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Yet Another Palace Hotel Memory

The Palace Hotel is in the news, but when isn’t it? The proud old gal was built in the 1880s and for 100 years was the cornerstone, landmark and the rock solid core of downtown Ukiah.

And for another 50 years it’s been a collapsing blight, an eyesore, perpetual victim of abuse from indifference, vandals, harsh weather and more neglect, with an “inspection” thrown in every decade or so to mark its decline. 

More recently a front page series (soon to be a New York Times bestseller!) (Soon to be a major motion picture!) by Karen Rifkin has documented the hotel’s livelier past. I have my own small story, picked from several worthy candidates, of Palace Hotel lore.

Around 1983 the Ukiah Fairgrounds hosted a “Back to the ‘60s” show that brought out customers still holding benign views and opinions of hippie culture, lured by The Shirelles and Dusty Springfield.

It was a warm and sweaty night at Carol Purdy Hall. The Shirelles, a female quartet, opened the show; whether any or all the ladies on stage had actually done time as a genuine Shirelle for Motown’s music machine in the 1960s is as unanswerable now as then. 

On they came, off they went, and then the headliner.

Dusty Springfield was a major, slightly faded, ‘60s pop star by the 1980s. How she got duped into appearing in a warehouse of a venue in a town she never heard of and backed by a band that didn’t exist remains a mystery.

NOTE: the phrase “backed by a band that didn’t exist” only became evident when the show began and she stood alone on stage. If there had been a band, believe me, we would have seen it.

But no one was playing drums or guitars or saxophones. It was Dusty and a microphone on a stage assembled from folding tables. Loud recorded horns and keyboards washed over the crowd. No band.

The music: a series of Dusty Springfield’s finest moments in recording studios and a fair sampling of her Top 40 radio hits. But all the songs were recordings, as were her vocals.

On that night in Ukiah California stood a pop star on equal footing with Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones or Petula Clark holding a dead microphone, lip synching “Son of a Preacher Man” and maybe wondering where things had gone wrong.. 

I stood front and center. At some point Ms Springfield was “singing” some Top 40 hit or other and the cord connecting her microphone came undone. The cord fell to the floor. Plainly embarrassed, she bent to pick it up and screw it back into the bottom of the mic while powerful strains of music and her mighty recorded vocals carried on, oblivious. 

If she had left the stage, got in her car and driven off the music would have continued to tumble on.

After the disaster a small batch of us went to the Palace Hotel bar to dissect what we thought we had just experienced. Or had not experienced. We laughed. We called for another round. I think George Mayers, Tom Liberatore and Ron Gluckman may have been there. 

At the end of the bar, someone looked over the assembled derelicts and said that Ms. Springfield was in the Presidential Suite, and would we care to join her?

The Palace Hotel Presidential Suite occupied the third floor, southwest corner. Dusty sat crosslegged on the floor and at some point she was shaking her head and muttering “It has to get better than this.” I had always thought she meant her onstage disaster, but perhaps she was referring to her late night companions in Ukiah, California. 

Dusty called room service and was told the kitchen was closed, so a young man stood and volunteered to fetch her some grub. He returned half an hour later with burgers in a bag, and she kissed him on the cheek. Wish I could recall his name

My memory is that UDJ reporter Charlie Rappleye and Steve Caravello, photographer with the Mendocino Grapevine were among the last to depart, probably around 1 a.m. 

That left me the last man standing, until I wasn’t. An hour later I walked the few blocks home.

Don’t recall ever reading anything about Dusty Springfield’s career after that, and writing this made me wonder if she ever toured or “sang” onstage again. She died in 1999.

But I do hope things got better for her in the years following the night she came to Ukiah, alone.

One Comment

  1. Linda Miller Hill February 29, 2024

    I remember the time I had the pleasure of eating in the 1891 room at the palace. I never knew that Dusty Springfield preformed @Carl Purdy Hall but I do remember the concert with the Charlie Daniel’s Band.And I am so excited to be able to share this LITTLE BIT with you.
    Many years later we entered the Palace thru the 1891 room entrance and roomed about it was an adventure to say the least.

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