Hospitality has always been a thriving business in Napa County. Providing respectable accommodations for visiting family members, friends and travelers was a priority for Napans. In response to this need, a number of reputable hostelries were established throughout the county, including the Napa Hotel.
Once located on the northeast corner of First and Main streets, the Napa Hotel served visitors for nearly a century. The first Napa Hotel was constructed in 1851 by James Harbin — one of the first few hotels opened in the young town of Napa. From its beginnings, this original Napa Hotel was a popular establishment with both the guests and locals. Being the hot spot, its dining room and grand parlor were constantly booked for various social and civic events and activities.
Although a financial success, the Napa Hotel experienced frequent turnovers in ownership. In 1856, Harbin sold the hostelry to the business partnership of Gilmore and Taylor. Between 1856 and 1860, the thriving inn changed ownership twice — Gilmore and Taylor to Daniel Wheelock to John Hogan. However, it was the last name of the latter, Hogan, that eventually became synonymous with the Napa Hotel.
Hogan gained the rightful reputation of being a genial and gracious proprietor of the downtown accommodations. He continued to validate that reputation until his death in 1877. Although heartbroken over their loss, his family carried on.
His wife, Ellen, assumed the innkeeper’s post and responsibilities. However, she not only efficiently accomplished those tasks, Ellen also gained her own reputation of being the gentile and thoughtful hostess of her highly regarded establishment. As a result, the Napa Hotel continued to be a successful venture for the Hogan family until 1884.
But sadly, their good fortune turned into misfortune during the early morning hours of Nov. 20, 1884. On that fateful day, their night clerk, George Harley, made a terrifying discovery: a fire upstairs. He immediately notified Napa City Watchman Bordon, who in turn promptly sounded the city’s fire alarm, but it was of no use. The small fire, ignited by a malfunctioning oil lamp, quickly turned into an inferno that rapidly consumed the entire building. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
As its rubble smoldered, the Hogans, although devastated by their hotel’s destruction, decided to rebuild. Ellen was determined to be back in business as soon as possible and better than ever. She hired J. Marcuse, an architect, to design the new Napa Hotel. The final plans were of a grand Eastlake style, three-story hotel measuring 80 by 109 feet.
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The project was a great boon for the local construction trades. At Ellen’s insistence, an extra large crew of workmen was hired to expedite the construction of her new hotel. But that gamble paid off for the Hogans. Although rushing the project increased its costs to approximately $18,000, the new Napa Hotel was ready for business by June 1885.
In addition to a new building, the project also included new sidewalks as well as an elevated and covered walkway. Located at the second floor level along the back facade of the building, the walkway connected the hotel to the second floor and backstage entrance of the neighboring Napa Opera House. This new and convenient feature was greatly appreciated by the Opera House performers who were regular Napa Hotel boarders.
With all the latest amenities awaiting the most discerning guests, just one last formality was required before the Napa Hotel could be opened for business — a party. On June 18, 1885, the Hogan family hosted a gala reception to celebrate their hotel’s opening. However, a year later, the Hogans ended their 26-year long association with the business when they sold their Napa Hotel to David A. Dunlap.
With that change in title, the ownership of the Napa Hotel changed frequently. Dunlap, who became Napa County sheriff in 1900, sold the hotel in 1904 to J.J. Flanagan, a local realtor.
Four years later, 1908, A. Dollman and J. Schroeder purchased the Napa Hotel. Most likely, it was during their ownership when the hotel was “modernized” into a unique design hybrid combining bits of its original Eastlake design with the Mission architectural style. Those alterations took place sometime between 1909-1915.
As the decades passed, the Napa Hotel declined in appeal and clientele. By the late 1930s, the Napa Hotel’s demise seemed certain as its owners considered replacing the old hotel with a two-story department store. However, another decade or so passed before the Napa Hotel was razed in 1947 ending the property’s 96-year history as a hotel site.