The California House – 1878

Architect/Builder: William C. and Clara Gray

The California House ushered in an era of hotels for the city of Spokane Falls. (Photograph courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives)

In early Spokane the accommodations were slim when one arrived within city limits.  In the 1870s, there were two options – the Western and the California House.  William C. Gray purchased the land for the hotel the first morning after his arrival for $200.  Opening on Thanksgiving Day 1878, the hotel boasted eight rooms, a dining room, cooking facilities, and an area called “The Corral.”  Originally on the second floor until the need to expand became dire in 1889, “The Corral” was a space with several double beds that allowed men to bunk with each other should the regular rooms be full.  Frontier Spokane hotels were places of necessity, not luxury during this time. 

The California House went through some changes throughout the years.  In 1881, the hotel received a new 1,800 pound safe.  In 1883, a new guest desk was added.  The hotel continued to grow larger until 1888, when it had 102 rooms.  In one of the commercial spaces of the California House, John Bryson Parker, Spokane’s first African American barbershop owner, opened his doors in 1885.  That same year, telephones and electric lights were brought into the hotel, although the telephones would not go into operation until 1887.  One could get board (three meals daily) for $4.50 per week, room and board from $5.50 to $6.50 per week, or a two to three room house for $10 to $13 per week.  The hotel also provided some amenities for an extra charge – flour was $2 per hundred pounds, lamp oil was $2 per five gallon can, and you could purchase 14 bread tickets for $1.

During the hotel’s early days, Mrs. Gray was supposedly such a terrible cook that Mrs. Glover and neighbors came together to teach her how to bake bread. (Photograph courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives)

The California House became the meeting place for the citizens of Spokane.  Mr. Gray was one of the first members of city council and Mrs. Gray was the center of the social scene.  The bar, billiards area, and dining room served as gathering places for everything from club meetings to large parties.  Mr. Gray was always a gracious host, showing a good time to Indians, military officials, railroad executives, mining men, and even those who worked in more dubious occupations.  Mr. Gray often boasted that there was never a gunfight in his place.  The hotel did change ownership and undergo one final renovation and name change (it became the Windsor Hotel) before perishing in the Great Fire in 1889.

Find Me! NE Corner of Front and Howard

The next type of hotel built in Spokane are the SROs.  View the SROs here.

Sources: “Picture of Spokane, Recently Brought to Light, Proves Oldest of City Extant.” The Spokane Press. May 1, 1910.

Gaston, Herbert. “Failure of a Little Deal with Gray Forced Wealth on General Merriam.” The Spokane Press. June 29, 1914.

“A Spokane Hotel That Perished in the Big Fire.” The Spokane Press. June 29, 1914. 

Loutzenhiser, Richard and Floss. “Spokane’s Early Day Hotel.” Spokesman-Review. March 22, 1953.

Jansen, Elizabeth C. “Spokane’s First Hotels.” Spokesman-Review. October 10, 1959.

Emahiser, Bob. “Upstairs ‘Corral’ Was a Big Hotel Attraction.” Spokane Daily Chronicle. July 23, 1964.