Tracing Tracy Territory: The many lives of historical Hotel Western
by Sam Matthews
Aug 24, 2012 | 3830 views | 5 5 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hotel Western turns 100
The Hotel Western was just opening in August 1912 on Sixth Street when this photo was taken. The two-story brick building replaced wood-frame structures that burned to the ground in the fire of August 1911.  Press file photo
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Hotel Western, once Tracy’s leading hotel, continues to make a comeback 100 years after it was opened on Sixth Street.

It was in August 1912 that the hotel located in a new two-story brick building just east of Central Avenue had its grand opening.

Since then, the building has had its ups and downs, until today — although it’s no longer a hotel — it houses a restaurant, a beauty salon, classrooms and offices on both floors.

“This is a well-constructed building that has stood the test of time — an entire century,” said Don Cose, the local contractor and developer who began bringing Hotel Western back to life in the 1970s. “It may stand for another 100 years. Who knows?”

Prospects for the hotel when it was opened in August 1912 were equally positive, although the possibility of the building standing a century later was not even mentioned.

Construction of the two-story brick building in 1912 followed on the heels of a major Tracy fire. In August 1911, the entire northeast corner of Sixth and Central was leveled by fire. Flames started in the stately three-story, wood-frame Tracy Hotel at the corner and took everything to the east as far as the Odd Fellows Hall — now the Moose Lodge.

Instead of rebuilding with the same kind of wooden structures that had been leveled by the fire, the new buildings to the east of Central Avenue were constructed of fire-resistant brick.

Charles Slack, who had operated the Tracy Hotel from 1899 to 1911, opted out of the hotel business and constructed a modest single-story commercial building at the corner.

But just to the east on Sixth Street, property owner William Schmidt, a city trustee (city councilman), decided he would build a hotel. He constructed a two-story building to house Hotel Western and other businesses on the ground floor.

Schmidt leased the hotel to Dennis Looney, a longtime tavern owner and at that time also Tracy’s justice of the peace. Looney worked with W.J. Goodwin to operate the hotel, restaurant and tavern.

As the new hotel was opened for business, Tracy Press Editor Warren Henshaw didn’t hold back in his praise.

“The Hotel Western is an establishment in a distinctive class by itself,” he declared. “With the reputation for class that the Hotel Stockton has, that place has nothing on the local hostelry.”

The editor praised “the liquid refreshment parlor” on the west side of the lobby and the restaurant on the other side.

The staircase leading to the second floor, which remains intact, originally led to 30 rooms on the second floor, some with bathrooms, some not. For the first time in Tracy, rooms were equipped with something new — telephones.

For much of the 20th century, the building housed the hotel. That was especially the case in the early part of the century, when travel by rail brought a number of passengers to the Tracy Southern Pacific station across a set of tracks.

And then, during the Prohibition years of the 1920s and early ’30s, Hotel Western was known as a place where you could usually buy a drink in “the liquid refreshment parlor.”

“We’ve run across a number of hidden closets and cubby holes where booze was kept,” Cose reported. “Hotel Western wasn’t the only speakeasy in town, but it must have been one of the busiest.”

And Billy Gift, who ran the hotel for many years, was known simply as “Tracy’s bookie.” You could always place a bet on a horse race with Billy.

A frequent visitor to Hotel Western in those years was Bones Remmer, a friend of Billy’s and a well-known gambler in San Francisco who would take the train out to Tracy to lay low for a week or two in his friend’s hotel.

Following World War II in the 1940s, the hotel, commonly called The Western Hotel, suffered a gradual decline.

Railroad travel, for the most part, had given way to the automobile, and the Tracy Inn on 11th Street (then a section of Highway 50) was opened in 1927 as a community project.

By the 1960s, the upstairs rooms in Hotel Western were mostly vacant, occupied at various parts of the year by migrant farm laborers during harvest season. Only the hotel lobby and businesses that came and went, including a pool hall and a used-appliance store, occupied the ground floor.

In the 1970s, that began to change. Don and Darlene Cose started investing in older “lower Central Avenue” buildings as the first signs of restoration interest surfaced.

“My interest in the area was started by the walking tours conducted by Nancy Matthews, an advocate for restoration, and Jack Coy, chairman of the planning commission,” he said.

In 1975, the Coses purchased the Hotel Western building. They also bought the adjacent single-story building at the corner of Sixth and Central, originally known as the Slack Building (later the Clark Building), where El Castillo, Vita Dolce and the Thai Café are today.

“On Sixth, the storefronts were mostly boarded up, except for the lobby of Hotel Western, which was by then a fleabag hotel,” he said. “Things were in poor shape, but we felt there could be a future here.”

Cose said his original idea was to create an “old-town”-themed section called Poker Town, taken from Tracy’s Poker City reputation.

“That idea didn’t pan out, but we moved ahead with restoring the Hotel Western,” he said. “It was even then, more than 60 years after it had been built, a very solid building with thick brick walls, but we had to invest a lot to upgrade electrical and plumbing systems.”

A major first tenant, one that is still in the hotel building, was Valley Community Counseling Service, which uses most of the second-floor rooms for counseling sessions and classes for drivers picked up for drunken driving and speeding.

Don and Darlene Cose, along with sons Dale and Greg, moved their offices upstairs.

Downstairs, Rollin’ in Dough was located west of the lobby until its space was taken over 10 years ago by Magellan’s Restaurant, which uses the original hotel lobby for an entry and for banquets.

Creations Salon is located on the ground floor in the eastern end of the building, and California Advantage Real Estate has offices upstairs.

“We have tried to work with potential tenants by making improvements that, if financed solely by the tenants, would have made it too costly to move in,” Cose said.

At the same time, London plane trees were planted in the sidewalk along the north side of Sixth Street. The trees, now towering over the sidewalk, offer plenty of shade.

“What the city has done for this area in recent years has really given this area a boost,” Cose said.

First, in the 1980s, Sixth Street was straightened out to provide storefront parking. And, more recently, the Tracy Transit Station, the Downtown Plaza and the Sixth and Central roundabout have been completed. A number of community events have already been staged in the area.

And that means that in its centennial year, Hotel Western is once again where it started — right in the middle of the action.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.
Comments
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backinblack
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August 30, 2012
Hey doors17 & Ornley, Great news! We are hopefully one step closer to restoring sanity and stemming the flow of the dumbing down of our country. I just came across an article on MSN about MTV cancelling Jersey Shore after next season which as far as I'm concerned can't come soon enough. Hopefully the whole lot who's combined IQ is lower than a grapefruit will disappear and never be heard from again.

What's sad and maybe there's still hope the idiocy will stop, is pea brains like the clowns on JS become rich & famous. Good for them as all they are doing is taking advantage of a dumbed down society, but again, sad for us because people actually pay attention to the pea brains.
doors17
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August 30, 2012
Thanks BIB! I’ve never seen it so I can’t comment on it. I heard about the show from some co-workers, but I never had any desire to check it out. Of course we’re still going to have more people involved in voting for the next America Idol than will vote in the upcoming presidential election. But perhaps that’s best.

I was 12 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. I’ll always remember watching Walter Cronkite reacting with the same excitement that I did. With the assassinations and the turmoil of Vietnam, it was such a needed shot in the arm for our national pride where the only politics involved was winning the space race over the Soviets.

Neil Armstrong was such a private person and never really cashed in on his celebrity fame. 500 years from now he’ll be remembered in the same way Christopher Columbus is today. I get the feeling that he would appreciate his death being mostly ignored, and wouldn’t want the publicity since he knew the importance that he accomplished in life.

backinblack
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August 27, 2012
doors17, As far as I'm concerned there's no need to apologize for bringing up the passing of a true American hero, if here under this story, so be it.

Unfortunately you are singing to a shrinking choir as we live in an age of college level scores on civics exams hovering around an average of 40%, and a society permeated by people who know more about the idiot housewifes of wherever than our presidential candidates.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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August 27, 2012
Couldn't agree with ya both any more than what ya have already said other than ta interject, who really cares what Prince Harry does an how that affects anythang in this world other than British pride?
doors17
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August 27, 2012
Sorry for going off topic here, but I feel the need to vent. On Saturday we lost an historic figure in Neil Armstrong, and his death is an example of how our priorities are so messed up today. While his passing is being reported by the news media, they seem to just want to move on, but when Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007, we had non-stop coverage for an entire month.

Perhaps Mr. Matthews in a future column you tell us how Tracy reacted to that amazing day of July 20, 1969, that many today seem to forget and just take for granted.


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