Ghosts of downtown Stockton add Halloween spice to the city’s storied history!

Ghosts of downtown Stockton add Halloween spice to the city’s storied history!

Spooky… Music and the sound of party-goers from the old Hotel Stockton ballroom – but no one there. Footsteps and an apparition of a pioneer woman in the hallways of the old Philadelphia House, again no one around. Ghosts and swaying chandeliers in the old Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre.

At left, tour guides Laguna, Jr. and Howard stand next to Lydia, the apparition in the veiled outfit, as they address Ghostbuster's group outide Hotel Stockton.

A crowd of 60+ Ghostbusters met Downtown Stockton Alliance’s Manuel Laguna, Jr. and Friends of the Fox Theatre’s Kelly Howard outside the majestic Hotel Stockton on Sunday for the first downtown Stockton Ghost Tour. Laguna and Howard would lead the tour goers on the combination historical and ghost-story walking tour of some of Stockton’s most venerable buildings.

With the discovery of gold in Coloma in 1848, 49ers streamed from around the US and the world, 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 Captain Weber so meticulously laid out grew in rapid fashion, to become one of the largest cities and downtowns in the north state, rivaled only by San Francisco and Sacramento.  Our growing agricultural empire added to Stockton’s early success, as suppliers, implement makers, banks and retailers grew to supply the fast-growing regional economy.

Ghostbuster's tour group inside Hotel Stockton lobby listens as tour guide Howard shares ghostly stories about the hotel.

Stockton grew and its downtown blossomed with it, becoming one of the state’s most attractive and largest downtown commercial centers, adjoining a bustling world-class port. Stockton’s 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!

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. And, the old downtown reportedly spawned numerous ghosts.

On their trail, our tour group moved into the Hotel Stockton lobby, built in 1910; the grand, business-men’s hotel would help speed Stockton’s rise to one of the top cities in the state of California. The two guides shared stories about ghosts within the hotel.  Laguna noted that current residents of the hotel often claim they “hear footsteps in fourth floor hallways and often hear music playing and sounds of partiers emanating from the old sixth floor ballroom, but find no one there”.

Howard noted “on the third floor, guests frequently feel unexplained cold spots”. He added that “modern-day Ghostbusters use equipment such as audio recorders set to record in the dark of night, cameras in full spectrum or infrared mode to capture apparitions, camcorders set up with motion detectors – all to catch evidence of ghosts from yesteryear”.

Bank of Stockton building, corner of San Joaquin and Main, once housed the venerable Yosemite Club, home to its own resident ghost population!

Members of the tour group then shared their own personal stories of ghosts in their homes and places of business.  I shared the story that Ed Coy, then head of the City’s Central Parking District, once told of ghosts said to inhabit the storied Yosemite Club, housed for well over 100 years on the 4th and 5th floors of the historic Bank of Stockton building. The oldest private club west of the Mississippi once boasted members including Benjamin Holt, Sheriff Robert Cunningham, flour magnate George Sperry and many more heads of Stockton.  Declining membership forced its closure in 2010.

The tour then moved north across the alley to the B & M Building, built as the Philadelphia House in the late 1860s. Laguna related, “former Parole Department workers reported the feeling that someone was behind them, items were moving, phantom smells of perfume and cigar smoke lingered, piano music and the sound of someone walking wafted down from the third floor – when the floor was vacant. Many also saw a woman that they lovingly nicknamed Lydia; she’s been seen by quite a few people through the years, including an Alliance employee”.

Tour group eyes the ornate Tretheway Building facade, which crashed to the sidewalk during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Just east of the hotel on Weber Avenue is the old Mansion House and the ornate Tretheway Building. In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake caused the huge façade of the Tretheway to tumble to the sidewalk – it’s rumored that some of the ghosts of the 700 killed in San Francisco carry a special place for this building in their hearts.

Kitty-corner from the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre is the historic Bank of Stockton building, where stories abound of the ghosts that inhabit the former Yosemite Club. Howard relates, “a culinary school that currently occupies part of the building reports swaying light fixtures, attributed to the club’s ghosts”.

Ghostbuster's group gets the low-down on the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre's resident ghostly tenants.

Following the showing of the classic film Phantom of the Opera, Howard led the Ghostbusters on a tour of the old vaudeville and movie house. The Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre opened in 1930; thousands lined up to get a look and to see the movie “Up the River” starring Spencer Tracy. A grand showplace with over 2,100 seats, it was home to musical acts, vaudeville and movies, active until the 1970s, when nearly torn down to be replaced by a parking lot.

The Fox California Theatre reopened again in the mid-1990s and 12 years ago received an $8.5 million restoration by the City of Stockton. Howard told tour-goers of numerous ghostly sightings and presence of apparitions in the theatre, confirmed by custodians, projectionists and other staff members, as well as theatre-goers.

Your downtown tour can also include a visit to nearby Weber Point, where you’ll find the footprint outline of Captain Weber’s stately home; some say that Weber’s family’s ghosts still haunt the Point!

An 1890 4th of July parade, along Weber Avenue, with the Capital Hotel/Mansion House and the Tretheway Building - 20 years before the opening of the Hotel Stockton!

More info: For future downtown Stockton historic walking tours, contact the Downtown Stockton Alliance, www.downtownstockton.org (the Alliance offers a booklet for self-guided walking tours), or contact Manuel Laguna, mlaguna@downtownstockton.org, 209.464.5246; Tours of the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre follow each monthly classic movie (next film, the Newman/Redford hit, ‘The Sting’, is Sunday, November 20, 2 PM), contact Friends of the Fox, 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 the west!

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