Earlier this week the owners of downtown Long Beach’s The Varden re-installed their historic “Bath in every room” sign atop the early 20th century boutique hotel.
Co-owners Larry Black and Charles Knowlton ended eight months of restoration with a media event that included food, the vice mayor and a big crane lifting the landmark sign into place on the building long known as the Dolly Varden.
I’ve seen the sign for years and always wondered – who was Dolly Varden?
According to thevardenhotel.com, Long Beach’s Dolly Varden was “an eccentric circus performer” who had a wealthy admirer.
“Supposedly, he built the building for her,” Black said, and she lived on the top floor of the hotel in a number of the rooms.
Long Beach doesn’t have the only Dolly Varden around, however.
All the iterations of Dolly Varden seem to stem from Charles Dickens’ historical novel, “Barnaby Rudge.” It features the Varden family – Gabriel, a locksmith with a manipulative wife named Martha and their daughter Dolly.
In 1867, the first baseball team to get paid to play was the Dolly Vardens – a female African-American team who started playing professional baseball two years before the first men’s team. The ladies played in long skirts and corsets.
Why name a team the Dolly Vardens? At the time a fashion craze was sweeping Britain and the United States – the Dolly Varden costume. The clothing featured brightly patterned dresses with flowers and a skirt. The outfit was finished off with a Dolly Varden hat, usually flat and trimmed with flowers or ribbons. It was an 1870s version of the fashions in Dickens’ novel.
If all this seems a bit fishy, it gets even fishier. There is a trout common to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean named after Dolly Varden. The first recorded uses of the name was in Northern California.
In an account by David Starr Jordan, yes, the same Jordan who’s name is on a Long Beach high school, a landlady in Soda Springs saw the brightly colored, spotted trout in the 1870s and said, “Why, that is a regular Dolly Varden.” The name stuck.
A Midwest-based folk/rock band shares the name, too. The Chicago quintet Dolly Varden took its name from what they call “a rare and beautiful species of trout.” The songwriters in the band both had fathers who were avid fisherman and “dreamt of one day catching the elusive Dolly Varden in an icy Alaskan lake.”
Ten hours north of Long Beach is the city of Dolly Varden, Nev., a desolate place sitting in the Dolly Varden Mountains near Utah. The area consists of 16 mineral claims and not much else. The Dolly Varden mine was opened in 1872 and was one of the richest copper mines in Elko County.
Going even farther north, a Canadian silver company of the same name focuses its energy on the development of the historic Dolly Varden Silver Mines in British Columbia.
Whether you like the Dickens, trout, minerals, baseball, folk rock or Long Beach boutique hotel version, there seems to be a Dolly Varden for everyone.