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January-February 2006 Year 12, Number 1.
The Finest Hotel South Of San Francisco.
By PAT SALETORE
Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
Henry Mayo Newhall envisioned his new town as a bustling city. Perhaps he wanted to bring the gracious society and culture of his home in San Francisco to the warmer climate of the Santa Clarita Valley. The first step in doing this was to create a railroad station for the line that came through in 1876. The next most important move was to build a sophisticated place in which members of gracious society could comfortably stay in his embryonic city.
In 1878, Henry Newhall laid out the town and planned at its center what one visitor called, "one of the finest and best-appointed establishments outside of San Francisco." It was the Southern Hotel.
In terms of today's landmarks, it was located at the intersection of San Fernando Road and Market Street, facing Railroad Avenue, which was then known as "Main Street." The Southern Hotel was a large, square, wooden, two-story Victorian building surrounded on the ground floor with a shaded porch that was held up by decorated wooden columns. Above, on the second floor, an elegant, railed verandah surrounded it. The building was topped by an elaborate cupola, complete with a widow's walk, reminiscent of Henry Newhall's Yankee heritage.
In front of the grand hotel was a square where Newhall envisioned trees, suggestive of the village greens of his childhood. A stable would house the horses and carriages that his hotel guests would need.
The hotel was initially incorporated under the management of his ranch foreman, D.W. Fields. Soon after, Newhall's nephew, Joshua O. Newhall, arrived on the scene to manage it.
Born in his uncle's home town of Saugus, Massachusetts, J.O. Newhall had been in his uncle's employ in San Francisco as a clerk for Newhall Sons & Co. auctioneers and commission merchants. J.O.'s wife, Laura E. Terry, was a prominent novelist of the day. They moved to Newhall and made their home at No. 11Ä2 Spruce Street, opposite the Southern Hotel. (Spruce was renamed "San Fernando Road" and house numbers were changed to five digits in the 1950s.)
When J.O. Newhall took over the management of the Southern Hotel, Fields was relegated to running a general store in one corner of the building. The store was later separated later and run by a number of people, beginning with J.O. Newhall.
On the side of the hotel that faced what is now San Fernando Road was an elegant dining room. On the side of the building nearest what is now Market Street, replacing the store when it was moved out, was a gentlemen's bar run by D.W. Boynton. There was a reading room for contemplative endeavors, and a ladies' parlor upstairs to accommodate the conversations unique to the fairer sex.
Stagecoaches stopped at the Southern Hotel coming from Los Angeles through Pico Canyon and Ventura or Santa Barbara. Lee Amroni drove the "telegraph stage" between the hotel and the oil town of Mentryville.
Oil men were only one group of people to whom Newhall intended to cater; he also wanted to attract mining and land speculators, business owners and other people to his new city.
Exactly when the Southern Hotel first opened for business is something of a mystery. Modern references list the date as 1878, the same year the town of Newhall was erected in the current Old Town Newhall location. However, according to a contemporary reference that was published in 1889 and only recently rediscovered, "In 1887 (J.O. Newhall) opened the hotel in Newhall, which burned down October 23 of the same year."
Credence should be given to this early account, since it is likely that J.O. Newhall himself approved the text prior to publication.
Modern references list the date of the fire as October 1, 1888. Either way, the Southern Hotel did burn to the ground a common fate for wood-framed buildings in an area where water is scarce.
Little could be done to stop a fire once it had caught on such a building. There was no rebuilding it at the time. Henry Newhall had died from injuries sustained by a fall from his horse while visiting the southern ranch in 1882, and there was little interest in rebuilding the hotel, then valued at $300,000.
George Lowden remodeled the surviving stables from the hotel into a rooming and boarding house, calling it the (Second) Southern Hotel, but it was nothing like the scale of its predecessor. Lowden finally lost the place when the mortgage went into foreclosure.
Albert C. Swall, an active developer of commercial properties in Newhall at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, built a two-story brick structure in 1914 on the site of the old Southern Hotel and called it the Swall Hotel. From there, he also managed the local post office. It burned in 1916; this time, it was rebuilt only to be destroyed again in the Sylmar Earthquake of February 9, 1971. Again it was rebuilt, with a Spanish stucco fašade. It stands today, anchored by a Work Boots store.
Recently there has been talk of rebuilding the Southern Hotel. It is an interesting proposition. If Henry Newhall could comment, I am sure he would support that. Although the large, bustling successful city he envisioned did not happen in his lifetime, it has finally come to pass in ours.
©2006, Old Town Newhall USA. All rights reserved.