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Howard Hot Springs' History: Part 6

Monday, 14 February 2011 13:50
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Part 6: 1921 -1929 - The Fire

On May 11, 1921, after at least 15 years of Laymance family ownership, M.J. and William J. Laymance sold Howard Springs to Harold W. Jewett.  The 1921 Oakland City Directory, not surprisingly, identifies H.W. Jewett as Secretary-Treasurer of the Laymance Oil Company.  The 1920 and 1930 censuses for Alameda County identify him as a real estate broker.  His wife was Millard J. and Mary Louise Laymance’s third child, Grace Mildred.  So it could be said that the Laymance family ownership of Howard Springs carried beyond 1921.

But probably not long after Harold W. Jewett took possession of the resort, the property passed out of his hands.  The end of the extended Laymance family’s interest in Howard Springs is as cloudy as the beginning, as no sale from Jewett to a subsequent owner turned up in legal documents. The Report of the State Mineralogist for 1929 gives the owner of Howard Springs as Mary Claney, “c/o G.J. Hatfield” of San Francisco, with J.P. Francisco operating the resort.  Jesse P. Francisco (know legally and publicly as J.P. Francisco except for one mention in a December 15, 1926, Lake County Bee article titled “Resort Owners Seek New Road to Lower Lake”), took out a Howard Springs advertisement in the Middletown Times Star as early as July 26, 1926; a 1928 pamphlet in the possession of Irl Rickabaugh titled “Redwood Empire” as well as advertisements scattered in Lake County newspapers indicate that he operated the resort until his 1945 sale to the Pappas brothers.

No records yet prove it, but H.W. Jewett may have sold the 160-acre resort to Mary I. Clancy, who in turn sold it to George J. Hatfield in two parcels and two transactions while the Franciscos were already operating the resort.  On October 26, 1929, Clancy sold the western 40-acre parcel to Hatfield.  Then on December 5, 1929, J.P. and Cora Francisco became indebted -- or were already indebted -- to Hatfield for the remaining 120 acres of the resort.  In between was an event that irreversibly changed the Howard Springs resort -- a massive fire.

The flimsy wood frame towns, mines, and resorts of the late 1800s and early 1900s were susceptible to destruction by fire, and Lake County’s early newspapers report many large fires that threatened remote facilities.  On August 15, 1926, a brush fire burned through the Seigler Valley and upper Big Canyon, sparing Ettawa, Seigler, and -- by “a miracle” -- Howard Springs, but destroying the power plant, bathhouse, and some cabins at Bonanza Spring.  On Sunday, November 10, 1929, Howard Springs wasn’t so fortunate, and a fire starting in the lodge ultimately spread and destroyed every building at the resort but for two cabins and evidently two bathhouses.

J.P. Francisco was burned attempting to put out the fire, but that didn’t discourage him and his wife Cora Francisco from taking out a loan to rebuild the resort less than a month later.  Part of the loss was insured for $11,500.  Their December 5, 1929, mortgage agreement required them to erect and furnish a new main lodge and 15 tent platforms and tents by June 1, 1930, erect and furnish 10 frame cottages by August 31, 1931, and build ten more bedroom units either as cabins or lodge rooms by August 31, 1932.  Of the surviving buildings from the fire -- “two small cottages on the hill near the main hotel property” -- one was the cabin with the shed-roofed porch central to so many earlier resort photographs.  The other was probably the duplex now known as Cabin 29/30.

The Franciscos began the reconstruction with a large two-story 28’ x 72’ lodge and an appended shed-roofed kitchen about 12’ x 24’ in size.  The site selected for the new lodge was about 100’ southwest of the old one.  Wraparound first- and second-story porches were soon completed on the east, north, and west sides of the new lodge.  With the devastating fire fresh in mind, the mortgage stipulated that the hotel have a fireproof asbestos roof and cement shingles.  The two cabins that survived the fire were kept in service, and a suite of small 12’ x 14’ cabins -- some as duplexes -- were built, all of which remain in 2007.  Most of the bathhouses and pools were redeveloped, using concrete.  Though the newspaper accounts don’t mention the old Magnesia bath house surviving the fire, photographs showing the building’s distinctive hipped roof, decorative ridge sign, and door and window configuration span the pre-and post-fire period.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 10:14

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