One of the places I would turn back time to see would be the Ramona Hotel.
Four stories tall, the building covered the block between Higuera and Marsh Streets and fronted Essex St. (Now Johnson Ave.) The Hotel had its own railroad spur, a saloon, ballroom and several drawing rooms.
The Hotel opened October 3, 1888 with a grand ball, men wearing swallow tail coats and diamond studs, women in silk and lace. The party wouldn’t last, just over 17 years later the hotel would lie in ashes around a lone chimney.
The Ramona rose in the aftermath of an 1886 fire that devastated downtown. Destroyed were the Andrews Hotel, Bank of San Luis Obispo, the main livery stable and a number of smaller shops. Investors decided a new luxury hotel was needed and two years after the fire downtown the new hotel opened near the railroad tracks. The gala opening was reported, amid a sea of ads for other hotels, on the lead spot for local news at the time, page 3, of The Tribune. A sign of the importance of the event was the engraving that ran with the article. In this era images with news stories were quite rare.
Investors included the Southern Pacific Railroad who had high hopes of attracting customers to the sparsely populated west coast. Ironically when the railroad conquered Cuesta Grade in 1894 there was less reason for people to stay in town on their travels. This combined with a financial panic and depression hurt profits and the hotel closed the day after Christmas 1894 and did not reopen for 6 months.
Quoting a story by Maggy Stephenson in the Telegram-Tribune May 10, 1947 ,
The Ramona reflected both the architectural indecision of the time, and the veranda-society of pioneer California tourists.
Basically a huge but rather unpretentious clapboard building, eclectic touches were spread on its surface like meringue on a pie.
The steep roof of the Swiss chalet; stringcourses from Italy’s renaissance; half-timber from medieval Nurnberg; chimneys from Tudor England; and little turrets, French or faintly onion-shaped from the Czar’s Russia.
The dining room was 60 by 80 feet with a 24-foot ceiling and a stuffed mountain lion guarded the lobby. Long before the Madonna Inn, cupids adorned the walls of the Ramona. President William McKinley spoke from the balcony during a whistle stop tour of the west coast.
The era ended November 10, 1905 when an 2 a.m. kitchen fire spread. The night clerk ran from room to room rousing the 250 guests. The building was so far from town that no others were destroyed though several were threatened. The building was insured for $18,000.
By this time custom was to report the big news of the day on the front page. Remarkably the morning paper had a brief the morning of the fire on the front with more details to follow the next day. The Morning Tribune concluded with two boosterish sentences.
There is a golden opportunity for some person, or persons to build at once a big hotel in the business section of the city. San Luis Obispo is growing rapidly and such a hotel would pay well.
Taken on the steps of the Ramona Hotel, Nov. 24, 1896. Swiss envoy minister J. B. Pioda visits San Luis Obispo. Front row from left, starting from the young man in gray suit holding hat, Arthur Baur, A. Tognazzini (standing on second step), J. B. Pioda, A Borel (light trousers), G. A. Berton and Henry Brunner. Second row, starting with the two small boys at left, Louis and Arnold Donati, Pio Taminelli (next to boy in dark suit:, Mr. Antognini, publisher of Swiss newspaper, “El-vezia,” and standing with arms akimbo, Sam Donati (light suit); three unidentified men, one of which has light gray suit and white beard; A. Vignier (bearded with sideburns), A. Monotti and George Cavalli. Third row, starting with man with flag, M. Righetti, Mrs. B. Pezzoni, two unidentified men, one slightly behind the other, B. G. Tognazzini, undentified man standing slightly back and looking of to his left, Peter Tognazzini, G. Fanciola, Dante Muscio, J. B. Bonetti, standing with thumb tucked in pants pocket and loking off to his right, Peter Zanoli, Robert Righetti and a Mr. Palmer. The picture was printed in the Centurama edition of the Telegram-Tribune in 1956. The picture was loaned to the paper by Sam Borradori, who also made the identifications after considerable research.