Tourism, and the corresponding tourist dollars, have always played a major role in the economy of Southern California.
Especially in the early days, generally prior to World War II, tourism was second only to agriculture as the major revenue generator for cities and counties within the region. In order to provide for the needed tourism, most cities would build large, “modern” hotels with all the amenities well before they built other city buildings, shops, and commercial buildings.
“Tourists” back then were not what we consider them to be today. They were typically well-to-do and looking for a place to visit, enjoy the climate, and perhaps, most importantly, invest some of their money. They would arrive by train and spend weeks or months in the region, traveling around and marveling at the sights. In Riverside, they may have stayed at the Glenwood or the Arlington; in Beaumont, the Hotel Beaumont; in Murrieta, the Fountain House; or even the Hotel Hemet in Hemet.
On March 9, 1917, though, the Hotel Hemet was lost to a major fire. This disrupted the tourism economy at the time in that town, and it would be a while before it recovered.
The Hotel Hemet had started as the Hotel Mayberry in 1894. Named for Edward Mayberry, one of Hemet’s founders, the Hotel Mayberry was a beautiful brick and wood building with 35 guest rooms. It was described as being “supplied with all the modern conveniences usually found in first-class hostelries, including stationary water, baths, etc., and a complete electric light system, the power for which is furnished by the company’s private plant.”
In 1898, the Hotel Mayberry was purchased by another of Hemet’s founders, William Whittier, who subsequently renamed it the Hotel Hemet. As in the case of so many of the large hotels in small towns, the Hotel Hemet had trouble making money. Whittier kept it going, but generally as a break-even or money-losing entity.
The 1917 fire meant that prospective hotel guests had to go to the Palomar Inn in Hemet, a step down in accommodations. Otherwise, they could go to San Jacinto – a prospect that was distasteful to Hemet business owners as San Jacinto would be getting “their” tourist dollars!
As can be imagined, Hemet suffered for lack of modern hotel space for several years. The heirs of William Whittier were reluctant to rebuild a hotel on the site, given the financial issues with the original structure. They were willing to be part of a hotel venture, but not finance the entire entity. That caused some consternation with business owners for a while.
In the end, it took until March 28, 1929, for a new major hotel to open in Hemet. On that date, the Hotel Alessandro opened, having been built on the same site as the Hotel Hemet. This hotel was larger and was designed by Edward Mayberry Jr., the son of the town’s founder and original owner of the Hotel Mayberry.
If you have an idea for a future Back in the Day column about a local historic person, place or event, contact Steve Lech and Kim Jarrell Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.