Flashback: Some Early Overnight Successes

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Imagine if one of Sacramento’s fancy hotels of the future, say the boutique hotel planned for the old Cal Western Life building at 926 J St., elicited this reaction:

For days and months and years Sacramento talked of its grand opening&emdash;of the night upon which wine and whisky flowed as freely as the Sacramento River, and whole cases of champagne were thrown from the second-story window out upon the street for the pure fun of hearing the bottles go smash.

That sentence, written by Christina Krysto in the Feb. 20, 1926 issue of the Sacramento Union newspaper, refers to the City Hotel’s debut in the fateful year of 1849. Later called the Hotel de France, the three-story building at 919 Front St. in what is now Old Sacramento was not the town’s first hotel, per se. Sutter’s Fort (still standing, at 28th and L streets), constructed in 1839, merits that distinction. It is true that ‘room’ often signified a heap of straw under a wagon and ‘meals’ were composed of rough and monotonous food of early settlers, Krysto wrote of Sutter’s Fort lodging, yet the spirit of hospitality was never lacking and no weary traveler was ever told that all rooms were taken.

Before being destroyed by fire in 1852, the Orleans Hotel (on Second Street between J and K streets) had established a fine reputation. According to an article reprinted by the California State Library from 1880, The embers had scarcely ceased smoking before the new building was in the process of erection. Twenty days and six hours later, the all-brick, three-story new Orleans (so to speak) reopened with 40 rooms. The entire ground floor was a saloon.

The Golden Eagle and the Capital were two other grand hotels of prepubescent Sacramento. They competed not just commercially but geographically and politically as well. The Capital, on the southwest corner of Seventh and K streets, flourished from its 1860 opening to the turn of the century and was favored by Democrats. The Golden Eagle, on the same intersection’s northwest corner (where the Hard Rock Cafe sits today), was a GOP hangout and remained in business well into the 20th century. Within its walls, would-be governors, U.S. senators, congressmen and other important officials have had their fates decided, the Union reported in 1885.

Two prominent hotels of the early 20th century were the Sacramento (10th and K streets), erected in 1909, and The Senator (now an office building, at 1121 L St.), opened in 1924. Upon the former’s closing and days before its demolition in the spring of 1956, Joseph Allan Beek wrote in the Union: The revolving door has gently turned behind the last departing guest; the crisp, white linens will no longer billow to the hands of chambermaids; the once bustling lobby is stilled, with only the echoes of a glorious past remaining.