Modesto has always had at least one good hotel. Even in the towns early days, it had a hotel. In fact, it soon had two, both on Ninth Street opposite the train depot.
Each was well-situated to accommodate train travelers. Modesto House was owned by local resident David Husband. His wife reportedly cooked and served dinner to the public while the building was still on wheels.
The House in the hotels name referred to its having sleeping accommodations. The building had been dragged by horses from Tuolumne City in 1870, just after the founding of Modesto.
The second hotel was considered the most elegant in the Central Valley.
Known as Ross House, for its owner Frank Ross, it was a long white building placed at the corner of Ninth and I streets in November 1870. Made of especially fine hardwood, it had been brought from the little river town of Paradise City. Because of its extended length, it had to be cut in half so that it could be moved in two sections, several days apart. This was accomplished by moving each of the two segments individually, pulled by 60 horses.
Two new hotels opened in 1880. The Prentice House, at 11th and H streets, was noted for being the first hotel to run a horse-drawn bus to the railroad station. The Merry Hotel, at 12th and H streets, had a brick barn with ample accommodations for horse teams.
However, the citys first major and somewhat modern hotel didnt appear until 1890. Constructed at 10th and H streets, the stylish three-story brick Tynan Hotel cost about $20,000 and remained unfinished for several years because of the financial woes of owner Dr. Thomas Tynan. Its appearance was distinctive because of a handsome four-sided Victorian clock tower that topped the hotel. Many were unaware that the tower lacked any time-keeping equipment inside.
During this period, the Tynan was considered the finest of the towns hotels with the cost of its rooms priced at 50 cents, 75 cents and $1 per night. It also had the first elevator service in the San Joaquin Valley and had speaking tubes linked from each room to the lobby desk. Its handsome embellishments included spacious arched halls, ornate gas fire fixtures, original oil paintings and 12-foot-high ceilings.
But it wasnt until 1914 that Modesto experienced its big hotel year, when two large modern hotels were built downtown. The first was the Hotel Hughson, situated at 10th and J streets. It was originally planned by wealthy wheat rancher Hiram Hughson and his wife, Luella, but he died in 1911 before construction could begin. Luella decided to continue the project alone, its grand opening banquet and ball described as the most pretentious event ever held in Modesto.
The second was the Hotel Modesto, whose opening banquet and dance were equally grand, occurring in June 1914. Built by Henry T. Crow, the hotel had 115 rooms with steam heat, fast elevators, a tiled lobby, a fine restaurant, a roof garden and a ballroom that hosted many parties and special events.
Through the years, numerous organizations and service clubs held their regular meetings in these hotels. Some used both buildings on the same day, such as the Modesto chapter of Omega Nu, established in 1924 to raise funds for charities. Its initial installation ceremonies included a luncheon at the Hotel Hughson and, later that day, a dinner dance in the ballroom of the Hotel Modesto.
Modestos twin hotels are still mentioned by those old enough to remember. Both were destroyed, one by fire and the other by the city to make way for Tenth Street Place.
One of the towns last major historic downtown hotels was built in 1924. Owned by rancher George Covell and his wife, Grace, it was on the corner of 11th and I streets. The Hotel Covell featured a movie theater as part of its structure and an ornate lobby with crushed marble terrazzo flooring, a private bath in each room and 70 guest rooms decorated with imported English wallpaper, mahogany furnishings and dark red carpets.
The hotel became famous for its fantasy-themed Fable Room, where local organizations met, dined and partied.
In 1929 a small two-story hotel opened downtown at 715 12th St. It was built by Loren and Kathryn Maddux. Constructed for $30,000 and called the Maddux Hotel, it had 34 rooms renting for $1 a day or $1.50 with bath. It was the first hotel to have stall showers and also one of the first buildings in town to have air conditioning when it was installed in 1937. The building was sold in 1963 and demolished in 1973.
Today, Modesto is said to have 18 hotels, most of which are actually motels. The one real hotel is the luxurious multistoried Doubletree/Hilton with its modern amenities, including high-speed Internet access, swimming pool and more. It is far removed from the good old days of Modesto House and Ross House, which really werent so good after all.
Bare is the author of several books about area history and is the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.