I. I first came here in May with Angelica, we needed a hotel in Grand Rapids on our way to and from the U.P. We wanted something close to the Amtrak station, and were hoping for something cheap. Someone was smart enough to make their website bandbofgrandrapids; it was the first listing that came up when I typed those words into a Google search. "Goooood morning, Brayton House, this is George, how can I help you?" a man with a radio announcer's voice answered when I called. I told him the dates we needed, and he described each of the three rooms available -- what kind of bed was in it, how much it cost per night. The smaller rooms were $80 a night, and the big room with bay windows was somehow only $5 more. I said we wanted the big room, and asked if it was possible to get two beds. George paused, and asked: "Well, what's the situation, are you two ladies?" "Yes," I said, barely containing the urge to laugh. "There's a cot that we can bring in but it's not very comfortable," he said. I said it was probably fine just to have the one bed, but before booking the room he made me call Angelica first to clear it with her. "No way, I'm not sleeping with you," she said, in her flattest sarcastic voice, which can be mistaken as serious if you don't know better. I called back to reserve the room, and George asked if I had a credit card. "Just to hold the room," he explained, "we accept cash, checks, and credit cards, but we prefer cash because the bank fees are killing us." "Okay," I said. "We take Visa, MasterCard, and American Express," he continued, "do you have one of those?" "Yes," said. "Well if you've got that rascal out, I'll take the number now," he said. I relayed this tidbit to Angelica. "All I can say is," she said, "welcome to my people."
II. In our room, there were stacks of old magazines: Smithsonian; National Geographic; The New Yorker. I read a 1976 New Yorker article on the Carter v. Ford Presidential race.
III. In every room is a sheet of paper that explains, in flowery, italicized font, the house rules:
No rules - No regulations
Most of our guests are ladies and gentlemen, who are just naturally decent and orderly, and are considerate of the rights of others, therefore, the "rules and regulations" they have applied to their own lives are much better than any printed list we might suggest.
To that very small minority of people who through ignorance or just plain cussedness, smoke or burn candles in the building, endangering the lives of all our guests, who drink loud and long, who have their televisions going full blast when others have turned in for the night, who think it is their (right) privelege (sic) to take towels and other articles when they leave, who throw refuse most anyplace, who feel the entire water supply belongs to them, who allows (sic) their children to roam the building without supervision, and who leave a dirty mess in the rooms.
A list of "rules and regulations" a mile long wouldn't change their habits of living, therefore, none has been applied.
We enjoy having you as our guest and hope your stay is pleasant and memorable.
IV. Also in every room is a brief history of the house, typed on letterhead with a black and white rendering of the building in the header:
THE BRAYTON HOUSE
516 College Street
James P. Brayton was the builder and original owner of the house we are enjoying this evening.
Mr. Brayton was born November 23, 1840 in the state of Wisconsin. At age 15 he moved to Michigan and earned his living as a county surveyor in Ottawa County. He was assisted in his job by his father. Through this position he came in contact with men who were making history in Michigan lumbering operations. Some of these individuals were: T.R. Lyons, T. Steward White, and Thomas Friant. Mr. Brayton himself became well known all over the United States.
In addition to buying and selling lumber for himself, his signature was accepted as the last word regarding the value of standing lumber. Mr. Brayton was a quiet man and aside from being an early member of the Masonic Lodge, he was not a figure in society and did not take part in public life. He built this house in 1889. The architecture of the house is called Georgian Revival and it is listed on the National Historical register.
The next owner of this house was Stewart Foote, President of Imperial Furniture Company, which at one time was the largest manufacture (sic) of quality tables in America. Mr. Foote occupied the house from 1920-1935.
In 1935, James McInerny, (President of McInerny Spring and Wire Company, the world's largest manufacturer of seat springs for automobiles) purchased the home. He and his family lived here until 1945. During their ownership, the kitchen and bathrooms were remodeled and wallpapers were put up. They also adjusted the size of the ballroom on the third floor in order to add three extra bedrooms. The Carriage House was made into living quarters at about the same time.
In 1945, Mr. McInerny gave the house to the Catholic Diocese and it was used as a residence for priests until 1970.
Mr. Walter Kehres, Director of Waldon Village, an alternative high school, purchased the home in 1970.
In September 1971, the property was bought by Gene and Phyllis Ball. Mr. Ball passed away in 1976. Mrs. Ball continues to reside in the home, as well as rent out some of the guest rooms to tenants.
V. Phyllis likes to serve breakfast early. I'm here again in September, this time with my husband. We're visiting Holly and Jeremy, who were already putting up several people in their apartment; the Brayton House is only about a mile from them. "What time do you want breakfast?" Phyllis asked us when we checked in. "We're here visiting friends, and we'll probably sleep late tomorrow," I said. "So, nine o'clock?" She asked, her unblinking eyes fixed on me from behind her wire-rimmed glasses. M considered saying something jokey about nine o'clock not really being late, at least not to us, but reconsidered. "Um, we're meeting our friends for breakfast," I said, "I don't want to trouble you with making breakfast for us, but thanks."
VI. Phyllis reminds me of David Letterman's mother.
VII. Phyllis leaves two After Eight mints on a little red tray on the nightstand when she makes up the room. Angelica thought they were condoms.
VII. There's a WiFi connection, but it's not very good.
IX. I went for a run in the morning, then took a shower. Phyllis opened the door to the bathroom while I was drying off. I gasped as I saw the top of her gray head, which only comes up to my shoulders, and held a bright yellow towel between my body and the widening crack in the door. "Oh sorry," she said loudly, closing the door, "sorry, I wasn't sure where you'd gone or where you were." "That's okay," I said from inside the bathroom.
X. There are 20 rooms in this house, and only 3 are rented out to guests. There's an entire floor I haven't seen, not to mention the carriage house. The wallpaper, bathroom and kitchen fixtures date from 1935-1945. Antiques and curios are everywhere, including quilts hung from picture molding on the walls.
XI. Someone at the end of the hall, in the residential part of the house, has a TV or radio turned on at a low volume all day, and I can hear people walking on the floor above us.
XII. In May, on our way back from the U.P., Angelica and I stayed in the same room with the bay windows that we'd stayed in on our way north. We sat on the porch eating burgers from Black Castles - a burger joint that looks like it operates out of the converted living room of somebody's house, has a pool table, framed photos of Malcolm X and Tupac, and a TV set that blared infotainment news when we walked in. Our order came to $7.50; the cashier - who was the only other person there besides us, couldn't break $8 so he gave us back $1. Angelica found two quarters in her purse so that we could pay what we owed. On the walk back, we realized we'd just visited the neighborhood where, back when the Brayton House was first built, the day servants lived. A group of Heritage Hill tourists stared at us from across the street. One of them walked over to us and asked: "Do you own this house?".
"Yes," Angelica said, in her flattest sarcastic voice, which can be mistaken for serious if you don't know better.