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 email@example.com.