Ferndale’s Gingerbread Mansion
An Oft-Ignored Intimacy of The Great Northwest
By Bernard Bass | Photos by H.R. LoBue
A quiet and gentle fog unwraps itself from the arms of Doug firs and Redwoods perched atop the hill of the Ferndale Cemetery. Slowly, it descends through mausoleums, headstones and Willow trees where it then spills softly into the village streets of a small, storybook-Victorian town. As sporadic blurred outlines of families cradling both children and gallons of milk emerge from the foggy obfuscation spilling through white slats of a picket fence, it is at once recognized that Ferndale exemplifies an oft-ignored intimacy of The Great Northwest. It is a town where gentlemen still tip their hats, a collective cognizant presence, a warm, delicious American Pie.
As a local of anywhere in the world, there are times in which one takes their area’s surroundings for granted. With the onset of an everyday familiarity to one’s backyard becoming more and more matter-of-fact, there is a certain amount of grandiosity lost, forgotten or interrupted. Growing up next door to the Eiffel Tower or waking up every morning to the same Statue of Liberty, the magic seems to fade when you see it every day. It is no different for those of us on the North Coast and we either don’t realize or tend to forget the many nationally and globally recognized gems tucked in and amongst us.
Covered extensively in the pages of Fodor’s, Sunset Magazine and National Geographic, The Gingerbread Mansion is an undisputed Victorian masterpiece and is one of Northern California’s most photographed buildings. Built in 1894 as a residence for a local physician, the Gingerbread Mansion, before becoming a Bed and Breakfast, was once the town hospital. In no way since has a sliver to its vision of comfort and hospitality diminished.
Looking up from the garden’s four tiered fountain encircled by manicured hedges and Renaissance sculpture, ornate details drip almost like candy from the mansion’s passionately crafted yellow and peach toned eaves. Upon approach of the mansion alone, one is immediately and comfortably swaged from wherever they are coming. Itself, the mansion at once leaves you transfixed and gives you no choice but to pause and recognize a moment in time that will be remembered forever. Guests are welcomed at the front door and, given the pristine and immaculate interior of the building, one is almost surprised to be greeted by such a genuinely kind and personable staff. After being briefed on the times of breakfast, wine and hors d’oeuvres, guests are given not a key-card but a key, free to come and go as you please. A tour of the grounds is provided and a slow walk-through of the mansion is highly recommended. If able, check in as early as possible. While ascending the stairs with carpeting so soft you sink deep into every step, it is nice to catch a glimpse of the other rooms in the mansion, all eleven of which are themed.
From the Veneto Suite with its hand painted walls and lifted claw-foot tub to the Fountain Suite with toe-to-toe claw foot tubs. From the handicap accessible Gingerbread Suite, with its Cal King sized bed and multi-spouted shower, to the top of line Empire Suite with a curtained bidet, breakfast in bed and a claw-foot tub by the fireplace. All suites are appointed with Egyptian-Cotton sheets and comforters with luxuriously high thread counts, evening turndown service, embroidered bathrobes, high-speed internet access and a Hi-Definition smart flat screen television. To top it all off each guest receives plush slippers to take with them. Inside and out, the Gingerbread Mansion is a modern, romantic revision of 19th Century elegance and an exhibition into the heart of Ferndale hospitality and charm.
The Gingerbread Mansion, of course, is a place for special occasions – honeymoons, anniversaries, holidays – but it is also a place to merely spoil yourself and those you care for deeply. It is a place that becomes the special occasion. The traveller who is used to this kind of lodging will begin to expect more from other places and for those who are not, it is a place that will never be forgotten.
Ferndale, California and the Gingerbread Mansion have a certain throwback feel to them, a certain aura emanating from all that was good here never wanting to leave. Maybe it’s the cemetery, serene like no other, or possibly it’s the genuine recognition of something unique within a small, close-knit American town. Either way, for a moment, it’s a place that seems frozen, just for you, in a perfect point in time.
Behind the counter at the Ferndale general store, an aproned gentleman with his hair slicked back weighs out bags of candy on an antique scale. The bell over the heavy wooden door rings and he says, “Good day.”