Palo Alto Centennial
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 13, 1994

Welcome to the Hotel De Zink

Palo Altan Mary Belle Glover was listening to the "Amos 'n Andy" show on the radio one morning when she heard that restaurants and stores were throwing out food that could be feeding the homeless and hungry. So disturbed she couldn't sleep, she decided to go up University Avenue in Palo Alto and check this out.

When she confirmed the radio story, she soon convinced her husband, Jesse, a retired Coast Guard captain of engineers, to join her in meeting with the mayor, H.C. Christensen. Moved by her persuasive arguments, the Palo Alto City Council chipped in $500 and the use of a truck; Leonard Fuller offered use of a building behind the old Federal Telegraph Building.

Soon the Palo Alto Shelter was opened in September 1931. Nicknamed Hotel De Zink after the chief of police, it offered clean bunks for 60 men as well as a 13-bed hospital. Each man was required to work three hours a day in the wood yards or at other odd jobs.

The men were only allowed to stay for three days, then they had to move on. But in that short time, they could shower, have their clothes deloused, their shoes repaired and get three square meals a day. The shelter depended on citizens' gifts: A live cow, toothpaste, a bundle of women's underwear, tinned food, clothing and shoes, lumber and plumbing supplies were some of the donations that came in.

Mrs. Glover called the shelter "the house that salvage built." But for many who stayed there, it represented a place of refuge where they could earn back their self-respect.

The men, who produced their own newspaper, regaled each other with stories of hope. One transient, writing about a bank holiday when the bank was closed for a day, noted that this made everyone just like the people in the streets. "Never again can you regard us as entirely alien; never again can you quite believe that a man shorn of his money is shorn also of his intrinsic worth to humanity, and of his right to live," he wrote in 1933.

Fifty thousand men stayed at the shelter between November 1931 and May 1934 when, as the need for emergency housing lessened, it became a community soup kitchen. The shelter provided 300 meals a day at a cost of $9 per day--that's an average cost of 2.3 cents a meal.

The shelter was operated by the Glovers for two years, until 1933, when Captain Glover left to set up a string of shelters up and down the California coast and Mrs. Glover went to operate a 1,000-bed shelter in San Francisco. The shelter continued for a while under the management of the cook, Charles Maupin.

--Don Kazak