Saturday, April 4, 2020

No There There

ca. 1880

Novelist Gertrude Stein returned to the United States in 1934 after a 30-year absence. While crisscrossing the country on a speaking tour, the celebrated Parisian expatriate visited Oakland to see the farm she grew up on and the house where she once lived. After learning that her childhood home had been razed and the farmland developed, Stein famously wrote “there is no there there.” The significant places in California that helped define her no longer existed. The Stein family had moved to Oakland in 1880, when she was six, and lived for the first year at the Tubbs Hotel. Situated just east of Lake Merritt, the 200-room hostelry had some prominent guests in its day.1 Former president Ulysses S. Grant and his wife dined there in 1879 while on the final leg of their trip around the world. And author Robert Louis Stevenson stayed at the Tubbs Hotel from March to April 1880, the same year the Stein family was in residence. Nevertheless, a table d’hôte menu from the period reveals that it was a middling establishment where the meals were basically the same as those at other hotels in its class. Indeed, there was “no there” in the dining rooms of American hotels where the standardized cuisine reflected few regional influences.