Del Paso Country Club’s history began nearly a century ago

A sign outside the front gates of Del Paso Country Club boasts the club’s 96-year history. Photo by Lance Armstrong

A sign outside the front gates of Del Paso Country Club boasts the club’s 96-year history. Photo by Lance Armstrong

Editor’s note: This is the twelfth part of a series related to the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.

A historic tract map shows the original boundaries of Del Paso Country Club. Marconi Avenue is highlighted at the lower portion of this image. Photo by Lance Armstrong

A historic tract map shows the original boundaries of Del Paso Country Club. Marconi Avenue is highlighted at the lower portion of this image. Photo by Lance Armstrong

As this 12-part series comes to a close, it is quite fitting to include a brief history of the very place that the locally renowned shopping centers and several businesses of the four corners of Watt and El Camino avenues were named after – Del Paso Country Club.
This well-known private country club, which was established in 1916, is located at 3333 Marconi Ave., just east of Town and Country Village.
When the club was founded, the north area was many years away from becoming a developed area, thus the club was constructed in a very rural location.
In selecting the name of the club, the club’s founders honored the history of the property, which had been part of the old Rancho Del Paso Mexican land grant.
The rancho was most renowned as the one-time site of the breeding and training ground of thoroughbred racehorses, the most famous of which was Ben Ali, who won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.
The idea to create a country club in the north area was that of members of the Sacramento Country Club, which was located off J Street, near Tullar Avenue (today’s 48th Street).
Members of this East Sacramento country club, which featured a nine-hole golf course on rented land, saw that the area was changing.
These changes included developers Wright and Kimbrough’s development of the nearby Tract 24.
In 1915, while standing with a group of people near the present day grounds of Del Paso Country Club, land developer Orlando A. Robertson, in referring to the site, declared, “This is it.”

A sign outside the front gates of Del Paso Country Club boasts the club’s 96-year history. Photo by Lance Armstrong

A sign outside the front gates of Del Paso Country Club boasts the club’s 96-year history. Photo by Lance Armstrong

The group included Harry S. Wanzer, Fred Peck, Lauren Stuart “Stu” Upson and Steve Day.
Unfortunately for the group, a crop of grain made it difficult to see the boundaries of the property, so the group reconvened to observe the land a month later, after the crop was removed.
With the 148.3-acre site meeting the approval of the group, the property was purchased for $22,253.80. The club increased its size with its $20,000 purchase of a 1.4-acre addition 31 years later.
With arrangements made to develop the property, a Bay Area man named John Black was called to the site due to his expertise in laying out golf courses.
The nine men behind the founding of Del Paso Country Club were Wanzer, Peck, Day, Upson, Clinton Harber, James C. Carly, Harold J. Furley, William Murcell and Rudolph A. Herold.
Upson served as the club’s first president, Carly as vice president and Peck as secretary and treasurer.
Additionally, Edward Olden and his wife were the club’s first managers.
On Feb. 5, 1916, The Sacramento Bee ran an article with the headline, “Club to have fine new home.”
The article noted that the construction of the club, which would include an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse and bowling, tennis and swimming facilities, would begin at the end of the winter weather.
The Bee also reported that these amenities, as well as landscaping and roads, would be completed at a cost of about $75,000.
Articles of incorporation for the country club were signed in January 1916.
To assist in the club’s membership campaign, which was launched on Feb. 7, 1916, a dance and dinner was held at Hotel Sacramento at 10th and K streets just eight days after the campaign began.
After much hard work and deliberation, the club was finally prepared for its Sept. 2, 1916 opening.
The Sacramento Union reported on this grand afternoon and evening gathering, which included an orchestra performance and dancing on the tennis courts.

A golfer eyes his target at Del Paso Country Club in this 1939 photograph. Photo courtesy of Del Paso Country Club

A golfer eyes his target at Del Paso Country Club in this 1939 photograph. Photo courtesy of Del Paso Country Club

Although the club’s grounds had not been completed in their entirety, The Union noted that Sacramento could nonetheless boast a country club that could “hold its own for situation and accommodation with any (country club) in cities of similar sizes.”
The club’s living room was described by The Union as having colorful Oriental rugs, massive oak tables and luxurious couches and chairs.
Also located at the club were a kitchen, a dining room, a billiards room, a men’s lounging room and a ladies’ card room.
The club, which also included a skeet shooting range during its earlier years, hired its first golf professional, Scotland native Jim Smith, in 1916.
Three years later, Bill Selkirk was hired to replace Smith. And Selkirk continued in that role until 1924, when the club hired another golf professional, Bob Clark.
During Selkirk’s time at the club, grass was planted on the fairways and greens.
The club acquired one of its most notable golf professionals, Frank Minch, Sr., in 1925. He remained with the club for the following 40 years, during which time he became one of the state’s leading golf professionals.
Another early highlight of the club was its first golf tournament, which was held on Sept. 17, 1916.
A decade later, Joe Turnesa won the first Sacramento Open Championship, which was held at Del Paso Country Club.
Many local and national championship tournaments have been played at the club throughout its history.
To date, the club has hosted four U.S. Golf Association tournaments – the 1957 and 1976 U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championships, the 1960 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur Championship and the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
And with about a $10 million redesign and renovation of its world-renowned golf course in 2005 and 2006, the club earned the privilege of hosting the U.S. Senior Open from June 22-28, 2015.
The club also hosted the “Swing at Cancer” Celebrity Pro-Am, a one-day tournament that was founded by Bob Hurst and held from 1972 to 1997.
The tournament, which raised funds for the American Cancer Society and local cancer projects, featured such renowned participants as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Sam Snead, Hale Irwin and Billy Casper.
Bob Kunz, the club’s general manager/chief operating officer, described “Swing at Cancer” as “certainly the biggest golf charity in Sacramento history and maybe one of the biggest charities in Sacramento history.”
Although those associated with Del Paso Country Club take pride in the various prestigious events that have been held at the club, as well as Del Paso’s position of hosting the 2015 U.S. Senior Open, Kunz emphasized that first and foremost, the club is a social place.
“What (the club) boils down to on a grassroots level is community,” Kunz said. “It’s a reason to get together with your friends. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all around an excuse, if you will, to get together. A club environment; you take the physical plant, a golf course is a golf course. Whether you’re here or at Ancil Hoffman (Golf Course), it’s a golf course. Yeah, it’s a difficult golf course, but it’s a golf course. The restaurant is a restaurant. The difference is the social interaction.”

Rancho del Paso was once the world’s largest thoroughbred horse-breeding farm

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series regarding the historic, 44,374-acre Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant, which included the future site of Arden and part of what would become Carmichael.

In part one of this two-part series, which appeared in the April 28 edition of this publication, readers were presented with details regarding the historic Mexican land grant, Rancho del Paso – “Ranch of the Pass.” And in continuing this historical summary, it is important to emphasize Rancho del Paso’s former fame as a nationally-recognized stock farm.

Firenzi was a multiple national champion who won 47 races and was known as the “Queen of the Turf.” / Photo public domain

Firenzi was a multiple national champion who won 47 races and was known as the “Queen of the Turf.” / Photo public domain

As referenced in the previous article, the Sacramento Record-Union described Rancho del Paso on Feb. 9, 1884 as “second to no other stock farm on the continent.”

As a model stock farm that specialized in the raising of blooded stock, Rancho del Paso featured horses, sheep and cattle.

But of these animals, it was Rancho del Paso’s horses that received the greatest recognition.

But to provide a further indication that the raising of all three of these animals was a serious endeavor, despite the property’s grandest fame for producing many renowned horses, the previously mentioned Record-Union article noted that the upper lands of Rancho del Paso were “used for pasturing purposes, upon which are grazed 20,000 sheep and large herds of cattle and horses.”

In addition to its pasturing property, Rancho del Paso also included areas along the banks of the American River, where grains, hay and hops were grown in rich soil.

The Record-Union article also provides information regarding an area of the rancho, which was known as the “upper place.” The “upper place” was described as being about 9 miles northeast of the city, which at the time did not extend beyond today’s Alhambra Boulevard.

According to the article, a Record-Union reporter visited the “upper place” and observed large barns and corrals, stables, sheep pens and other dwellings.

The reporter noted a well-planned detail: each structure’s purposeful spacing from other structures. This spacing – about 100 yards between each structure – was designed to prevent the rapid spreading of a fire from one dwelling to another dwelling.

The very informative article also provided information regarding the rancho’s water system, which was fairly extensive for the time.

This system was described in the article as follows: “A large steam pump furnishes water to several immense tanks located on different portions of the place, and their water system, so far as quantity and pressure is concerned, is complete and never failing.”

One does not have to look beyond the featured 1884 Record-Union article to encounter a prime example of how Rancho del Paso was synonymous with horse breeding

Photographs of notable Rancho del Paso horses surround a late 19th century scene of the rancho’s horse breeding farm. / Photo public domain

Photographs of notable Rancho del Paso horses surround a late 19th century scene of the rancho’s horse breeding farm. / Photo public domain

and also horse racing, as about three quarters of the lengthy article was dedicated to the rancho’s horses.

But the fact that Rancho del Paso included a first-class, three-quarter-mile horse racing track about a half-mile southwest of the stables is a fairly good indication of how serious the rancho was about its horses.

It is no secret where the idea to breed racehorses at Rancho del Paso came from, since the horses’ owner, multi-millionaire James Ben Ali Haggin (1822-1914), also owned estates in his native Kentucky, where he raised racehorses.

Rancho del Paso, which was once recognized as the site of the largest thoroughbred horse-breeding farm in the world, was a natural place for breeding horses, considering its broad open spaces for pasturing and exercising the animals and the nearby river and creeks for water and the growing of oats and alfalfa.

Climate also played a very important role in Haggin’s thoroughbred breeding farm, as is explained in the 1894 Sacramento Bee souvenir book, “Where California Fruits Grow,” as follows: “Two-year-old colts raised in this county are as far advanced and as well developed as are three-year-old animals outside the state. It has been observed by horsemen that California horses, when the racing season opens in the East, show in much better form and perform comparatively better than Eastern horses. The reason is obvious. The mild winters of California allow of horses being continuously exercised and of being in the open field, while Eastern horses are housed in their stables during the greater part of the season and consequently become stale and weak.”

Rancho del Paso horses recognized in the 1884 Record-Union article included a famous trotter, named Echo, a chestnut horse, named Algona, Kyrle Daly, an imported Irish running stallion, Black Prince, a large, black, English draught horse, and a chestnut filly, named Lina.

Kyrle Daly was still living a decade later, as the horse was referred to in The Bee’s aforementioned souvenir book as “the oldest thoroughbred stallion on the (West) Coast.”

Among Haggin’s most notable horses were Salvator, a chestnut horse who held a mile record of 1:35 ½ and was named the U.S. “Horse of the Year” in 1889 and 1890, Firenzi, a multiple national champion who won 47 races and was known as the “Queen of the Turf,” Africander, who won the Belmont Stakes and was honored as the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse in 1903, and Waterboy, who by 1903 had placed first in six out of eight races and set two records.

But no Rancho del Paso horse has a greater legacy than Ben Ali, who, as mentioned in part one of this article, won the 1886 Kentucky Derby. Haggin named the horse in honor of his maternal grandfather, a Turkish physician, named Ibrahim Ben Ali.

Ben Ali, the horse, who was born in Kenucky and matured at Rancho del Paso, won the 12th running of this famous event with a record time of 2:36 ½.

Haggin achieved much wealth through the continuous sales of his Rancho del Paso-bred horses.

The Aug. 11, 1893 edition of the Record-Union, for instance, notes that Haggin sold 15 of his colts during the year’s season for an average of $3,800 each.

Although most Sacramentans today are unaware of the history of Rancho del Paso and its famous horses, the June 8, 1886 edition of the Record-Union reveals a much different recognition during the late 19th century. Included in this edition are the following words: “All Sacramentans feel an interest and pride in the success of the horses from Rancho del Paso in the East.”

A quarter century after establishing his Rancho del Paso stock farm, Haggin had sold the last of the rancho’s horses.

The Rancho del Paso Land Company, which was incorporated in 1891 with Haggin, Tevis and their wives as stockholders, sold the rancho to the Sacramento Valley Colonization Co. for $1.5 million on Dec. 22, 1910.

Despite the eventual suburban development of the historic Rancho del Paso area, many tributes to the historic land grant, as well as Haggin, remain.

These tributes include: Del Paso Boulevard, Del Paso Country Club, the Ben Ali Shrine fraternal organization, Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, Hagginwood Park, off Marysville Boulevard, Salvator Way and Grant High School and its Pacers mascot.

Furthermore, with the establishment of Cal Expo, an unintentional tribute was made to Haggin’s horses through the opening of the ground’s one-mile horse racing track.

Rancho del Paso included future Arden, Carmichael areas

 

 

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series regarding the historic Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant.

 

Many Arden and Carmichael residents undoubtedly share many similarities, from living in the same county to shopping at the same stores to attending the same community activities. But a little lesser known fact is that a good number of these residents also reside in an area that was once part of a 44,374-acre Mexican land grant.

This portion of a 1915 real estate map points out the location of Rancho del Paso, a historic Mexican land grant, which included what is now recognized as the Arden area and part of present day Carmichael. / Photo courtesy, California State Library

This portion of a 1915 real estate map points out the location of Rancho del Paso, a historic Mexican land grant, which included what is now recognized as the Arden area and part of present day Carmichael. / Photo courtesy, California State Library

Known as Rancho del Paso (“Ranch of the Pass”), this grant was roughly located within the modern boundaries of Northgate Boulevard to the west, the American River to the south, Manzanita Avenue to the east and a little south of Elverta Road in the vicinity of U Street to the north.

In being that Rancho del Paso did not extend to the east beyond the present day Manzanita Avenue and a parallel route from this avenue to the river, the more eastern part of Carmichael lies within the site of another historic Mexican land grant, which was known as Rancho San Juan.

Today, the Rancho del Paso acreage includes such notable sites as Town and Country Village, Del Paso Country Club, Arden Fair Mall, Country Club Plaza, Loehmann’s Plaza and McClellan Field.

The property that became the Rancho del Paso land grant did not appear in recorded history until 1839 with the arrival of Captain John A. Sutter.

Sutter, who held the rights to the Mexican land grant, New Helvetia, where Sutter’s Fort was constructed and the city of Sacramento was later founded, also claimed rights to Rancho del Paso.

Town and Country Village is one of the most notable present day landmarks that are located within the boundaries of the historic Rancho del Paso land grant. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Town and Country Village is one of the most notable present day landmarks that are located within the boundaries of the historic Rancho del Paso land grant. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Four years after acquiring New Helvetia, Sutter deeded Rancho del Paso to Eliab Grimes, Hiram Grimes and John Sinclair as a possible payment for supplies.

Rancho del Paso Historical Society President Bob Kent said that Sutter did not actually own the land that he deeded to these three men.

“John Sutter deeded a big hunk of land to two guys named Grimes and John Sinclair,” Kent said. “Sutter probably owed these men money, because he worked on credit and these were guys who had money. Except Sutter didn’t own the property. Later on, (Sutter) was granted a second grant that went way up into Marysville, called the Sobrante grant. The Sobrante grant came a few months after (John Sinclair and the Grimeses were deeded Rancho del Paso), so (Sutter) may have anticipated that he was going to get the (Sobrante grant) and he decided to give them a hunk of it to settle some credit claims.”

John Sinclair, who was a native of Scotland, settled on the rancho, which was named after a ford in the river, with his wife, Mary, and began raising cattle, sheep and hogs.

The entire Arden area, which includes the popular Arden Fair Mall, is located on the site of the historic Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

The entire Arden area, which includes the popular Arden Fair Mall, is located on the site of the historic Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Kent said that John and Mary Sinclair had children together and resided “down by the pass in the river,” near today’s H Street Bridge.

“(John and Mary Sinclair) had a little family and they had a nice place,” Kent said. “It was reported that their ranch house was of the Eastern style, which means that it was made from lumber.”

Desiring a better title to this land, Eliab, who was a naturalized Mexican citizen, petitioned the Mexican government, which on Dec. 20, 1844 responded by making Rancho del Paso an official Mexican land grant.

According to research by former McClellan Air Force Base historian Raymond Oliver, John Sinclair and Eliab Grimes held rodeos on the ranch on May 29, 1847 and on Nov. 5, 1847.

Eliab passed away at the age of 69 on Nov. 11, 1848 and according to the Nov. 18, 1858 edition of The Sacramento Union, he had willed “all his right, title and interest in the land embraced in the grant” to Hiram, who was his nephew.

Rancho del Paso was sold to Samuel Norris on Aug. 8, 1849, and Hiram later acquired the 19,982-acre Rancho San Juan, which was located on the north side of the American River, opposite the Leidesdorff Rancho. This latter land transfer occurred in July 1860.

Norris, who was born Gotthilf Wilhelm Becher Christensen, in Denmark in 1822, had met the Grimeses and John Sinclair in the Sandwich Islands (present day Hawaii), where they had lived for some time prior to coming to California.

The Placer Times reported on March 9, 1850 that in addition to owning Rancho del Paso, Norris was in the process of establishing his own town, “Norristown.” Founded near his ranch on the south bank of the American River in the area where Sacramento State University is now located, the town, which was renamed Hoboken, functioned in its civic capacity for at least three years.

James Ben Ali Haggin and his brother-in-law Lloyd Tevis became the new owners of the rancho in 1862, and Norris returned to the Sandwich Islands.

This map of Rancho del Paso was printed in 1862, the year that James Ben Ali Haggin and Lloyd Tevis acquired the rancho. / Photo courtesy, California State Library

This map of Rancho del Paso was printed in 1862, the year that James Ben Ali Haggin and Lloyd Tevis acquired the rancho. / Photo courtesy, California State Library

Haggin, who arrived in California from Kentucky at the age of 29 in 1850, was the most renowned owner of the property.

The rancho remained under the ownership of Haggin and Tevis until 1869, when Rancho del Paso was transferred to the Sacramento Farm Homestead Association, whose trustees included former California Gov. Leland Stanford and the well-known banker D.O. Mills. The association had intended to subdivide and sell the property, but this endeavor failed, apparently due to the land’s insufficient number of reliable water wells.

The rancho, which once included Central Pacific Railroad tracks that were part of the first Transcontinental Railroad, was recognized as the site of orchards, vineyards, groves of oaks, and alfalfa, hops and other fields.

But much more notable than the rancho’s agricultural assets were Haggin’s nationally-renowned racehorses, which included his most famous horse, Ben Ali, who won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.

In recognizing Haggin’s stock farm, which also specialized in the raising of sheep and cattle, The Union described Rancho del Paso on Feb. 9, 1884 as “second to no other stock farm on the continent.”

North area’s Radisson Hotel has unique history

In today’s Sacramento, many people recognize the north area’s Radisson Hotel as just another location of this international hotel chain. But for longtime locals whose memories go far enough back to remember the name Hotel El Dorado, they know a much different story.
The Radisson Hotel at 500 Leisure Lane was originally constructed as the Hotel El Dorado. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

The Radisson Hotel at 500 Leisure Lane was originally constructed as the Hotel El Dorado. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

The hotel, which has undergone many changes and remains a very unique place, was constructed in an undeveloped area within the southern boundary of the historic Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant.

Located at 500 Leisure Lane, off Highway 160, the hotel was constructed as the dream of Frank F. Sebastian, who moved to Sacramento in 1938.

Sebastian (1896-1976) was well known in the hotel, club and restaurant industry, having operated the California businesses, Café Sebastian, which was located in Venice and featured French and Italian food, the Cotton Club in Culver City and the Hotel Senator at 12th and L streets, just north of the state Capitol.

Sebastian’s Cotton Club, which was the West Coast branch of the Cotton Club of New York City – there was also a branch in Chicago operated by Ralph Capone – drew big name jazz acts during the late 1920s and early 1930s such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Abe Lyman.

Partnering with George Artz, Walter E. Fazzio and Hal Ellis, Sebastian worked diligently to have the Hotel El Dorado

The Conference Plaza is among the Radisson Hotel’s many accommodations. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

The Conference Plaza is among the Radisson Hotel’s many accommodations. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

constructed on property that was provided by the North Sacramento Land Co.

On the ballot

The Journal, a now-defunct newspaper that was dedicated to covering news related to North Sacramento, did not shy away from promoting the then-future hotel, which needed to meet the approval of the majority of North Sacramento voters in order to be constructed.

In its Aug. 6, 1955 edition, The Journal presented an artist’s rendition of how the hotel would appear, along with a headline, which read, “North Sacramento wants this hotel!”

Whether or not the newspaper was effective in persuading enough of its readers to vote “Yes” on this issue to make a difference in the outcome of a special election, the hotel project nonetheless acquired the necessary number of votes needed to progress forward.

Shown in this vintage advertisement, the Hotel El Dorado, or in this case, the El Dorado Hotel, was presented as a place rich in hospitality. / Photo courtesy, The Lance Armstrong Collection

Shown in this vintage advertisement, the Hotel El Dorado, or in this case, the El Dorado Hotel, was presented as a place rich in hospitality. / Photo courtesy, The Lance Armstrong Collection

After voters went to the polls on Aug. 30, 1955 to cast their votes on the issue of whether the property that the land company made available for the project would be zoned to commercial status in order that the hotel could be built, the votes were counted.

Helping to influence the election’s outcome, prior to the election, members of the city council had gone on record in support of the hotel on the basis that it would increase the city’s annual tax revenues by $40,000.

On Sept. 2, 1955, The Journal reported on its front page that local voters had overwhelmingly approved the hotel’s construction by a final tally of 1208 to 270 and that work would soon begin on the $3 million, “modern, garden-type hotel.”

The election results were especially satisfying for Sebastian, since about a year had elapsed since he began leading the efforts of the Sacramento firm, Highway Hotels, Inc., to have the hotel built near a segment of the local portion of the historic U.S. Route 40.

Following delays in the project, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new hotel was held on Friday, June 28, 1957.

After the ceremony, a banquet was held in which speeches were presented by Sebastian, Artz, who was the secretary of Highway Hotels and the event’s master of ceremonies, State Senator Earl Desmond and Assemblyman Thomas J. McBride.

During his speech, Sebastian said that the Hotel El Dorado would be one of the best garden-style hotels in the nation, and added that he had toured motels of significance in 11 Western states.

Following the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hotel El Dorado, a banquet was held, in which several people gave speeches, including Frank F. Sebastian (center, in black suit). / Photo courtesy, Bob Slobe

Following the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hotel El Dorado, a banquet was held, in which several people gave speeches, including Frank F. Sebastian (center, in black suit). / Photo courtesy, Bob Slobe

Elegant El Dorado

The June 30, 1957 edition of The Sacramento Union provided details regarding the under construction hotel, which would include the following features: 260 rooms, each including a television and a push-button air conditioning and heating unit, a banquet hall to accommodate 1,200 to 1,400 guests, the Café de Oro restaurant with a charcoal broiler, a coffee shop, a four-acre lake, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and parking availability for more than 1,000 automobiles.

The hotel, which was constructed on a 17-acre site, opened in 1958.

In August 1961, construction began on a project that would result in an additional 125 hotel rooms and six private dining rooms that would also be available to be used as meeting places for business firms and organizations.

During its most successful years, the El Dorado, which remained under the continuous direction of Sebastian until late 1964, celebrated its fifth anniversary in May 1963 with a dinner and entertainment by Louis Armstrong and his All-Star Band.

Sinatra, Rolling Stones

North Sacramento Land Co. President Bob Slobe, whose grandmother Myrtle Johnston contributed the land for the hotel during her presidency of the company, said that through Sebastian’s connections and the hotel’s notoriety even after Sebastian’s departure from the hotel, Armstrong was far from the only celebrity to visit the hotel.

“I remember growing up and my grandmother would call, for example, and she would say, ‘Do you want Jimmy Durante’s autograph?’ or she would say, ‘Frank Sinatra’s at the hotel’ or ‘The Rolling Stones are at the hotel,’ or ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful.’ The hotel had this cachet. It was also the largest convention hotel in the region, which it still is today. It had the most resort hotel feeling of any hotel in the region. Its ‘ace in the hole’ during that era was that it was a big hotel and it had the lake and had all that going for it. It felt elegant, I guess you could say.”

With the heyday of the El Dorado in the past, the hotel was experiencing financial difficulties and Sebastian, who married Effie Hashow a year after the El Dorado’s opening, once again resumed leadership of the hotel in November 1968.

Woodlake Inn

In March 1969, Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. of Toronto, Canada acquired ownership of the hotel through a foreclosure.

Two years later, the hotel entered a new era, as it became known as the Woodlake Inn.

Fred C. Sands, a realtor and developer from Los Angeles, purchased the Woodlake Inn for about $11 million following its foreclosure in early 1985 and was soon afterward working on what eventually became a more than $20 million facelift for the hotel.

The project included the construction of a new, 55,000-square-foot convention center, a business center, a 17,000-square-foot ballroom and exhibit showroom, a 200-seat restaurant overlooking the lake, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, a remodeling of all the rooms, a $50,000 fountain in the lake, a new swimming pool and the planting of about 30 palms.

Dick Williams, who was hired by Sands to work on the facelift project, said that an important element of the project was to include the large ballroom.

“My recommendation was, and Fred went along with it, was to have the biggest ballroom in town and probably, except for the convention center, it still is,” Williams said.

Sacramento Radisson

Following several years of negotiations, Sands agreed to have the Woodlake Inn become part of the Radisson chain in August 1988 – an arrangement that became official by early 1989.

A decade later, Sacramento’s Radisson, which has also served as an entertainment venue that has drawn such musical acts as Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, the Isley Brothers and Boz Scaggs, was acquired by PD Hotel Associates, a joint venture of Prudential Real Estate Investors and The Dow Hotel Company.

The hotel, which underwent a $3 million renovation, which was completed in 2001, is presently on the market, and awaiting the next chapter of its very detailed history.

lance@valcomnews.com