Monday, October 5, 2009

Suisun's checkered history of hotels

Suisun's checkered history of hotels
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | October 02, 2009

The Suisun Cycle Club, in a time before autos were known, poses in front of the Arlington Hotel in Suisun City. Photo by Courtesy Vacaville Heritage Council

SUISUN CITY - Leslie Chrisler had reason to regard the grand Arlington Hotel in 19th-century Suisun City as a haunted house of horrors.

He came to the darkened parlor of the hotel in March 1892 to borrow a bass viol, then lay the big fiddle down and groped around the room for some sheet music. To his shock, he turned and in the dim light perceived that the viol was slowly and quietly moving across the floor.

'His eyes bulged and every hair on his pompadoured dome stood erect, while the manly heart beneath his glossy shirt bosom beat a tattoo that was positively said to have been distinctly heard in the adjoining room,' reported the Solano Republican, predecessor to the Daily Republic.

He dashed out the door and slid down the bannister to escape. He only later learned the truth - he had disturbed two lovers and the woman had tried to creep out. She got her skirt caught on the viol tuning keys and, still hoping to avoid discovery, had kept moving stealthily along as she dragged the instrument behind.

Suisun City will soon have its first hotel in decades when the Hampton Inn and Suites opens, but hardly its first hotel ever. Main Street was a hotel hotbed back in the early 1900s, when the city had only about 600 residents. The Arlington, Union, Suisun, Annex, Plaza and Mayfield served visitors and locals alike - until the bulk of these buildings met fiery ends.

'The Arlington and Mayfield hotels were probably the classiest,' said local resident Guido Colla, who remembers the hotels from the 1930s until their demises.

Suisun City's old hotels as they appear in photographs look ready-made for black-and-white film noir movies such as the 'The Big Sleep,' the type in which the detective goes looking for a bad guy and ends up fleeing down a metal, outdoor fire escape. They certainly didn't have the sameness of many of today's cookie-cutter hotel chains.

Grandest of them all was the Arlington, a three-story building with a balcony, built in 1888 near the town plaza as a successor to the Roberts Hotel, which burned down. It had 80 rooms and late 19th-century rates of $2 a day and $40 a month, ready to serve visitors during the railroad era who arrived at Suisun City's train station.

'At one time, they had a fine, fancy restaurant there,' Colla said.

Local citizens also came to the Arlington for big happenings, such as a December 1902 telephone hookup with Potrero Hills ranches 12 miles away. The gap got bridged partly by using barbed wire fences for phone lines.

It worked. Joseph Hoyt of the Hasting Ranch said 'hello' into his phone and his voice came over loud and clear in the Arlington. Hoyt lost sleep to the new contraption, though, since his city friends talked to him until midnight.

Hotels could be home to some rough sorts. H.F. Webber in May 1905 got arrested on an assault-with-a-deadly weapon charge. He asked Constable Downing if he could go into the Suisun Hotel to change his clothes and Downing agreed to wait on the sidewalk for Webber's promised return. The lawman eventually had to go into the hotel and haul Webber out of the attic.

They could also be lively places, such as the day in 1882 when a boy tried to drive a bull on the town's dirt streets. The animal went into the Roberts Hotel side door, wandered down a hallway and went out the front door.

And hotels could be dangerous. In September 1892, a young man from San Francisco came to the Arlington and got ready for bed.

'Probably his confusion of mind on finding gas in a country hotel accounts for his turning on the gas again after he had turned it out,' the Republican speculated.

He fortunately left the window open because of the warm night. The night clerk smelled the fumes and woke him up in time.

The hotels could even be risque and more than risque. Colla remembers the reputation of the Suisun Hotel.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.