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Mace’s Hotel was dead before it burned

Madera County Historical Society

Mace’s Hotel is shown here circa 1890 in the lower left. it was located on the corner of Yosemite Avenue and E Street, as pictured here looking east.


Anyone who has a heart for the history of Madera was stunned by the destruction of the old Yosemite Hotel by fire last week. It had been standing since 1887 and marked the birthplace of Madera.

It was on that corner of E Street and Yosemite Avenue that Captain Russel Perry Mace purchased the first lot in what was to become the city of Madera in 1876. He built a two-story frame structure and called it Mace’s Yosemite Hotel. It stayed that way until fire destroyed it in 1886.

Always the optimist, Mace rebuilt his hotel, but this time he used brick. The Yosemite Hotel reopened on Christmas Day, 1886. In 1891, he expanded the building. Salesmen now had space to display their wares in rooms rented for that purpose, and over the years, one gala event after another took place in Mace’s hotel. According to one account, 150 guests were once served dinner in the expansive dining room. Many of the hotel employees were hired from San Francisco.

The Captain ran the hotel until his death in 1894, at which time his family took the reins of operation. They ran it until 1934, when Judge William Conley bought the business. He operated the hotel until 1945 when William Brammer purchased the building. He remodeled the structure, which then included 14 apartments and 20 rooms upstairs.

For the next two decades the Yosemite Hotel limped along, but then the inevitable happened. The old landmark hotel turned into a pink elephant on Yosemite Avenue and ceased to turn a profit. On April 8, 1968, Brammer closed the hotel doors permanently. This allowed McMahan’s, the first-floor tenants who operated a furniture store, to make some renovations of their own.

So, although the physical remains of Madera’s beginnings came down in 2019, it lost its soul in 1968. All that remained of Madera’s first business was an old piano, a couple of paintings, and several old ledgers that contained the real history of the Mace Hotel.

In scanning the pages of one of those old hotel registers, one finds the names of visitors from all over the world who spent the night before catching the stage the next morning for the Yosemite Valley. These included tourists from Bombay, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, New Zealand, Liverpool, Glasgow, Germany, Paris, Chile, Tasmania, and Jerusalem.

Presumably these world travelers were pleased with their visit to Yosemite. There was one guest, however, who entered the following in the hotel register: “Back from the Yosemite. Enchanted with the view but disgusted with the dust — Dr. J. G. Baldwin of New York

Just as impressive as the places from which visitors to the hotel hailed, are the names of some of the guests. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, President Rutherford B. Hayes, and explorer John C. Fremont signed the register, as did the following local celebrities: Tom Hildreth, who added, “drunk as hell" to his signature; Brock Thurman, one of the first Yosemite stage drivers; Dick Hawke, early day miner from Enterprise precinct; Arch McDonald, from Fresno Flats and later justice of the peace in Madera; Charles Strivens, from Whiskey Creek — He once operated the Sycamore Landing ferry where the Southern Pacific Railroad now crosses the San Joaquin River at Herndon; Sam Comstock, one of the owners of the California Lumber Company; W.B. Taylor, an early-day stock raiser from Fresno Flats; John E. Tozer, foreman with the lumber company; H.C. Daulton, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors; W.R. Hampton, founder of the village of Hamptonville, which became Friant; Jake Myer, a member of the first Madera County Board of Supervisors; John S. Scanland, early-day teamster from Fresno Flats; Agie Daulton, later Mrs. William King Heiskell; Return Roberts, manager of the Sugar Pine lumber company and later a Madera banker; Albert Phelp, early-day hotel man from Fresno Flats; John Krohn, one of the founders of Coarse-gold; E. J. Leonard, Madera County recorder and businessman; A.M. Acton, Enterprise Mine; and Thomas Jones, well-known freighter.

Well, it’s all gone now, no matter when one marks the end of Mace’s Yosemite Hotel — 2019 or 1968. The sight and sound of the Mace brothers looking for $20 gold pieces that had fallen through the cracks of the wooden sidewalk in front of the hotel are gone. The political speeches during the Democratic Party’s meetings in the hotel lobby have long ago faded away as have the yells of the stage drivers as they coaxed their horses up Yosemite Avenue on their way to Yosemite Valley.

They are all gone, but none are forgotten, and some high school historians are going to prove it. Stay tuned for the next part in the saga of the history of Mace’s Yosemite Hotel.

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