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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Hotel served travelers and club well

Jerry Bowen

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Lodge in Vacaville had many owners

The year 1936 saw the United States in the midst of the Depression. A short humorous article in The Reporter reflected the times: “Somebody Falling Down? There are said to be 10,000,000 unemployed in the United States. It’s hard to believe that there are that many people unrelated to some public official.”

But, Vacaville, a small community of about 1,200 people that straddled U.S. Highway 40 seemed to be faring better than the large cities across the nation. But even the agricultural scene was suffering because of government regulations and labor strife.

Highway 40, coming from Sacramento passed by the old Nut Tree restaurant and fruit stand, entered Vacaville on then Sacramento Street (East Monte Vista Avenue today), turned left on McClellan, then right on School Street, crossed the Ulatis Bridge, passed through town on Merchant Street past the Hotel Vacaville, crossed over the Vaca Valley Bridge, and headed toward Fairfield.

But change was in the air. Money had been budgeted to change the route of Highway 40 three-quarters of a mile south of Vacaville.  That brings us to the meat of this article, the Hotel Vacaville.  When the Raleigh Hotel, that was located on the northeast corner of Main and Parker, was destroyed by a spectacular fire on

July 11, 1909, it left Vacaville without accommodations for the convenience of motorists on the then Lincoln Highway passing through Vacaville only one block away. That situation remained until 1920 when several local businessmen built a new public house, to be named Hotel Vacaville.  Feeling strongly that a hotel was needed, the town raised $50,000 through public stock. Thus, in 1920, the Hotel Vacaville was built.

On July 20, 1920, the board of directors consisting of F. B. McKevitt Jr., M. C. Hurt, C. J. Uhl, H. D. Chandler and A. C. Wright issued a stockholders report on the completion of the new structure.  The report stated in part: “The Board of Directors whom you instructed to build your hotel are able to announce that the building has been successfully completed, and although not all we would like to have had in the way of a hotel, still it is a very creditable asset to the city, and we are not making any apologies for it.

“We have entered into a successful lease for the property with an exceptionally capable hotel man, but there is more work to do and we want the assistance of all the stockholders in this work.

“We have, with the greatest effort on our own part and by giving a great deal of our time to it, sold $30,000.00 worth of the $40,000.00 of stock authorized. There is still $10,000.00 of this stock that must be sold, and since we have already carried out all of the many details necessary to bring this deal to its present status, we do not think that we should have to walk the streets and beg for this money, unaided by other holders.

“Look over the list of stockholders, observe which of your neighbors have not subscribed, approach them and insist that they do their part. All subscribers should make it their duty (they have exactly the same rights as the Board of Directors) to secure subscriptions from those   who have not yet subscribed. Use the blanks enclosed. Get more from the Board if you need them. Turn the signed blanks in, whether you get the money or not.

“We have discussed this matter freely in our meetings and have decided to ask the present stockholders to increase their holdings 30 per cent, and not only this, but aid us in signing up more stock from those who have not signed and should do so. THE BOARD, all of whom hold reasonable amounts of stock now, have volunteered to take their pro rata.

“There is every reason to believe this undertaking will he a success in every way and a benefit to the public and ourselves, and each stockholder should be proud of it. May we not receive the full support of every stockholder and show the world Vacaville can put over a successful deal by cooperation. We are too busy to canvass each stockholder. Please don’t ask us to do this, or permit it. Sign the enclosed slip today and mail to us, or leave it at the Telephone office.”

The Hotel Vacaville, located approximately in the parking lot on Merchant Street next to today’s Vacaville Music, officially opened with a banquet on Aug. 3, 1920. Fine food was served and dancing followed. The building was a two-story frame structure with 34 rooms a dining room and a large lobby.  With Highway 40 running right past the hotel, there was every reason to believe it would be a successful business. Locals as well as travelers were encouraged to use the dining room.

A year after the hotel opened, the town trustees opened Vacaville’s first auto-camp on the corner of McClellan and East Main in today’s Vasquez Deli parking lot. It provided some competition although it wasn’t a serious threat.

But a balance sheet for 1926 showed the hotel losing money. Although it had an income of $4,550 for the year, its expenses resulted in a deficit of $5,658.60. The hotel changed managers many times over years.  In 1930, a screened-in dining area was added, allowing patrons to watch the traffic on Highway 40.  In 1935, a San Francisco investor who had it remodeled purchased the hotel.

On July 3, 1936, The Reporter announced that Mr. and Mrs. C. T. Henderson had taken over management of the Hotel Vacaville in partnership with Mr. Blaine who owned the property.  Mr. Henderson was an experience hotel man and stated his aim was to “... bring the hostelry to the front as the one place between San Francisco and Sacramento where patrons can be assured of good food at a reasonable price and cool, pleasant rooms in which to rest.”

By July 17, 1936, Mr. Henderson had gone a step further and leased the hotel for a period of two years with plans to greatly improve the accommodations.  But his tenure with the hotel was short-lived.

Just 10 days later, on July 27, a fire broke out early in the morning in a defective chimney over the kitchen stove and rapidly spread between the ceiling and the roof and the building was soon enveloped in flames. One of the waitresses, Mrs. Carol Manning, grabbed the master keys and ran from room to room warning the guests   in time for them to make their escape. During all the excitement, an unidentified woman was seen rifling through the cash register but got nothing because the day’s receipts had already been removed.

During the fire, all the booze was loaded on a truck from the newly established Vacaville Ice and Fuel Service and taken to the company warehouse. All the moveable furniture on the lower floor was also saved.

Although damaged, Henderson intended to renovate the building with the insurance money, but a San Jose attorney that held the mortgage decided to use the insurance money to pay off the majority of the note, so the damaged building remained vacant.  On Oct. 31, 1937, the president of the Saturday Club, Mrs. J. M. McLaughlin, called a special meeting to vote on the purchase of the former hotel property to use for a clubhouse. When the vote was taken, the results showed that 46 members were for the purchase and only four dissented.

Highway 40 bypassed Vacaville’s Merchant Street in 1937, and today is Interstate 80. Perhaps the fire could be considered a bit of good luck because, for several years, Vacaville was out of the mainstream of traffic and the Saturday Club was able to provide the means for a better future for Vacaville.

In 1937, the club bought the property and began repairing the building. The dining room and lobby were reconstructed and the kitchen reconditioned. In addition, dressing rooms were added. It was the culmination of dreams for many years for their very own home for the club when the first meeting was held in 1938.

The former Hotel Vacaville served the Saturday Club well for the next 15 years. Then, in 1953, the Bank of America expressed an interest in buying the property. The club agreed to let the bank have the property if it built the club a new clubhouse. Today, that new clubhouse still serves the needs of the Vacaville Saturday Club and Vacaville at 125 Kendal St.

Sometimes events that are unpleasant at the time just seem to work out for the best.