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Art & History

The Intriguing Story Behind Dinah’s Garden Hotel

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In the mid 1950’s American travelers were enamored with the concept of "motor touring.” Motels, short for motor hotels, were popping up along highways all over the country. Raymond Handley and his partners were not interested in creating just another place for people to stay along busy roadways. Rather they aimed to create a truly unique complex that would offer an oasis of serenity and peaceful hospitality to every class of traveler.

They engaged San Francisco’s Robert Royston, one of America’s foremost park landscape architects, to design tropical/Asian gardens that included lagoons, koi ponds, a Japanese style bridge and lush tropical landscaping.

"I loved the project. Having the water made it especially unique," said Royston, who retired from an illustrious career in which he designed public parks like Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park. "The water and grounds created privacy for the rooms. It was so beautiful, even at night. The wonderful thing about Ray (Handley) is that he would never hold back on the quality of the design and embellishments." If you would like to learn more, Royston is the subject of a book called Modern Public Gardens: Robert Royston and the Public Park by Reuben and J.C. Miller.

The press reaction was laudatory, Arts & Architecture reported, "The combination of rich planting, vibrant color, variety of textures of materials and the free layout of buildings makes for an overall effect of a building group of a most unusual nature." Mobile Travel Guide said, "Outstanding—worthwhile a drive out of your way. Four Stars."

We are often asked where the name Dinah’s came from. In 1956 the apricot orchard, that was later to become a hotel, was located directly behind an extremely popular restaurant that went by the name of Dinah’s Shack. Dinah was the first name of the early 20th century family nanny of Charles and Hazel McMonagle, who founded Dinah's Shack in 1926. The restaurant featured Dinah's fried chicken and down-home Southern cooking.   It was immensely popular with people from Stanford University and other local residents. As the restaurant was one of the closest places Stanford University to get a drink, people flocked to Dinah’s Shack to enjoy the reasonably priced food and the extremely popular bar where many notables carved their initials, including President JFK when he was a graduate student at Stanford. In a recent article from the Los Angeles Times, Sandra Day O’Connor mentioned that her first date with her future husband while they were attending Stanford was at Dinah’s Shack. Given the national recognition it was natural that the developers of a hotel in close proximity would adopt a variation of the Dinah’s name.

From the very beginning Raymond Handley and his wife Milla Louise wanted the guest experience to be an artistic one. They were avid art and antique collectors and throughout Dinah's history they incorporated pieces in the gardens and rooms.  From a pair of 19th century life-size Indian processional elephants at the entrance of the hotel to a 2nd century A.D. Gandharan stone Buddha in the lagoon area, you will find genuine, unusual works of art throughout the hotel and gardens.

The Themed Suites at Dinah’s Garden Hotel were influenced by Raymond and Milla’s love for numerous cultures.  For example, a visit to Raymond’s brother, the U.S. Ambassador to Mali in the 1960's, began an affinity with the people of that country which lasted for many years. In 1986, Folk Art International, the non-profit organization founded by Raymond and Milla, began implementing a water well project to provide water for several remote Dogon farming villages. Trips to Mali to review the well projects led to the purchase of African art for his galleries, Xanadu Gallery in San Francisco and Menlo Park, which served as an inspiration for the African Suite.

Trips to Mexico to purchase Oaxacan wood carvings for the galleries provided the inspiration for the Mexican Suite. The Railroad Baron Suite, a tribute to railroad magnate Leland Stanford who founded nearby Stanford University, features an electric train which runs on a track around the perimeter of the ceiling. Other suites invoke the feeling of being in other exotic places such as Provence, Asia, and the Southwest.

Located in the Lanai Rooms, the FDR Suite is one of our premier signature suites, featuring stained glass, framed bathroom mirrors, distinctive furniture imported from Indonesia and a spacious bathroom including a granite shower and steam room designed with wheelchair access.

In 2001, Handley and a small group of investors opened Trader Vic’s on the old Dinah’s Shack location, after Dinah’s Shack was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake.  They added extensive meeting space as well as an additional dining option for the hotel’s guests. Trader Vic’s was a natural selection because it provided the perfect themed ambience for choice items from the Handley’s extensive collection of Oceanic/South Pacific art.  The interior of the building contained amazing works of art from Papua New Guinea including orator's stools, masks and even canoes.  There was also an original Henry Moore tapestry from Handley's own collection hanging in the Captain's Cabin.

In June of 2009, Raymond Handley passed away.  In August his eldest daughter, Julie, took over the management of Dinah’s Garden Hotel.  In July of 2010 Julie became the official owner of the property.  Julie always keeps in mind her parents’ vision to incorporate art, culture, technology and exceptional hospitality.  She continues to remain 100% loyal to that vision.

Julie’s father was also a technology visionary, developing the first solar powered building in Silicon Valley in the mid 1970's. Julie is following in his footsteps by being the first private entity to partner with the City of Palo Alto to offer their high-speed fiber optic system, which business guests in particular appreciate.  Additionally, she has focused on maintaining the ambiance of Dinah’s Garden Hotel while undergoing renovations to 60 guestrooms located in the lagoon area with the goal to provide an experience which visitors to Silicon Valley expect in the 21st century.  Another change was the closure of Trader Vic’s in August of 2012.  Following extensive renovations, THE SEA by Alexander's Steakhouse opened in November, 2012.  THE SEA is the bay area's premiere seafood dining destination. During this change, Julie also renovated the Poolside Restaurant, upgraded the menu, and opened for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

Dinah’s continues to be an independently owned, family run business that has been serving the needs of Silicon Valley travelers for over 50 years.

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  • "Garden Oasis!"

    We have stayed at Dinah's 3 times in the past 2 years, and each time we have marveled at the relaxed, beautiful setting,...

    June 4th, 2014

    Barbara C, US

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$ 129 .00