinity. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Grant Grill was the place to power lunch. Lawyers, bankers and newspaper editors frequented the sanctified room, which was guaranteed to be free of ladies until 3:00 p.m.
In 1969, a group of local female attorneys notoriously, and successfully, staged a "sit-in" at the Grant Grill. Despite their "sit-in" and a changing society, a shiny brass plaque that forbade women until 3:00 p.m. stayed firmly affixed to the wall. For these attorneys, it was extraordinarily frustrating that women were denied entry to the Grant Grill. The attorneys, Lynn Schenk, along with good friends Judith McConnell and, soon-to-be Deputy Attorney General, Elaine Alexander, decided it was time enough that the plaque be removed and its policy revoked. McConnell and Alexander helped her devise a plan. Feeling intrepid, they had a male colleague call ahead and reserve them a table.
Schenk, McConnell and Alexander arrived at the Grant Grill at the predetermined time, armed with a copy of a New York State gender discrimination case and plenty of raw determination. The maitre d', entirely flabbergasted by the three young women loudly demanding a table, broke into a sweat. He tried in vain to steer them toward the Grant's other restaurant across the lobby, the Garden Room, claiming concern that the Grill's testosterone-heavy conversation would be offensive to their female ears. Desperate, he tried to force them from the room. The women waved the New York case in front of his nose. It was a successful move and they were seated.
Although they could hardly afford the food, the ladies returned several times over the span of a year. Finally, the staff of the Grant Grill realized that it had met their match in the feisty female lawyers. The sign came down, and the Grill moved into another era.
McConnell, Schenk, and Alexander have been honored dozens of times for what has come to be called "The Grant Grill Invasion." They have been lauded publicly and privately for the headway they carved for San Diego businesswomen..
As a tribute to these brave women, the brass plaque (the point of so much contention) along with the story of their movement is again on display outside of the new Grant Grill.