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Howard Hot Springs' History: Part 5

Monday, 14 February 2011 13:49
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Part 5: 1909-1910 - the Laymance Years

In 1909 geologist Gerald A. Waring conducted a comprehensive inventory of California’s springs.  By then the resort included bathhouses over the springs, the hotel now with the east wing added on a concrete foundation, the hotel annex, “four or five small cottages,” and a barn and stockyard to the east in what would become the east side of Big Canyon Road.  The 1909 telephone directory lists Howard Springs as a toll station linked to the main exchange in Lakeport.  Waring mentions that some of the Howard Springs water had been bottled for sale “several years prior to 1909.”  The specific waters bottled were from the Lithia, Eureka, and Bohemian springs, as they were called.  Mauldin reiterates parts of “Antique Bottles of Lake County” by Helen Rickabaugh, describing a pale aqua-color bottle from Howard Springs that was embossed with the word “Lythia” or “Lythium,” “thought to be the great cure-all...even if you’d have to drink a bathtubful to get a measurable amount.”  The curative properties were so emphasized that Dr. F.C.S. Sanders of Cambridge University would say that “from a purely medicinal point of view [Howard Springs] is one of the most valuable springs in the State.”

The legal record of ownership and management of Howard Springs during the Laymance years is complicated, as might be expected of absentee owners from a big-city family real estate firm. In 1909 Howard Springs Company sold the resort to C.M. Miller -- likely a business associate.  Miller turned around two months later and sold the property back to J.W. Laymance, though the sale wasn’t recorded for another three years, on March 18, 1912.  It wasn’t soon enough to exclude Miller from the list of defendants in an October 12, 1912, lawsuit brought against him and J. Walter Laymance et al. by Kate King, the widow of Charles H. King.  King was a fellow Oakland businessman who must have died in 1910 or 1911.  An October 28, 1912, affidavit indicates that Miller and the Laymances had an overdue mortgage with King totaling -- with fees, taxes, and interest -- $11,460.  Lake County duly sold Howard Springs at auction for $11,880.26 to J.H. King, recorded December 22, 1913, who that same day sold it back to M.J. Laymance and William J. Laymance.

The Laymances added two elements to the management of Howard Springs: leasing directly to operators (though earlier Philip Seiben had a lessee for one year), and advertising on postcards.  Their advertisement in Husted’s 1908 Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda directory lists “Miss C. Wheeler” as proprietor and J.W. Wheeler as manager.  The Laymances advertisement in the 1907 directory doesn’t list the Wheelers, and The Lake County Bee of December 1, 1910, reports J. Walter Laymance at the resort to make improvements between lessees, so the Wheelers must have managed only for the 1907 and 1908 seasons.  R.J. Yates (identified as a 14-year old child in the 1870 Lower Lake census) was leasing and operating the resort by 1912 -- he took out an advertisement in the May 2, 1912 San Francisco Examiner, and a postcard in the collection of Irl Rickabaugh, postmarked 1912, shows people gathered on the lodge veranda around a sign identifying Yates as proprietor.  Yates was also described as lessee and operator in 1915; in 1920 the California State Mineralogist identified Charles E. Stark as the lessee.

In addition to advertising in the Oakland telephone book and on cartoon fliers, J.W. Laymance enlisted the photo-advertising skills of San Francisco’s Edward H. Mitchell Company, which specialized in turning clients’ photographs into commercial postcards.  Mitchell’s postcards and other photographs made available in this research form a sample of about 28 images belonging to the period between 1907 and the fire 15 or so years later that destroyed most of the resort’s buildings.  Aside from Waring’s 1909 photograph, only four photographs from this period are dated -- by postmarks, which post-date the image.  Two others identify Miss C. Wheeler as proprietress, dating the views to between 1908 and 1909, and in both views a number of buildings appear.

The Laymance enterprise at Howard Springs was a well-developed complex with two large lodge buildings, cabins, baths, tent platforms, and a stable.  The lodge and lodge annex appear to have shiplap siding, while the bath houses and cabins sported both shiplap and board-and-batten siding.  Roofs were protected with wood shingles.  Most of the porches were roofed and had railings.  The lithium springs sported a quaint gazebo.  Rows of plain canvas wall tents and sometimes larger striped hipped-roof tents were erected for guests on platforms where Cabins 6-9 and Cabins 27 and 28 now stand.  A well-manicured croquet court was maintained as part of the recreational facilities.  Postcards show a long shaded arbor leading from the hotel to the bathhouses.

New development by Laymance was forecast for the winter of 1910-11, according to a news item in the December 1, 1910, edition of The Lake County Bee.  But photographs reveal little resort evolution.  The borax spring bathhouse was replaced, and some landscaping took place.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 10:12

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