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Sunday, March 10, 1996

Early hotels were favorite gathering spots

Kristin Delaplane

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In 1874, Mason Wilson sold his Vacaville hotel to General E.S. Davis of Oakland, and Davis’ brother, J.F. Davis, operated it as the Davis Hotel.
In 1888, Davis described it as “The Best Hotel In Vacaville.” It was located at Main and Davis streets, and one of the hotel’s attractions, according to an advertisement, was that it was a nightly gathering spot for old-timers.

They congregated around the fireplace and swapped stories of the early days in town and spoke of their experiences coming round the Horn, of mining camps, Indians and bars.

This ad was to appeal to Eastern travelers who ate up tales of the pioneer days. A wooden structure, the Davis Hotel was lost to fire.

In 1877, E.W. Worsham was listed as the owner of the Union Hotel in Vacaville.

Another hotel was built at Main and Parker streets in the 1870s. Supposedly it was named after its builder, E.P. Williams.

In short order, it then became the New Brunswick Hotel and then the Vaca Valley Hotel.

In spite of being Vacaville’s pride and joy, when Raleigh Barcar purchased it in 1884, the rooms were quite small and there was no indoor plumbing.

Supposedly, at a cost of $5,470, Barcar completely updated the hotel and renamed it the Hotel Raleigh, a prominent building in downtown Vacaville.

Barcar advertised “Free carriage from all trains. All rooms outside rooms. All newly papered. Extensive grounds of shade trees.”

In 1906, Barcar hired Frank Pierpont as chef. Pierpont, a native of New York, claimed he had been gourmet chef for the British royalty and had served as an interpreter and hunter in Africa.

Whether his meals were actually in the “gourmet” category is unknown. However, his tales were worth the trip.

Pierpont didn’t have a very long reign as lead chef. On July 13, 1909, a fire destroyed the hotel; one mighty leap of flames enveloped the whole roof. At the time it was one of the oldest landmarks of Vacaville.

In 1888, the Western Hotel was listed in Vacaville on Main Street, and the Exchange Hotel was on Main and Bernard.

In the early 1890s, the Miller Hotel and Bar was located by the train depot in Vacaville. By 1893, another hotel by the train depot was the German Hotel, a prominent two-story building.

At some point, a Mrs. Meyers from Elmira purchased it and named it the Brunswick Hotel.

The Suisun Hotel located on Main Street in Suisun City was perhaps primarily a boardinghouse, with J.B. Giacomini as proprietor.

Board and room per day ran from $1 to $1.25. Meals with wine included were 25 cents. Meal tickets featuring 25 meals went for $5. Lodgings for a week at a time were $5, and by the month, $20 to $25.

Though hotels accommodated many locals for fine dining, in 1898 the Louvre Restaurant in Suisun City offered meals as well and at all hours.

Sandwiches and lunches were on the menu and the female trade was attracted by offering splendid seating for ladies. Shell oysters and roast duck were the house specialty. Probably the ducks came from the nearby marshlands that were so well-favored by market hunters.

In 1898, the Capital, Fairfield’s hotel, was under new ownership and was outfitted with new furniture and new fixtures.

Visitors to the county seat were invited to make this their headquarters. Meals were 25 cents and the adjoining bar and smoking room provided wines, liquors and cigars.

When Cement City was established, a hotel was built on the grounds. It burned down in 1906 and was replaced by a much grander hotel.

Named the Golden Gate Hotel, it became the county’s grandest hotel of all. It was a two-story structure and certainly one of the county’s largest and most beautiful buildings at the time.

The Golden Gate Hotel was built on a hill, providing a panoramic view of the valley. There was a veranda on the first floor lined with cozy chairs, and a balcony across the front of both stories.

For “Cementites” their Cement currency was good at the hotel bar. This lavish hotel was a social center of the county.

Two noted affairs were held at the Golden Gate. The Annual Ball in the fall was a countywide social event of the year well-attended by politicians and civic leaders.

All attendees wore their elegant best for a night in the hotel’s grand ballroom. Five dollars covered the cost of dinner, dancing to a live orchestra.

The other yearly event was a prize fight, a “smoker.” Thousands showed up for this sporting event.

All the amenities were in place at the Golden Gate. There was a barbershop and pool tables for the clientele, who came from as far away as San Francisco where it was advertised as a “sensational summer spa.”

Spectacular pepper and acacia trees were planted on the landscaped grounds. The hotel had three wings and accommodations for 175 people.

Each room was equipped with a telephone and electric lights. On the grounds were tennis courts and a swimming pool.

For 11 years following the fire at the Hotel Raleigh, Vacaville had no hotel to accommodate travelers or businessmen even though the Lincoln Highway passed right through the heart of town, and Vacaville was noted as the halfway point for travelers to and from Sacramento and San Francisco.

Feeling strongly that a hotel was needed, the town raised $50,000 through public stock. Thus in 1920 the Vacaville Hotel was built.

Featuring a restaurant, management solicited local trade by encouraging people to come dressed in their working clothes. The hotel underwent several changes in management.

In 1930, a screened-in dining area was added, allowing patrons to watch the traffic on Highway 40 (the Lincoln Highway).

In 1935, the hotel was purchased by a San Francisco investor who had it remodeled. It was only a year later, 1936, that the demon fire damaged the building, ending its reign as a hotel.

It was turned over to the Saturday Club for its members’ use.

The last hotel in operation in Vacaville was the Hotel Stoney on Merchant (home of the Seekers next to Merchant & Main Restaurant).

It was operated by Esther Hay. When it closed its doors circa late 1950s early 1960s, a new era was well under way; the era of the motel.