Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller once called Crescent City home – for a couple nights at least. He was just one patron of many who stayed overnight in some of Crescent City’s earliest hotels.
The first hotel, the ‘Cushing House,’ was built in 1853, the very first year the city was founded. It was on Front Street, which, at the time, was so close to the beach that driftwood and various other debris would wash up to the building’s facade.
A sea wall was later built to keep the debris from cluttering Front Street.
The ‘Cushing House’ did not retain its name very long, as it was sold the next year and called the Crescent City Hotel, only to be called the City Hotel by its next owner Gotlieb Meyer. In 1857, a German native, Francis R. Burtschell, who had worked in hotels in New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco, bought the City Hotel and renamed it the Bay Hotel.
But the Bay Hotel was not the only bedding place in the city. At around the same time the ‘Bay Hotel’ was being erected, an Irishman also decided to build a hotel on Front and J Streets. Nicholas McNamara, who was born in Dungarvan County Waterford, Ireland, came to Crescent City on March 12, 1853.
He noticed that many people were camping outside because there weren’t any hotels. To remedy this problem he built the ‘American Hotel’ in 1853, and it became one of the first in the city.
It burned down several years later and was replaced by a more sturdy brick building. However, it was the ‘Travelers Hotel’ off of Front Street that hosted Rockefeller and two of his sons. This hotel was located on Second and L Street until it was torn apart in 1942 and sold as lumber.
Crescent City’s first reported medical doctor arrived in 1853, after serving as a physician to a wagon train that traveled from Missouri. Edgar Mason would also hold the title of court judge.
Mason chaired a meeting to set a trial for three Indian men accused of murdering a white man in 1854, according to A.J. Bledsoe’s “History of Del Norte County.” A jury deliberated for an hour and ordered the three men hanged near Battery Point.
He acquired quite a bit of land in Crescent City, giving parcels for a school house, civic center and a masonic temple, as well as two blocks for a city plaza. During the Civil War, Mason sent money to the Confederacy and the family lamented President Lincoln’s election, according to Marin County Free Library’s history project.
Mason presided over a public vote in Crescent City on whether or not to enforce a law that prevented businesses from operating on Sundays, according to Bledsoe’s book. Proponents of the measure distributed petitions, as bars and other businesses racked up fines for staying open.
The public voted the measure down, letting businesses operate on Sundays.
Think of hotels when you consider the Burtschell family’s roots in Del Norte County. Their ancestor, Francis J. Burchoell – not a typo here, but the original spelling of the family’s name as it made its way to Northern California – made his fame as a hotelier during the county’s earliest years.
Burchoell fled France with two brothers as the French Revolution nipped at the aristocrats’ heels. Francis went first to Bingen, Germany, where he married Elizabeth Brougham, and changed his name to Burtschell.
The couple had a son, Francis R. Burtschell, March 13, 1825. The younger Francis traveled to New York City in 1846 and worked for two years in the hotel industry.
He traveled among New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York City and Germany during a short period of time. Eventually settled near Weaverville, building his first hotel there in the early 1850s.
Burchoell – which the younger Francis now spelled Burtschell – sold the hotel and moved to Shasta County where he repeated the process. He then moved to San Francisco to manage a hotel and found his way north to Crescent City in 1856.
A year later, on April 19, 1857, he purchased the ‘City Hotel’ for $900 from Gottlieb Meyer after having lived there about four months. The ‘City Hotel’ was originally ‘Cushing House,’ located at H and Front streets.
Because it was close to the ocean, the building was damaged when “a tidal wave” carried a tree into its lobby during the years Burtschell owned it. It also sheltered many of the survivors who had been on the Brother Jonathan when she smashed on St. George Reef.
After owning the hotel for six years, Burtschell leased the property to Jacob Reichert but managed it a second time after his wife died and he married Caroline Morscher, New Year’s Eve 1874. He remodeled the hotel in 1885 by removing the front section to across the street then adding a new section.
That same year, he purchased a 664-acre farm in Smith River. By 1893 the dairy farm – located at the site of ‘Ship Ashore’ and stretching north to the Oregon border – had grown to 992 acres.
In its new form, he renamed the ‘City Hotel’, the ‘Bay Hotel.’ Three years later, he sold the business to a W. Woodbury.
Eventually the back of the hotel was torn down to make room for the ‘Lauff Hotel,’ which later became the ‘Surf Hotel.’
During his 53 years in Crescent City, Burtschell served two terms as a county supervisor and two terms as a city councilman and a school trustee for many years.
His son, Frank Burtschell Sr., worked as county assessor and owned the county’s first Ford dealership. Frank Sr., who established Burtschell’s Paints, was the last person in his family to get a driver’s license – his mother being the first woman in Del Norte County to do so.
Frank Burtschell Jr. was involved in preserving Del Norte County’s history. He placed the sign he made for the cabin 75 years ago on the ‘Addie Meedom House,’ the county’s assisted living center for seniors.
POST SCRIPT: Frank Jr. died in a single car accident on U.S. Hwy. 199 on October 3, 2003, when his vehicle struck a redwood tree.