By John Huff

In Cooperation With The Hi-Desert Magazine and Hi-Desert Publishing


My House With Nineteen Rooms

by John Huff

Carole and Ernie Kester acquired the Pioneertown Motel in 1984. What they found when they inspected the property was, to say the least, dismaying: "We had only one mattress," Carole recalls. "Actually there was a second mattress," Ernie reminds her, "under a tenant named Alabama-- who raised goats in his room." Unfortunately for Alabama, he died soon after. "Unfortunately for us," Ernie adds, "he died two days before the rent was due. But he did leave a us legacy for which we'll always remember him. So did the goats. Cleaning that room required gas masks and fumigation. We didn't rent it out for three or four years."

The Pioneertown Motel was originally called The Townhouse and was built in 1947-48 by Dick Curtis, Roy Rogers and Russel Hayden. When the Saturday Evening Post writer, H. Allen Smith, visited Pioneertown in the Fall of 1949, the motel was already being put to pragmatic use by movie makers. Columbia Pictures was shooting its serial, Cody of The Pony Express starring Jock Mahoney and Dickie Moore. Their cavalry fort was none other than the motel with a log-gate-facade strategically placed in the camera-foreground. This illustrated the "double purpose" Dick Curtis originally envisioned when he had ridden into the Sawtooth Basin on horseback years before. First: design all buildings for an old west period look; second: construct them as solid permanent dwellings to house and feed cast, crew and support labor. The motel became the embodiment of this plan. No doubt the Columbia crew using the motel as a fort by day, boarded there at night. Phil Krasne, producer of the Cisco Kid series, estimated this efficiency factor shaved 3 days off any of his schedules for a savings of $30,000.

Each of the motel's 19 rooms has a personalized touch and several of them have special histories. Room 9 was nicknamed "Club 9" by Gene Autry because that's where he invited pals for drinks after a long day's filming. Room 10 was Gail Davis' room when she was TV's Annie Oakley, after that it was always John Drew Barrymore's favorite.

And then there's Room 13... "Of all the rooms I have, that one's the hardest" Carole says with serene offhandedness. "That's our ghost room." Ghost? "Old Bill, but he's settled down now," she hastens to explain. "He doesn't appear but people who stay in Room 13 have weird dreams. Harriet told ghost stories to two girls who stayed there once and they went, you know, kinda' berserk." Are there any other manifestations? "On the hottest summer days it's always a little chilly in 13," Carole shivers and smiles. "And oh, yes, the man's dead cat?" Dead cat?

"A man from Los Angeles staying in 13 got news that his cat had been killed and then he kept hearing his cat meowing and scratching at the door. Now he always likes to stay there to be close to his cat. And when Diamond Braverman stayed in 13, he heard Bill walking on the roof."

Who was this Bill?

"We're not sure," Ernie offers, "but we think he might've been a movie wrangler or a stunt man. Somebody who just didn't want to leave Pioneertown. We get the vibes that he's happier now that the place is being taken care of." "Bill could be one of those bikers who's supposed to be buried out there someplace," Carole suggests helpfully.

Bikers, buried out there? Where?

"Oh, out there, somewhere," she gestures vaguely.

"Just a legend," Ernie says, "as well as that they were buried along with their Harleys." They were buried along with their Harleys? "Like a Viking with his dog," Ernie explains, "the biker goes down with his hog. Don't believe it though, just a figment of somebody's imagination." Yeah. Okay.

Carole changes the subject. "Room 8 always has a good aura," she beams, "it's our Feel-Good Room."

Then there's #4, the John Wayne Room, #9 the Rose Room, #20 the Antique Room (courtesy of Tony Bayevich) and #7 the permanent residence of Jack Schumann, self-declared Mayor of Pioneertown. Room 11 is popular because it's close to the outdoor pay phone. The rooms themselves, you see, don't have phones. People don't come here to talk on the phone, they come for the "time warp" feeling, to get away from the phone and all the other pressures of modern life.

"We offer our patrons a good night's sleep," Carole boasts, "that's why we have so many return customers from all over the country and even Europe and Japan. Many of them tell us they have their first dreams in Technicolor here."

"We like being a central meeting place in the community," Carole and Ernie say. "We're the switchboard for Pioneertown because we get calls for Pappy & Harriet's, Ron's Bowling Alley, the Petting Zoo and Pioneer Elder Care."

What do they like most about being the only hoteliers in Pioneertown? That's easy for Carole:

"It's our extended family, our second family. At Thanksgiving and Christmas we serve everybody dinner out of our kitchen. I love it here. I look at the motel as being my home, my house with 19 rooms."