Downtown Stockton; history comes to life on classy downtown walking tour!

 

Historic B&M Building, between the new Cineplex and Hotel Stockton, is one of downtown's oldest buildings and now home to the Downtown Stockton Alliance and the Visit Stockton organizations.

Tour of Hotel Stockton Lobby is part of the route, with insight offered by Manuel Laguna, tour guide from the Downtown Stockton Alliance.
Kelly Howard of Friends of the Fox gives tour group an in-depth tour of the historic Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre.
Cort Tower was originally the Bank of Italy, then Bank of America Tower.

 

With the discovery of gold in Coloma in 1848, the Sierra foothills faced a surge of immigration like the world had never seen. These 49ers streamed from around the US and the globe, more than quadrupling California’s population in the following 10 years.

Stockton became the port city for the Mother Lode mines, with thousands of miners and their supplies arriving by ship, horse, wagon train and more.  The town that Capt. Weber so meticulously laid out grew in rapid fashion, to become one of the largest cities and downtowns in the state, rivaled in the north only by San Francisco and Sacramento.  Our growing agricultural empire added to Stockton’s early success, as ag suppliers, implement makers, banks and retailers grew to supply the fast-growing regional economy.

Stockton grew and its downtown blossomed with it, becoming one of the state’s most attractive and largest downtown commercial centers, adjoining a bustling port open to the world’s sailing ships. Today, much of that old commercial empire remains, on the waterfront and nearby, as Stockton recreates a new, energetic downtown by building upon its storied history.

Stockton was the first city in California not named in Spanish (named for Capt. Weber’s friend, Commodore Stockton), and was California’s first planned community due to the foresight of Weber. Its growth spurred hotels and theaters, and soon the downtown had a score of each and a lively entertainment district with a host of restaurants and night spots!

Recently, a group of 30 docents from the San Joaquin Historical Society embarked upon an informative and eye-opening walking tour of our historic downtown.  The Downtown Stockton Alliance and Friends of the Fox Theatre provided expert tour guides for the three-hour session that covered about 10 blocks and took in a large part of Stockton’s most historic building stock.

We started at the old B&M building, (Bridenbach and McCormick Building), circa 1865, once the Philadelphia House, then the Hotel de Mexico and other uses.  Sandwiched between the new Cineplex and the old Hotel Stockton, the building is a beauty, now home to both the Visit Stockton and Downtown Stockton Alliance organizations.

The adjacent Hotel Stockton, built in Spanish Mission Revival style, was built over Weber’s Hole (once home to hot water baths before the hotel opened in 1910 as a first class gentleman travelers hotel).  It was fully renovated recently by the city, is now home to downtown apartment dwellers, and the new French 25 Restaurant, a fine place for a respite on your own tour.

Our journey led us east along Weber Avenue, past the Tretheway Building (the former Argonaut Hotel), built in 1892 in Victorian – Romanesque Revival style. This handsome building once had a much taller false front – part of it came down as result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake – and was rebuilt a bit less grandiose!

A block further east, and a half block up Sutter Street is the S. H. Kress building, opened a week after the Fox California Theatre in 1930. A Commercial – Art Deco structure with entrances on both Main and Sutter, it was a welcome addition to the Stockton downtown scene as the nation entered the depression. Refurbished and now home to the Stockton Bar Association, thanks to Cort Companies.  The Kress is next door to the old Elks Building, circa 1908, a handsome Beaux Arts-Classical Revival 5-story building.

Right across the street, the lovely 10 Story Cort Tower was built as the Commercial and Savings Bank in 1915 and enlarged after a fire in 1924. Renovated 25-some years ago by Grupe Company, and further modernized by Dan Cort, it is now one of the more popular office buildings in the downtown area.

Heading back west on Main, one passes Stockton’s first skyscraper, the 8-story Stockton Savings and Loan Society (Bank of Stockton Building), built in 1908.  Diagonally across the intersection is the California Building, opened in 1917 for the new Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank, designed by George Kelham, a prominent San Francisco architect who designed the St. Francis Hotel and the San Francisco Public Library.

Next door is one of our downtown’s showplaces, the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre.  It opened in 1930 with 20,000 people lining up to get a look and to see the movie “Up the River” starring Spencer Tracy. A grand showplace with over 2,000 seats, it was home to musical acts, vaudeville and movies, active until the 1970s – and almost torn down to be replaced by a parking lot. 

The Fox reopened again in the mid-1990s, and 10 years ago, received an $8.5 million restoration by the City of Stockton. A large donation from A. G. Spanos Company allowed Spanos to rename it the Bob Hope Theatre.  We took in a delicious lunch at Cancun Restaurant; consider lunch and libation at places like French 25, Casa Flores, Yaso Yanni or several dozen good downtown stops. 

Our tour of downtown took us to Weber Point and the downtown waterfront, with stunning views of the Deepwater Channel, Stockton Ports Ballpark and Stockton Arena.  Inside Weber Point Event Center, on the southwest corner, you’ll find the footprint outline of Captain Weber’s home on the point named for him, as well as a monument that outlines Weber’s early history as founder of our city.

Stockton emerged from bankruptcy at end of October.  Perhaps heralding a new day, the month of November will see Vince Gill, The Mesmerized Tour, The Thin Man (classic movie), Alice Cooper, six Stockton Thunder hockey games and the Run and Walk Against Hunger come to the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena (see, bringing over 30,000 people downtown.  As in the good old days, they will frequent downtown’s restaurants and night spots, and see glorious sunsets over the Deep Water Channel.

Contact the Downtown Stockton Alliance and Friends of the Fox Theatre for your own special tour that brings history to life!

What to take: Good walking shoes, camera and binoculars!

Where to park: The Stewart-Eberhardt Parking Garage is just south of Weber, and can be entered from either Center or El Dorado Streets.  From there, it’s just a block walk to the Hotel Stockton and the B&M Building.

More info: For a downtown Stockton historic walking tour, contact the Downtown Stockton Alliance, www.downtownstockton.org, Manuel Laguna, mlaguna@downtownstockton.org, 209.464.5246; for a tour of the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, contact Friends of the Fox Theatre, Kelly Howard, Kelly_howard@comcast.net, 209.858.9114.

Next week, we’re off to Vienna, Austria for a European river cruise, and will bring you a two part feature on cruising old Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, on a budget!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/valleytravel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in the west!

 

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