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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: California House

Historians have called Spokane's California House, built in 1878, the city's first hotel. The building was destroyed in Spokane's great fire in 1889.

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Image One Digital Archives | Washington State Archives
Image Two Jesse Tinsley | The Spokesman-Review

Then and Now: California House

In 1874, city founder James Glover took over the land around Spokane Falls and began platting the city streets. There were only a handful of families in the city and lodgings for new arrivals were scarce.

Arriving in early 1878, William C. Gray and wife Clara, who came from California, paid $200 for a building site at Howard Street and Front Avenue, which is now called Spokane Falls Boulevard. The Grays spent their first nights in Spokane at the Western House, a boardinghouse for miners and cowboys that had opened in 1877. While building their own hotel, the Grays stayed at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Post, another pioneer family.

The Grays’ California House hotel, a two-story, wood-framed building, opened with a festive party on Thanksgiving Day in 1878.

The second floor of the lodging was called the Corral, where single men could pay 50 cents to sleep on buffalo hides on the floor.

The hotel was a hit. Writer Bob Emahiser, in a historical article in the Spokane Chronicle in 1964, wrote, “Almost every person of consequence who visited Spokane Falls, to say nothing of the men and women who helped build the city, registered at the California House.”

He continued, “The dining room was a civic and social club. Gray administered judiciously as host to Indians and bad men as well as military officials, railroad executives, mining men and others and boasted that there was never a gunfight in the place. Gracious Mrs. Gray changed from calico to silk as occasion demanded and was truly regarded as one of the great ladies of the bustling community.”

When news broke about gold being discovered in Murray, Idaho, a flood of would-be miners crowded into Spokane on their way to the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and every room was full for many months.

The popularity prompted the Grays to add a third story to the building, making it the largest wood-framed structure in the city at the time.

A short time later, the roof burned in May of 1887, probably caused by a chimney defect. They rebuilt the hotel, named it the Windsor Hotel, and leased it to new operators. The Grays then moved to a farm north of the city.

The Windsor House was completely consumed in the city’s great fire of August 1889.

In 1894, the new Spokane City Hall was erected on the site.

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