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

Sometimes your most interesting travel destination can exist right in your backyard. This Sunday, valley residents have the opportunity to take a free downtown Stockton historic walking tour (details below), wrapped around the classic movie “The African Queen”, showing at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre. Following the movie, take an “insider tour” of the old movie house.

1890's Stockton 4th of July Parade on Weber Ave. shows the Capitol Hotel (now the Mansion House) and Tretheway Buildings on right.

Gold was discovered in Coloma in 1848 and the Sierra foothills experienced a surge of immigration unlike the world had ever seen. These “49ers” streamed from around the country and the globe, quadrupling California’s population in the following 10 years.

Stockton became the port of entry for the Mother Lode mines, with thousands of miners and their supplies arriving by ship, horse and wagon train.  The town that Captain Weber so meticulously laid out in the 1840s grew rapidly, to become one of the largest cities and downtowns in the state, rivaled in the north only by San Francisco and Sacramento.

Stockton, center of a growing agricultural empire, swelled as ag suppliers, implement makers, banks and retailers expanded; its downtown blossomed, becoming one of the state’s most attractive and largest downtown commercial centers, adjoining a bustling port open to the world’s sailing ships.

Stockton in 1930s, looking west past Courthouse dome, Hotel Stockton and up the Deepwater Channel.

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. It was one of the first in the West to use natural gas for heat and lights and one of the first to incorporate electric trollies, which traveled north and south direct to downtown, location of most of the jobs. 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!

Downtown Alliance Guide Manuel Laguna shares Hotel Stockton lobby and historic insight with group from Stockton Beautiful.

We began a pleasant recent walking tour (similar to what Sunday guests will experience) at the B&M Building, (Bridenbach and McCormick), circa 1865, once the Philadelphia House, then the Hotel de Mexico.  Sandwiched between the downtown Cineplex and the old Hotel Stockton, the building is a beauty, now home to both the Visit Stockton and Downtown Stockton Alliance organizations.

Just 30 feet south, we walked through the Hotel Stockton; built in Spanish Mission Revival style, it was built over Weber’s Hole (once home to hot water baths before the hotel opened in 1910 as a first class travelers’ hotel).  It was renovated in 2005 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.

Laguna shares story of the Tretheway Building; a portion of its ornate facade crashed to the sidewalk in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake!

From the Hotel Stockton, we toured east on Weber to the Mansion House, built in 1873, now with apartments above and shops like Casa Flores and Ulmer Photography at street level. Next-door, the Tretheway Building (the former Argonaut Hotel) was built in 1892 in Victorian – Romanesque Revival style. This handsome building once had a much taller false front – until part of it came crashing down in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake!

We turned south on San Joaquin, passing the new County Administration Building, designed to fit into downtown’s historic fabric.  Next door, the Bank of Stockton, built in 1908, was Stockton’s first skyscraper, offering a new invention – elevators servicing its seven towering floors.

A block east is the grand 10-story Cort Tower, opened 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.

Diagonally across from the Bank of Stockton 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.

Fox/Bob Hope Theatre guide Kelly Howard leads an "insiders tour" of the venerable 1930's theatre.

Our tour then took in the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, opened in 1930; 20,000 people lined 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 nearly torn down to be replaced by a parking lot.

The Fox reopened again in the mid-1990s, and 11 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.

A downtown tour can also include a visit to Weber Point, where 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.

What to take: Good walking shoes, camera!

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 Sunday’s tour, RSVP to 209-470-8923 and plan to meet at the Hotel Stockton’s south entrance on Weber Avenue at Noon.  The tour will reach the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre around 1:00 PM for the Stockton Portsmen Barbershop Chorus; at 1:30, the organ concert begins and the movie follows; the “insider tour” of the Fox Theatre will begin right after the movie, about 4 PM.  The two tours are free, while the classic African Queen, starting at 2 PM, is $8 for adults, $4 for kids and students.

The 1908 Bank of Stockton Building was the city's first skyscraper, offering elevator access to its towering seven stories!

For future downtown Stockton historic walking tours, 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, Kellyhoward23@gmail.com, 209.858.9114.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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