Hotel Petaluma History

Built in 1923 and officially opened April 22, 1924, Hotel Petaluma has welcomed visitors for almost a century. Hotel Petaluma is the second hotel built on the site where it stands. In the mid-1860s, the small Brooklyn Hotel was the first to claim home to the site.

By the end of the 19th century, Petaluma had become America’s largest center for chicken and egg production, thanks largely to the development of the incubator. Population nearly doubled between 1900-1920, reaching over 6,000 people, and demand for transportation to San Francisco and other cities grew. Early guests took the ferry, railway, and a limited few in automobiles, from San Francisco to enjoy the hotel’s accommodations, dance bands, lavish dinners, and the popular Redwood Room. Henry Barker, was the first to lease the hotel and spared nothing on the building and furnishing of Hotel Petaluma.

Hotel Petaluma Retro Photograph
Hotel Petaluma

To this day, that beauty, grandeur, and history remain intact from the beautiful entranceway to the original pull-door elevator, the first passenger elevator in Petaluma. Originally the hotel was designed to be a four story building with 96 guest rooms but a 5th floor was added before construction was complete to provide lodging for the hotel employees. The elegant dining hall where formal dinners were held, is still available as a banquet facility for wedding receptions, meetings, and parties for any occasion.

“Made possible through the cooperative effort of eight hundred and fifty five men and women of Petaluma. Its friendly doors welcome the stranger and under its hospitable roof the friends of Petaluma find always only goodwill. It stands as evidence and proof of the faith which the people of Petaluma have in each other and in their city.”

These words are engraved on a bronze placard that welcomes guests upon their arrival: Built in 1923, Hotel Petaluma truly was a hotel ‘by the people for the people’. Resident shareholders pooled together $250,000 out of the total $350,000 costs for building Petaluma’s first and foremost hostelry. Five stories of concrete and steel with over 100 rooms and a front entrance that was never locked, Hotel Petaluma quickly became a veritable stanchion in the community for social activities, events, club gatherings and civic meetings.

During the California Gold Rush, East Coasters flocked to the area. Many stayed and settled along the Petaluma River for its fertile valley floor, establishing farms that developed into large-sized commercial grain milling industries, dairy farms, and egg processing plants. Petaluma expanded even more after the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when citizens moved north in exodus to land that was relatively untouched by the quake.

Until the construction of highway 101, the Petaluma River was the main thoroughfare for river commerce; it was a primary channel for raw materials and produce from northern counties going into San Francisco. Relics of Petaluma’s grain milling and egg production are a stone’s throw from Hotel Petaluma even today!

A small crew of progressive San Francisco architects were contracted by the primary shareholders and blueprints were drafted for a replacement to the town’s predecessor, The Brooklyn, a small, run down hotel occupying the same corner of Washington and Kentucky streets that was lost to a fire. The new hotel, with its Art Deco interior and spacious mezzanine, was erected as a showcase for elite visitors, as a stage for social events, and as an open door for the wider community. In its adolescence, Hotel Petaluma offered long and short term rental agreements which attracted traveling salesmen and workers as Petaluma had become a popular pit-stop for visitors and travelers.

During the 1960s, the Elks Lodge took ownership and designated Hotel Petaluma as their headquarters. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Hotel Petaluma changed hands several times while continuously maintaining their friendly doors policy as emblazoned on the bronze marker that is today, nearly a century old. Completely renovated to harken back to elements of its glory years when cubism and flappers reigned, Hotel Petaluma still maintains its vibrant history within the iron front walls.