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History corner: Monte Rio Hotel celebrates more than 100 years in river area

Thankful we dodged the flooding last month, but it was close, and we had trees down, power outages and road damage. Glad the drought has improved and let’s hope we have continued, but moderate rain the next few months.

The small town of Monte Rio was once a popular vacation destination known as “Vacation Wonderland.” In the early 1900s, the town saw its heyday with the opening of the Monte Rio Hotel in 1905 on land that is now occupied by the fire station. The hotel was a popular destination for weekend visitors, offering amenities such as a heated pool, a dance hall and a bowling alley. The town also had a train depot, which opened in 1906 and served as a major stop for visitors. The Monte Rio Hotel eventually had seven stories and consisted of 100 guest rooms. Over the years, the hotel was home to some famous guests including John Steinbeck, Ethel Merman and Cary Grant.

Historic photo of the Monte Rio Hotel.
Historic photo of the Monte Rio Hotel.

I’ve always been interested in our local history and the above paragraph sounds interesting. I didn’t write it, though. It was written by an AI Writer app. Artificial Intelligence has just become reality, and it is exciting. Chat GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is an AI chatbot system that San Francisco-based Open AI released on Nov. 30. In December, the NY Times labeled it the best AI chatbot ever released to the general public. It has been called arguably the world’s most transformative technology product of our generation. Also, the fastest-growing tech product in modern history.

Think of it as brain-on-demand. Microsoft Bing and Google are adding this to their search engines. Google is concerned that they will lose their moneymaking search engine without adding AI. Although there won’t be a geek test at the end, in simple terms you enter key words or ask questions and it gives you answers, paragraphs, or essays. You do need to proofread the information as sometimes it is not accurate, but in general, it is very impressive. Like robots, it may be responsible for replacing 80 million jobs by 2025. Teachers? Coders? For students, is it plagiarism? Did calculators stop kids from learning math? AI apps also create pictures based on your input, such as the one of the river above. I have also subscribed to, which owns. You put in search items, and it brings up articles from newspapers nationwide.

Historic photo.
Historic photo.

I got a lot of information about the Monte Rio Hotel from this source, such as a PD article from Tuesday, Apr. 28, 1936, when the hotel was torn down and also from Sonoma West Times. The hotel was built for Charles Carr, the operator, on land owned by John Starrett. Due to several economic changes, such as the Depression, which prevented people from having the means to travel, the increasing popularity of the automobile making San Mateo and Tahoe more accessible, and Prohibition, the hotel’s revenues were down. A Bohemian, Ripley, decided that if it were included in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the only hotel in the world to have ground floor access from all 7 stories, this would help increase tourism. Unfortunately, it was too late. The structure was also deemed a possible fire hazard. It underwent foreclosure and was bought by a contractor to tear down and salvage the redwood and the elevator (Sonoma County’s first). This was also the tallest building in Sonoma County for decades, including 20 years after it was torn down. Six months after the railroad transported the salvaged redwood, the train ironically ended operations. The hotel started out as three stories, then expanded to 5, then to 7 stories. Even at 3 stories, this was higher than any other structure in Sonoma County. It had a restaurant, barber shop, ballroom with dancing every night, and private baths with hot and cold running water. Room rates were $1.50 in the 1920s and included breakfast. You could also rent horses and boats.In 1932 Mrs George Starrett sold the hotel to George Carr. Starrett and Carr names changed due to second generations. In 1934 George Carr lost the hotel to foreclosure and it was dismantled in April 1936.

Vacation Wonderland: Embracing the past, Welcoming the future.

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