The Hotel Vendome
The Hotel Vendome was built in 1888. At the time, the small San Jose business community felt that the City lacked a first-class, resort hotel. The Vendome Corporation was formed in the 1880s, encouraged by the San Jose Board of Trade, which began the movement for the new hotel in 1874.
The first task of the Corporation was to find a suitable site. Initially, they sought city approval to locate the new hotel in St. James Park, but the City Council rejected that proposal. The Corporation then settled on the estate of Josiah Belden, one of San Jose's early mayors, on North First Street. The estate has been sold to Capt. C.H. Maddox who sold it to the Corporation. An economic boom in 1887 led to to purchase of the site for $60,000.
The Belden estate consisted of 12 acres bordered to the north by Hobson Street, to the east by First Street, to the west by San Pedro Street, and to the south by Empire Street (also known as Belden Lane). It is believed that Empire Street existed where the alley behind Ayer Avenue now is located. (On some city maps the alley is still called Empire Alley.) This would align the street with the modern Empire Street which lies to the east of First Street.
Raising funds for the new resort hotel was slow, perhaps not unexpected. After all, San Jose was quite a small city at the time, and the planned hotel was befitting a city of much greater size. Perhaps out of frustration or just a sense of urgency, the Corporation threatened to use the Belden estate for one of the most undesirable uses of the day -- a soap factory -- if subscription sales didn't pick-up.
The fundraising effort met with success and the vision of a soap factory forever disappeared. The Corporation hired the firm of Jacob Lenzen & Son to design the hotel.
Lenzen designed a great hotel -- comparable to other hotels of the day being built in Coronado, Monterey, Paso Robles, Pasadena, and Redondo Beach. The hotel was a grand and difficult undertaking. The cost of hotel exceeded initial budget expectations. Ultimately, the total cost came to $250,000.
Lenzen designed a four-story structure in the Queen Anne style.The hotel included an incredible 150 rooms. According to the hotel brochure, the rooms were mostly "en suite" and supplied with with bath and toilet conveniences. The roof included a glass-walled sun parlor.
In 1902 with growing demand, a three story annex was added to the main hotel. The annex consisted of 36 rooms, each with a bath. A corridor connected the annex to the main hotel.
Enjoy our small postcard and photo collection of the hotel.
Belden's house was relocated to the back of the Vendome property, and was used as a clubhouse. The entrance to the Hotel was from First Street which lead to a circular driveway.
A Bathing & Bowling Pavilion was built on the grounds, enclosed two large swimming pools and two bowling alleys equipped by the Brunswick Balke Collender Company. Of course the grounds also included tennis courts and croquet courses. Throughout the acreage, oaks, redwoods, elm, pine, peppers, fig and flowering shrubs complemented a green lawn. Palm Trees, a modern favorite of San Jose Redevelopment, accented the landscaping.
A great resort hotel would not be complete without the opportunity for excursion. The Hotel Vendome maintained a stable on the grounds operated by the Mt. Hamilton Stage Company. The stage coach offered daily trips to the famous Lick Observatory.
Other adventures available to guest included Alum Rock Park. the Santa Clara Mission, Stanford University. Also to the west, tourists could treat themselves to a trip to Los Gatos and Congress Springs in Saratoga. Further yet, the big trees at Felton offered pristine views of the great redwoods. And not quite as beautiful, to the south were the New Almaden Quicksilver mines.
The hotel informally opened to 55 guests on February 7, 1889 under the eye of Colonel E.W. Root, the first General Manager. The city celebrated a formal opening of the hotel less than a month later on March 1, 1889.
George P. Snell followed as the general manager in 1891. Succeeding him was J.T. Brooks.
The City of San Jose prided itself that the Vendome was the focal point of several Presidential vists. On April 29, 1889, President Harrison was met by a throng of 10,000 at the Vendome for a brief one hour visit. In May, 1901 a gala event was planned at the Vendome for a visit by President McKinley. Unfortunately, a planned three-day visit was reduced to a 1 hour stop. On May 12, 1903, the Vendome hosted President Teddy Roosevelt for a San Jose visit.
It seems many people today believe that the Vendome was destroyed in the great 1906 earthquake or a fire. Not true. The main portion of the Hotel suffered minimal damage from the 1906 earthquake, however the Annex was destroyed and never rebuilt. There were 14 occupants in the hotel on the day of the earthquake. All but one survived.
As for fire, the Hotel was damaged in a fire in 1895. A portion of the hotel collapsed, killing a San Jose firefighter, Miles McDermott, the first San Jose Firefighter killed in the line of duty.
The death of the Vendome Hotel was man-made. In 1930, the hotel was purchased by a real estate syndicate. In April, 1930 they demolished the hotel and sold lots for $1,500 each. Those lots became the homes on Ayer Avenue, Losse Court and Rankin Street.
There appears to have been no effort to save the hotel from destruction. Reporter Wilson E. Albee of the San Jose Mercury Herald chronicled the history of the hotel in about 20 separate articles in April, 1930 in the weeks prior to the hotel's destruction. Those articles are the principal source of information here.
Vendome Hotel Corporation - Board of Directors
- J.B. Randol (Owner of the New Almaden Mines) President
- W.S. Thorpe
- J.S. Potty
- W.A. Dougherty
- L. Lion
- C.W. Brefogle (Mayor of San Jose)
- A. McDonald
- T.S. Montgomery
- F.H. Maybury
- G. Lion